De­signer Matt Keight­ley has cre­ated a min­i­mal­ist gar­den us­ing conifers that echoes a wider land­scape

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Small Garden - WORDS STEPHANIE MAHON PHO­TO­GRAPHS MAR­I­ANNE MAJERUS

It takes quite a bit of ef­fort to make some­thing look ef­fort­less, and de­signer Matt Keight­ley had to con­sider ev­ery lit­tle de­tail when he set about cre­at­ing this serene and el­e­gant court­yard gar­den. A con­tem­po­rary, min­i­mal­ist space, it was de­signed as a small gar­den for a new cot­tage, part of the owners’ 45-acre es­tate with views of the iconic Malvern Hills. The cou­ple, who met Matt at the 2014 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, ex­plained that they wanted a quintessen­tially English cot­tage gar­den, “but they kept ref­er­enc­ing modern liv­ing, low main­te­nance, and a love of en­ter­tain­ing their friends,” says Matt, “so some­thing didn’t add up. I did a cou­ple of con­cepts: some­thing that re­sem­bled a cot­tage gar­den; and some­thing quite out there, an East­ern-in­spired space. They im­me­di­ately went for that one.” It was a risky move, con­sid­er­ing Asian-style gar­dens in Bri­tain can end up look­ing con­trived and pas­tiche, but Matt was qui­etly con­fi­dent that child­hood hol­i­days spent in Singapore, where his mother grew up, gave him an in­sight into the es­sen­tial char­ac­ter and tone of East­ern land­scapes.

The start­ing point for his de­sign was to re­quest a Zen-like level of pa­tience from his clients, by es­chew­ing the English pen­chant for a flo­ral ex­trav­a­ganza in sum­mer, and in­stead cre­at­ing sev­eral peaks of in­ter­est through the year. The first show comes in spring from the blos­som of Mag­no­lia stel­lata and M. x loeb­neri ‘Mer­rill’, fol­lowed by

a drift of irises in sum­mer, with a fi­nale of colour­ful leaf fall in au­tumn from pin oaks. These mo­ments of beauty are sup­ported by year-round ev­er­green struc­ture from cloud­pruned yew and Pi­nus mugo, and Pi­nus sylvestris ‘Watereri’ clipped into bon­sai forms.

The sea­sonal high­lights can be viewed from the 3m-wide com­pos­ite deck­ing board­walk that runs, like the gar­den, along the width of the prop­erty, al­low­ing the owners to con­sider the space be­fore en­ter­ing it. Ar­ranged on one level, the gar­den might at first seem at odds with the sur­round­ing coun­try­side. Matt coun­tered this by echo­ing the shapes of the rolling hills beyond in the face pat­tern of the gran­ite wa­ter wall. The wa­ter spills down into a crys­tal-clear rill, com­plete with koi, and pro­gresses across the space to where it turns a cor­ner, com­pelling you to fol­low. “This was a way of stretch­ing the gar­den, mak­ing it feel larger than it ac­tu­ally is,” Matt ex­plains,“but it also pro­vides that drama and in­trigue a gar­den needs, to get you to move through it.”

Across the rill, an area of dark gravel fea­tures sev­eral char­ac­ter­ful boul­ders and has as its cen­tre­piece a small pool that re­flects the sky and trees. This con­trasts with the sleek, pale-grey ter­race, with its uber-stylish metal loungers and be­spoke paving – huge, clean-cut pieces of stone that have been laid with no grout, cre­at­ing crisp shadow lines.

Matt de­scribes mak­ing the gar­den as re­ally ex­cit­ing, be­cause it was a unique op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing so re­strained. “It’s al­most like do­ing a show gar­den, where ev­ery el­e­ment has to be just so, and the soft and hard land­scap­ing have to marry per­fectly,” he says. “I think here we got the bal­ance just right.”

Fac­ing page The gran­ite wa­ter wall was de­signed to echo the shapes of the Malvern Hills in the dis­tance, bring­ing the wider coun­try­side into the gar­den. This page from above left The gar­den con­tains sev­eral mag­no­lia trees and pin oaks ( Quer­cus palus­tris), which cre­ate beau­ti­ful ef­fects on the pale paving and dark gravel when their blos­som and fo­liage fall. The mir­ror pool con­tains a black pond dye to help it re­flect the sur­round­ing gar­den and canopy as well as a neigh­bour­ing wal­nut tree.

Fac­ing page The rill turns a cor­ner and leads the eye across the ter­race, which has large stone pavers with un­grouted joints, giv­ing a clean, crisp fin­ish. Bon­sai-form spec­i­mens of Pi­nus sylvestris ‘Watereri’ of­fer a dif­fer­ent tex­ture to the struc­tural cloud hedg­ing beyond. This page, from above left Iris sibir­ica ‘Pansy Pur­ple’ flow­ers through­out the gar­den in open pock­ets left in the ev­er­green cloud-pruned hedge, and lights up the gar­den in late spring. The base of the rill fea­tures lay­ers of river­washed boul­der peb­bles that add depth to the fea­ture. The rill is edged with clipped Taxus bac­cata and Pi­nus mugo.

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