Tips for long and narrow gardens: make it a happy ending

Expand your outdoor living space by giving yourself a reason to walk right down the lawn...
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Many gardens fade into nothing at their far end, but this north London plot has sound reason for the owners to step out from the terrace and walk right down the lawn. For in the far right-hand corner, landscape designer Sara Jane Rothwell has created the perfect outdoor room.

A firepit, weatherproof sofas and a giant, all-covering cantilevered umbrella allow her clients to sit out later for longer, and in all weathers.

"That corner is the spot that gets the evening sun," says Rothwell, "and my clients — a working couple with three teenage boys — can only use their garden during the week in the evenings, so it made sense to site a patio there that they can use to relax in and entertain."

The couple requested Rothwell to build a lodge on the left-hand corner, opposite the patio, where they could house an arts room for her and a gym for him. 

However, the biggest issue that Rothwell had to tackle was the lack of privacy. "There are large houses behind the garden that have been divided into flats, so there are lots of windows that we had to visually cut out as much as possible," she says.

Her solution — after installing a hardwood bespoke garden fence that reached the regulation two metres — was to plant pleached hornbeam trees that run, like a high green hedge, around the outside corner of the patio. 

"There are no planning restrictions on height, provided the trees are deciduous," she says. "The trees have two metres of clear stems, then a 1.5m square panel above that takes up little width but creates an effective green wall."

Rothwell used saw-edged York pavers to create a clean-cut, pale stone floor, and designed an equally streamlined rectangular pond that runs along the width of the patio, parallel to the back wall. 

A stepping stone across the pond leads directly to a wide hardwood bench that doubles as a walkway through a copse of silver birches, underplanted with ferns, shaggy box spheres, frothy alchemilla and white-flowered spring bulbs, that in turn leads to the lodge.

On the family's wish list, too, was a focal point for them to enjoy from the conservatory by the house, right across the lawn and directly opposite the patio. 

They could have had a showy sculpture, but Rothwell had something a little edgier in mind. "I'm a big fan of Cor-Ten steel, because the rusted finish flatters every plant in the garden. Its patina never stays the same, altering in different weather conditions and gradually darkening over time."

With the family's keen agreement, she installed a trio of two-metre-high Cor-Ten steel panels along the length of the patio, at the back, and echoed these with a steel-edged raised bed behind the copse, which at this time of year displays white Japanese anemones. 

A circle carved from the centre panel creates a moon window that charmingly frames the filigree leaves of a Japanese maple, Acer palmatum purpureum that, in early autumn, turn from a purplish green to a rich, rusty shade. "I wanted the harmony of a Japanese garden," says Rothwell, and in keeping with that Oriental sensibility, she determined that the steel firepit would be a mirror image of the moon window.

"It was a labour of love. The firepit had to be made to the exact same size as the window, and because my clients wanted instant fire, I had gas plumbed in beneath."

Cotswold chippings fill the circle carved out of the paving to accommodate the firepit's workings, and match the band of chippings at the base of the panels, which prevents rainwater staining the pale York stone.

"Cor-Ten steel is a beautiful material that turns three panels into an exciting sculptural installation," says Rothwell. "It's not very expensive, can be cheaper than a retaining wall and is an investment that will add great impact to any garden."

* Visit to find more information about Sara Jane Rothwell's garden design company.
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