PRO LANDSCAPER'S SMALL PROJECT, BIG IMPACT AWARDS
I am thrilled to announce that I have been shortlisted for an award with Pro Landscaper, the UK’s leading business to business publication within the landscaping sector. Category: Planting Design under £20,000, for my recent project in North Hampshire.
These awards recognise the value of landscape projects under £25,000. They are deemed just as important as larger schemes and are sometimes even more of a challenge. These types of projects are the backbone of the industry and the ‘bread and butter’ for many landscape companies.
These awards celebrate the excellence in individual projects and how people within the industry overcome the restrictions of smaller budgets and spaces, yet still create exceptional landscapes.
Read on to find out more about this Planting Design project.
Planting Design Project - The Valley Garden, Overton
WHAT WAS THE CLIENT BRIEF?
The clients had asked for inspiration for the design to come from the local setting, its landscape, its beauty, and the randomness of nature, all of which would paint a scene within the landscape. The key was to harmonise the planting scheme with the landscape beyond, allowing the flow of the hills and valley to run through the design and in turn, the final planting scheme.
As such, the design needed to be relatively random in nature, hence a more naturalistic approach, which sought to soften the sharp, angular lines of the house, the gabions and the garden’s hornbeam hedges.
The scheme itself would need to be relatively sustainable, bringing with it waves of colour from spring to autumn.
The plant community would be one which required little watering after the first year, low maintenance, insect and bee friendly and one which would have a positive impact on the ecology of the site.
The clients requested a vibrant, yet sophisticated colour scheme, which would complement the muted colour palette of the hard-landscaping.
What was the site and immediate landscape like before the project began?
I arrived on site eighteen months after the clients had broken ground for their new home. The garden area had been completely stripped and severely compacted/abused in that time by all manner of heavy machinery.
The clients were in the final throes of constructing a new house on the site, which prior to this had been a wild meadow/paddock. There was an old apple tree in the lower corner and hedging which ran along the southern and eastern boundaries.
The site itself is located on a steeply sloping valley side and faces due south with tremendous views to the hills beyond. From examining the surrounding countryside, the general landscape can be described as a Chalk Downland. The underlying soil conditions were a thin topsoil, with a clay content over a chalk and flint bedrock.
What were the main challenges faced on this project?
I was brought into the project late on (the house was 80% complete when the clients contacted me), so there was not a great deal of time to thoroughly prepare and research the site and work with the Architect. Immediately, I interviewed all the stakeholders to ascertain and understand the requirements, challenges and aims of the project.
The ground conditions were extremely challenging, so selecting the right plants was difficult. I spent considerable time understanding the conditions, aspect, and micro-climate on the site before I started to design the planting schemes.
The ground had been severely compacted by the building contractors’ heavy machinery over the two years of construction, so it was essential to significantly improve the quality of the planting beds before the plants and trees were added. It was noted that there were two key areas of water retention in the winter, so this was addressed too.
All these areas were ‘ripped’ with the toothed bucket of the excavator down to a depth of 300mm into the chalk and flint subsoil/bed rock to ensure good drainage throughout. The original topsoil was saved and was enriched with a well-rotted organic compost to a depth of 400mm, which would add structure and goodness to the soil, thus allowing a fine show in year one.
Finally, a mulch was added to inhibit weed growth and retain moisture.
The site itself is extremely exposed. I needed to add height into the planting to ensure that the planting scheme was not overwhelmed by the landscape beyond. It needed to be self-supporting in the constant wind. This was achieved by weaving the Verbena bonariensis, Stipa gigantea and Deschampsia cespitosa through the backbone of each bed, allowing them to grow through each other. It was also helped by placing the large specimen shrubs at intervals through each bed, thus allowing the plant community to ‘knit together’.
The site was stripped of all vegetation before I started and had been left for nearly two years, so re-introducing vegetation which would encourage wildlife and increase the biodiversity of the site was key. I ensured the planting schemes were full of insect favourites such as Verbena bonariensis, Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’, Digitalis purpurea ‘Dalmatian Peach’, Salvias, Achillea ‘Terracotta’ etc.
The addition of a Wildflower Orchard added to the site ecology.
What was the inspiration for the planting schemes?
The clients set out in the brief a desire for the planting design to take inspiration from the surrounding landscape, so there had to be a focus on the form and texture of the planting scheme too.
The beds were designed to mimic the flowing valley and hills, pushing and reconciling their shape and form out into the larger landscape beyond.
The form and texture of the planting was key. It was imperative to keep a relatively limited palette, adding grasses and perennials with height, form and texture, such as the sharp edges of Eryngium bourgatii ‘Picos Amethyst’, the warmth of the Salvias, the contrast of the ‘frothy’ Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, the statuesque Verbena bonariensis and the delicate Heuchera ‘Schneewitchen’, but to name a few.
It was also important not to lay the plants out in blobs and blocks, as a naturalistic approach was needed to match the client brief and the call of the surrounding landscape. However, while it needed to remain naturalistic, I did add an element of formality to the scheme which would reconcile with the hard-landscaping features of the garden. To achieve this, I developed a planting square which could then be rotated and joined to the next square to create a natural look within a structured pattern.
The clients have dogs, so the lawn in between the beds had to be long and wide, thus allowing them the freedom to run around the garden without having to run through the beds.
How were plants selected and why?
Two planting schemes were developed - a ‘Modern Perennial’ and a ‘Rose Prairie’ scheme, which would develop the on-site biodiversity which had been missing for nearly two years. Each scheme was designed for year-round interest, with waves of colour from late March to November, followed by the shapes, form and structure of the golden grasses and seedheads through the winter.
The ‘Modern Perennial’ scheme was designed to look fresh and verdant in the spring, but as these months recede, so too would the Alliums, Irises and Euphorbia, leaving the Scabiosa, Knautia and Nepeta to soldier on into early summer, dying back in July. The zingy greens/yellows are replaced by the darkening greens and eventual golds of the grasses, rich purples, silver blues and oranges of the summer perennials.
The ‘Rose Prairie’ scheme was designed to create a relatively low maintenance scheme, with colour from April to October.
The clients wanted a cottage border, which from a maintenance perspective was out of the question, so the ‘Rose Prairie’ scheme was developed to deliver this brief, without the high maintenance.
While each scheme would have its own look and feel, it was imperative to reconcile both, so several plants were replicated in each scheme such as Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’, Stipa tenuissima, Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, Lychnis coronaria ‘Alba’ and Pennisetum ‘Red Buttons’.
Running through the beds are specimen multi-stemmed Syringa vulgaris 'Katherine Havemeyer’ and Amelanchier lamarkii, to provide a mid- canopy layer, kissed by the grasses, perennials and roses from late spring onwards.
As you can see from the clients’ comments, the project indeed delivered in terms of the ‘wow’ factor!
"We are thrilled with the colour and texture of Adam's planting and the informal, natural effect he has achieved. I love the way the curved beds and the movement of the plants and grasses in the wind reflect the surrounding fields and landscape. Adam's skilled design has greatly enriched our garden, providing a habitat for an abundant variety of wildlife. Adam's innovative combinations and interesting selection of plants has given us a stunning garden that we can enjoy throughout the seasons. We couldn't have asked for anything better."
It was planted in April 2020 using a mix of 9cm – 2L pots for the perennials and grasses, which were soon flowering from May onwards. The schemes have delivered waves of colour throughout the spring and summer and continue to do so into late September.
When viewing the planting from their large terrace, it is incredible to see how the planting beds mimic the surrounding landscape, nestling/grounding the development of the house back into its beautiful surroundings.
Walking alongside the beds you hear the hum of the insects and catch the grace of the grasses and verbena as they sway in the wind. In the light of evening, the grassheads also catch the golden rays of sunlight beautifully.
The project has delivered and exceeded its brief in such a short space of time. What was not so apparent early on was the extent to which the garden would be viewed regularly, by local residents walking the footpaths on the opposite valley side. Whilst I had payed attention to ensuring the design worked from the outside looking in, it is fair to say that I had not quite anticipated the sheer impact the garden design would have on passers-by. My clients, their neighbours and all the walkers who pass their garden are full of praise for it.
I really look forward to seeing how the design will mature into its second year and thereon.