To balance their sleek, carbon-neutral home Leilah Lierman and Martijn De Coster have created a wildlife-friendly garden bursting with colour and packed with clever space-saving ideas
No, we don’t have any begonias,” says schoolteacher Leilah Lierman, laughing. When she and her partner, architect Martijn De Coster, were looking for a site on which to build an eco-friendly home it was Begoniastraat’s proximity to public transport links not its floral name that attracted them. The contemporary-looking house the couple eventually built certainly stands out in this quiet, tree-lined street in the Bruges suburb of Assebroek. Martijn, the co-founder of the ecological architectural firm eA Plus, designed and built it himself, using sustainable building materials, and has made it almost entirely carbonneutral with solar panels that are linked to a solar water boiler, leaving the couple with heating bills of just €250 a year.
Martijn constructed the house around a timber frame and clad the exterior in sleek black tiles. It’s a bold design that was inspired in part by the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion for 2011 – a totally black structure, designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. The pavilion surrounded an inner garden by the influential Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, and Zumthor’s concept was to create a hortus conclusus or enclosed garden that would provide a sheltered, contemplative space. And this is exactly what Martijn and Leilah have created in their Belgian suburb.
When the couple started work on the garden about five years ago, the land around the house had only a few plants in it and there was hardly any connection between the house and the garden. “We really wanted a garden that encourages biodiversity and we wanted to be able to enjoy it while we were indoors almost as much as when we were outside,” says Martijn.
One of the first things the couple did was to build a pond, to attract wildlife, and constructed what can only be described as ‘an insect city’. Made out of 20 or more wooden poles with holes
Above Leilah Lierman and Martijn De Coster. Left To the side of the house, Leilah and Martijn have created a wild garden made up of two large, lushly planted borders filled with wildlife-friendly plants, including salvias and knautias. The tall, white phlox in the centre was a gift to Martijn’s grandmother and is now one of his most treasured plants.
This page Above left Black ceramic tiles on the front of the house create a dramatic backdrop to the effective planting, combing the tall, fluffy heads of Thalictrum ‘Elin’ and the dark-green foliage of Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Red Thunder’ and Buxus sempervirens. A band of Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’, at the front edge, provides a burst of rich-purple colour and is a magnet for butterflies and bees. Above right Timber cladding, made from sustainable platonised wood, helps to insulate the house, while a large picture window affords Leilah and Martijn a front row seat for “some of the best nature documentaries”. Right A neat lawn enclosed with Taxus baccata, hedging and a mix of shrubs including the rounded Elaeagnus x ebbingei, borders the wild garden.