A Chiswick garden transformed from grubby mess to Persian bliss

Water, shade and fruit trees transform a drab courtyard into a haven with privacy.
Six weeks before these pictures were taken, this Chiswick courtyard was a sad, little-used space with a floor of grubby, ridged decking and brick walls of mixed provenance.
 
Now it has trickling water, two seating areas, a space for cooking and a shady arbour for dining and entertaining, as well as olive trees, a grapevine, fragrant roses and a citrus tree.
 

“We’ve taken the principles of the ancient Persian gardens — shade, water, perfume, fruiting trees and places to sit and reflect,” explains designer Claire Mee, who was asked to create a garden following the redevelopment of the house.
 
They were spurred on by the news that a three-storey block of flats was about to be built directly behind the garden — a more modern dilemma — and they needed some screening.
 
In a small space, people are cautious about putting in too much. “But the more you put in, the bigger the space becomes,” says Mee. “You’re leading the eye around and different elements are enticing you in. You need different levels, too, because there’s nothing more boring than a dead, flat space.”
 
You also need to unify the space so that all those different elements don’t result in a hotchpotch.
 
“The messy brick walls were rendered using white cement mixed with sand, which gives a lovely, soft ochre colour,” says Mee. This delivers the Mediterranean feeling the clients wanted and ties in with the colour of the paved travertine floor.
 
“People think that travertine is impractical, but I find it easy to maintain, plus it stays cleaner than other stones.”
 
Privacy from the proposed block of flats is provided by a customised arbour, given due importance by raising it two steps on to a deck, rather like a plinth.
 
“We used cross beams to create a patterned shade, so there is an attractive slatted effect on the dining table. A nice touch, installed by the clients, is a metal hanging rail more usually seen in kitchens, but used here to suspend lanterns. To create more seating space, we made built-in benches around two sides, and added banquette cushions to tie in with another bench on the opposite side of the courtyard, which catches the late afternoon sun.”
 
The requested fountain, created with a copper chute that directs a constant flow of water into a square pool beneath, is across the way, too, so that when the clients sit in the shade, they hear the restful sound of trickling water.
 
A rendered block wall delineates the cooking area, next to a deep raised bed at the back of the garden. This is planted with a loquat tree and a muscat grapevine, which is encouraged to scramble over the arbour so that, in time, clusters of grapes will hang through the rafters.
 
The precise rectilinear design is softened with planting throughout the courtyard. The arbour is lined with fragrant walls of pink New Dawn rose and evergreen jasmine. Four olive trees, set in a square within the paving and underplanted with stipa grasses, lavender and purple linaria, face the main entrance from the house so that, explains Mee, they veil the view beyond and reveal the garden gradually.
 
In summer the courtyard becomes a great party space, with a dining area that seats 10. There’s plenty of room to stroll around, a bench to lounge on and a freestanding wall that’s just the right height for resting drinks.
 
At night, the fountain is illuminated, spotlights gleam through wicker hurdles backing the arbour and the four olive trees are dramatically lit from beneath, so from the house throughout the year the courtyard becomes a room with a very special view.
 
Expect to pay about £30,000 to turn a flat garden into a multifunctional outdoor space. For more details, visit www.clairemee.co.uk

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