This could be the perfect spring garden — but then it looks terrific right through the year, thanks to clever design and considered planting. The owners of this house in Notting Hill asked garden designer Claire Mee to create a little piece of the country in the centre of London. “They wanted something that was natural, pretty, and not too designed,” recalls Mee. “No blue- rendered walls that will date, but something timeless that will only get better as the years go by.”
Unusually, the garden is wider than it is long, so Mee was able to create two seating areas to the left and far right of the long terrace that runs along the back of the house. “The most important factor in a London garden is to make full use of the space,” she says. “If we’d had just one seating area close to the house, the clients would always be on that side, clustered around the barbecue, so you always have to find a way of making people take the journey to the far part of the garden.
“This is why, as with this garden, I will place a seating area right at the back, so people have to walk through the space to get to it.”
The terrace itself is made of porcelain tiles, the same flooring as the living area on the other side of the sliding glass doors. It is a practical choice, says Mee, because it is easily cleaned, and the family’s two dogs were a consideration. Four outsize pots, evenly spaced on the terrace, provide a strong counterpoint to the severely clipped yew hedge at the back of the garden, and are planted to provide a succession of white flowers through the year, from Narcissus Thalia to the long-flowering rose White Flower Carpet, followed by white cyclamen in winter; Muehlenbeckia complexa and bacopa provide trails of white-flowered greenery. “Think of the pots as four massive grey vases,” says Mee. “You can’t go too big with containers in a small town garden.”
The clients wanted the simplicity of a green lawn, but were prepared to put in the work to keep it perfect. “A lawn needs more maintenance than any plant,” cautions Mee. “It needs proper drainage — we had to install drainage in this garden before rolling out the turf —and it needs to be mown, fed, scarified, so don’t have one unless you’re prepared to look after it, or it will never look good.”
Just beyond the seating area closer to the house, Mee constructed a parterre of four box-edged beds so that there would be some structure to look at through the year, giving each a feature of standard Camellia sesanqua that flowers in winter, and surrounding it with billowing catmint and bulbs of first tulips, then alliums.
White hyacinths are massed in a large terracotta pot at the centre, and are followed in summer by white cosmos flowers. “You need to replant hyacinth every year, but when one lot have finished, plant them in the ground and they will come up again a bit smaller, so that white hyacinths will look rather like white bluebells.”
On the far side, the furniture and flooring are the same as the other seating area — rattan sofas and Cotswold pea shingle — to create continuity, but here, the planting is looser, and mostly herbaceous.
Mee screened the seating area on either side with two avenues of four standard crab apples, Malus Evereste, to provide springtime blossom and scarlet fruits in autumn, underplanting them with clipped balls of dark-leaved Pittosporum tenuifolium Tom Thumb, tulips, aquilegia and rosemary. “When you look across the lawn from the other side, you see a hedge on stilts, with another one behind it. In a town garden, you always need to consider the views from all angles.”
Get the look
Commission Claire Mee: visit clairemee.co.uk
Grey terracotta pots from Belgium: to order from Claire Mee, as above
Terracotta Compton pot in parterre: from Whichford Pottery (whichford pottery.com)
Rattan all-weather furniture by Dedon: from The Modern Garden Company (moderngardencompany.com)
Plants from Crocus: crocus.co.uk