GET THE LOOK
How recycled items can really enhance your garden
“See potential in materials people throw away”
EasT meets west in Heather and Chris Robinson’s urban cottage garden in Dorchester, Dorset.
Over the past 20 years the couple have combined their interests in design, plants and decorative objects, and their keen eyes for recycled materials, to create a haven they can enjoy all year round, and in all weathers.
Colour is in abundance around the gently sloping plot lying behind their 1930s home, not least from the brightred moon gate fashioned from offcuts of wood that marks the transition between an Japanese-inspired area garnished with bamboos and bonsai trees and the Italianate zone with its classical statues and bold paving. Chris’s skill at woodwork is evident in the obelisks dotted around the plot, all of which are painted purple so they look good even when the climbers that clamber over them in summer have died back.
and he’s a dab hand at making summer houses and other structures that provide places to enjoy the fresh air and bird song, and join with archways, hedges and other devices, to divide the overall garden into different ‘rooms’.
“We work on things together,” laughs Heather, a retired nurse tutor. “I come up with the ideas and Chris constructs them. I’m very fortunate.”
Chris’s ability to see potential in materials that other people throw away means that many of the garden’s eye-catching features have cost next to nothing to build. His most recent finds include a variety of granite pieces that provide a base for his moon gate and a path leading to it, and he’s recently repurposed some bamboo pieces from an old summer house to add an exotic feel to a new gazebo.
“I hate waste,” says Chris, who worked as a blood-bank manager. “I enjoy the challenge of finding new uses for a variety of materials. Sometimes I find myself wishing I had more of something, but the key is making the most of what you can find.”
Year-round colour in the garden is achieved by a liberal sprinkling of decorative objects and careful selections of plants, which include evergreens, spring flowers and scented shrubs such as Daphne odora.
Spring bulbs are an annual purchase to ensure a fine display of colour, both in borders and pots, and the couple makes the most of bedding such as primroses and pansies for further injections of hue.
Heather and Chris’s garden has been 20 years in the making, during which time they’ve taken a plot that had been subjected to a ‘scorchedearth policy’ by a previous owner, dealt with its bindweed problem and made it truly their own.
Chris’s dedication is such that he undertook a design course before they got started, which he says gave him a “different outlook”.
Nevertheless, Heather and Chris say their outside space is still “evolving” as they come across new ideas and new interesting plants.
“We’ve always loved working on the garden: we had fairly stressful jobs and needed a place to get away from it all,” says Heather.
“We love coming out and working on the garden,” she adds. “I look after the plants and Chris does the structures. It’s all about teamwork.”
Make an entrance: two blue-glazed pots help to mark the garden’s entry point, with its pathways made from recycled bricks and patio slabs, while a vintage chimney pot is repurposed as an attractive plant stand
This moon gate separates two parts of the garden and frames what lies beyond. It is painted red, the Chinese colour for good luck
Add the sound of running water to the garden by creating a waterfall or cascade. Moss adds a patina and ornaments bring extra sparkle
Plant Daphne odora near the back door to for intense fragrance in winter or spring. These plants thrive in moist, humus-rich and well-drained soil in sun or shade