How to redesign your garden: create the perfect outdoor space with a subtle mix of contemporary and traditional designs

It's essential to pay attention to the small details as well as the big gestures to help bring modernity into a traditional garden... 

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Can you mix contemporary with traditional in a town garden, and make it work? Design team Ana Sanchez and Lucy Willcox proved it can be successful, but you need to be subtle, and pay attention to the small details as well as the big gestures. 

“With their garden in Stockwell, the clients presented us with a gift: old brick walls, a magnificent aged mulberry tree and a fine marble bust of the Edwardian socialite Daisy, Countess of Warwick, a previous owner,” says Sanchez. 

“Together, they create a very special, historical atmosphere. The challenge was to bring modernity into the old soul of the garden.”

A good start was to reference the redesign’s site lines from the proportions of the back of the Georgian house, and to use them as baselines to create different areas.

“The owners have four children aged from eight to 16 and all of them, including their parents Annabelle and Ben, are very active and outdoorsy,” says Willcox. “They wanted enough grass to be able to play badminton, cricket and football, so a substantial lawn was essential.”

The lawn is bordered with honed York stone that gives a crisp, smooth finish and is also used for the terrace directly behind the house.

Further down the garden is a dining area with a difference. The clients wanted a dining space in permanent shade, and the designers put it towards the rear of the garden, “because a journey through a garden is rather nice,” says Willcox. 

Timeless: a contemporary Stockwell plot with old brick walls takes its site lines from the back of the Georgian house (Clive Nichols)

Instead of a predictable pergola, the pair bought in roof-trained hornbeam trees which make a not-too-dense leafy canopy. To delineate the dining area — and make a ground for pétanque, another of the family’s popular games — they used Cedec, a kind of compacted footpath gravel.

At the back of the garden is a bespoke cedarwood covered seating area that is a roomy take on a more traditional pavilion. 

Built-in benches run right around its three walls, making it a great gathering space for the children and their friends. 

“Everybody wanted a firepit so they could sit outside on a mild winter’s day, increasing the use of the garden. On top of the arbour is a roll-out green roof of sedums, which needs no maintenance,” says Willcox.

Abutting one side of the pavilion is a Cor-ten steel log store, although a few of the cubbyholes have been converted by the children, using cut bamboo lengths, to make bug hotels. At the back of the garden, tucked out of sight, are a trio of compost bins and a utility shed. 

On the right-hand side, two hammocks suggest a peaceful retreat, thick with foxgloves and emphasised by a Zen-like circular bowl of waterlilies.

“Anabelle favoured a limited planting palette, using green, white and blue, with touches of silver, and Ben wanted a wilder, more naturalistic feel. So we used the mulberry tree as the perfect place to subtly change the palette,” says Willcox. 

Thus, the front of the garden has a more formal atmosphere. The planting — small white shrub roses Kent and Winchester, white and purple alliums, purple salvias, camassias and silver artemesias — is anchored with cubes of Ilex crenata and two solid stone benches topped with riven stone that is smooth enough to lie on. 

Lady Warwick, resplendent on her pedestal, gets a flowery fanfare with clouds of white hydrangea Annabelle at her feet. 

Beyond the mulberry tree, which is underplanted with a mass of Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa macra to move with the wind, ferns, epimediums, brunnera, plumonaria and hellebores suggest a wilder woodland floor. 

“We also used the grey-green foliage and apple green heads of Euphorbia characias Humpty Dumpty throughout the garden, over and over, to link the areas together,” says Willcox.

Bands of Cor-ten steel run along the edges of the different areas, making a neat, contemporary finish to a timeless garden with a perfect blend of old and new, sitting comfortably together.

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