A catwalk right down the garden

The path has been given the starring role in this skinny London plot filled with easy-care planting
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Presented with the ubiquitous long, thin shape of the urban garden, the designer's usual reaction is to break it up into "rooms", creating a meandering path to lead from one area to another. Adam Shepherd, however, had to take a different and more direct route when he was asked to design a garden within a challenging space of six yards by 22 yards that echoed the silhouette of the five-storey Islington townhouse.

"The clients' garage is accessed through a door at the back of the garden, slap bang in the centre, and they have to walk from the garage through the garden to the house, so a straight and mud-free run was needed — basically, a catwalk," he says.

Shepherd's love for theatre in the garden was satisfied by installing two generous beds on either side of the catwalk, imitating, he says, the classic double borders to be found in many grand, far larger English gardens. More importantly, by making them broad, they have the desired effect of making the narrow space seem wider.

His clients, a young couple with a small boy, gave him a free run when they asked him to take the mud patch out back and transform it into a familyfriendly garden with a more accessible staircase from ground floor to garden than the ugly York stone one that cast shade, and was uncomfortably steep.

Creating drama
Unusually, Shepherd chose a floor of riven slate, because, he says, the dark grey is flattering to greenery, it creates a bit of drama, and is easy to walk on. Drainage channels, placed strategically, add an important as well as decorative element.

The whole space is overlooked, so he added handsome slatted wall panels of Western red cedar to give the garden a sense of enclosure, and ensure that the family have privacy from direct neighbours. "I like to overclad brick walls not just to raise the boundaries, but because timber adds a softening effect, and cedar silvers down so well."

Shepherd decided on a radical approach to replacing the staircase, adding a walkway to link the informal terrace of the living room to a new staircase of stainless steel. "The terrace has a bitumen floor, so we covered that with hardwood decking, insetting a large glass window so you can look down into the kitchen extension below. I wanted to push the staircase away from the house, which is why I added a walkway. Making a staircase of perforated stainless steel looks fresh and modern, plus it lets light through."

The couple both work hard, so wanted low-maintenance planting. A splendid vertical living wall of colourful plants including dahlia, echinacea and begonia is irrigated automatically, while two raised beds near the house, clad in slate with wide borders of ipe wood which double as seating, are simply planted with purple-flowered Liriope, ferns and ivy trails. The raised bed on the left holds a silver birch, planted to create a pleasing rhythm with the dark-leaved mature cherry tree further down the garden on the right and the goldenleaved robinia at the back.

Lighting-up time
Planting in the two large beds further down is seasonal, with, right now, plumflowered Persicaria Firetail, ornamental grass Calamigrostis Karl Foerster and the yellow daisy flowers of Rudbeckia Henry Eilers the bold main event. Backbone planting of three bands of hedging, notably green Pittosporum tenuifolium, purple beech and dark green yew, set at horizontal intervals down the beds, ensure lively structure through the year. Three uplighters down both sides of the path light the way from garage to house at night, and light up the trees. Despite his love of theatre, Shepherd held back on special effects: "With garden lighting, less is decidedly more."

Commission Adam Sheperd at thelandscapearchitect.net.
Stainless steel staircase built by hollywood-design.com.

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