Rainproof gardens

With a well-planned outdoor space you can enjoy a London garden all year round even when the sun refuses to shine
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Dining area
© Marianne Majerus Garden Images
Easy living: a modern building, weatherproof sofas and a canopied dining area make this garden an extension of the house
Who needs an extra room tacked on to the house, when the garden can be made into another room - one you can use all year round? Designer Charlotte Rowe, who is renowned for creating modern architectural outdoor spaces, was called in to transform this mid-size Ealing garden from a messy patch with a stone pergola and a Versailles-type fountain, into something far more streamlined.

"This is a styled town garden that needs to look smart all year but be easy to maintain; it's not a gardener's garden," says Rowe. "The owners are sun lovers their second home is in Florida and they wanted an outdoor space where they could entertain, so a kitchen and a large dining area were essential. They also wanted a Jacuzzi spa as well as a garden building that they could use as a gym and a retreat.

"We took six months, working through that fierce winter of two years ago. When we excavated the stone pergola we discovered foundations that ran two metres deep, and these had to be dug up. Like many London gardens the soil is heavy clay, so we had to put in a lot of land drainage.

"I insisted on an in-ground spa and not a free-standing one, which always looks awful, and it was similar to putting in a swimming pool. It had to be craned in, and water pumps and pipes installed underground."

Outdoor kitchen
© Marianne Majerus Garden Images
Dine out: an outdoor kitchen has barbecue and side burner
Clearly, it was all worth it. An expansive terrace of Portuguese limestone runs along the back of the house, and holds a dining area on one side, with a glass table, and a lounge area on the other. The roomy sofas are canopied with leafy London plane trees, carved into flat umbrellas. "London plane is ideal for this purpose because it cuts so well," says Rowe.

It wasn't practical to rip out the old concrete fencing - a security measure because the garden is next to a car park so Rowe simply made it disappear, by painting it charcoal black.

White hydrangeas on the sidelines abut the kitchen area and make a striking contrast. "The flowers keep going for a long time, and they hold on through winter. I use them a lot in town gardens because they're great for shade, and are easy to look after."

At the end of the plot, a modern garden building now stands in the footprint of the old shed, and has been given a decked surround of Western red cedar. Broad stepping stones in the new lawn break up the green expanse and lead to the unobtrusive rectangular spa, which, when not in use, looks like a reflective pool. "We changed the usual ceramic spa tiles for Italian glass mosaic, which gives a better finish," says Rowe.

Stepping stones
© Marianne Majerus Garden Images
Water therapy: stepping stones lead to an in-ground spa
Planting is simple here, as in the rest of the garden: lavender, agapanthus and froths of Mexican daisy Erigeron, with box cubes bordering the spa pool. "Box cubes are my signature plant," says Rowe. "I use them a lot to divide up spaces. They're useful when you want an instant effect, rather than waiting for hedging to grow." Further privacy is provided as well as blossom in spring with the addition of pleached ornamental pear trees forming a hedge at high level, all around the garden fencing.

Lighting, believes Rowe, is essential in London gardens. "The clients wanted a lot of lighting, but it can look Las Vegas if you do too much. We added lights under the lip of each step from the terrace to the lawn, and lit up every stepping stone leading to the spa. What looks great, too, is moonlighting on the lawn: we put a light high into a tree, angling it so it looks like moonlight shining down on to the garden."

Get the look

* Hire the designer, Charlotte Rowe: 020 7602 0660; charlotterowe.com.
* Garden furniture imported from Spain: bivaq.com.
* Glass table by Manutti: from moderngardencompany.com.
* Jacuzzi spa by MillAquia: millaquia.co.uk.
* Garden building by The Garden Escape: tgescapes.co.uk.
* Kitchen barbeque and side burner by Fire Magic: fire-magic.co.uk.

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