PRI­VATE VIEW

In a west Lon­don sub­urb, de­signer Sean Wal­ter has made a multi-lay­ered gar­den us­ing form and good struc­ture

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Small Garden - WORDS BEN­JAMIN WIL­LIAM POPE PHO­TO­GRAPHS MAR­I­ANNE MAJERUS

Step­ping through a side gate, I leave the leafy sub­urb of East Sheen and ar­rive in a gar­den that feels peace­fully se­cluded yet de­cep­tively large. What stands out are the geo­met­ric forms and lines that con­struct the gar­den, while its bound­aries seem vir­tu­ally non-ex­is­tent. Pleached horn­beam, yew but­tresses and ev­er­green shrubs slot neatly along­side steel-edged paths, In­dian sand­stone and a metal per­gola. It may sound aus­tere, but the strong lines are ei­ther bro­ken or ob­scured by the soft abun­dant plant­ing of herba­ceous peren­ni­als, or­na­men­tal grasses and clim­bers. The re­sult is a bal­ance of for­mal struc­ture and nat­u­ral fi­nesse, layer upon layer that re­veals it­self the longer you look.

De­signed and planted eight years ago by Sean Wal­ter of The Plant Spe­cial­ist, the gar­den mea­sures just 220 square me­tres. De­spite this there is a large ter­race with spa­cious views over a generous lawn. To the side is the main peren­nial bor­der, which oc­cu­pies over a quar­ter of the to­tal gar­den. What might ap­pear to be a brave de­sign choice is ac­tu­ally a rather clever one. Hav­ing such a deep bor­der al­lows lay­er­ing of the plant­ing while in­creas­ing va­ri­ety and sea­sonal in­ter­est, a lux­ury usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with larger gar­dens.

The bor­der is framed on two sides by stately pleached horn­beam. Four me­tres tall and im­mac­u­lately clipped, they of­fer seclu­sion to parts of the gar­den, while fram­ing de­sired views and ob­scur­ing oth­ers. “Gar­dens feel big­ger when you can’t see them all at once,” ex­plains Sean. They also add height, defin­ing and claim­ing ad­di­tional space from the

sky above. Sean’s main aim was to pro­vide the owners with sev­eral us­able spa­ces within the gar­den, cor­ners that would of­fer pri­vacy and in­ti­macy with­out com­pro­mis­ing the over­all sense of space. Be­gin­ning with the struc­tural plant­ing and lay­out, Sean set about cre­at­ing ar­eas us­ing straight lines and right an­gles to min­imise dead space. The main path, which is kept to the side to al­low for other gar­den fea­tures to take cen­tre stage, leads you the to end of the gar­den, where a stu­dio pro­vides yet an­other fo­cal point.

Sit­ting among the ro­bust struc­ture is softer plant­ing, a com­bi­na­tion of nat­u­ral­is­tic peren­ni­als and or­na­men­tal grasses, which re­minds Sean of his South African roots: “I love the move­ment these plants have, how they work with the light and of­fer an in­for­mal beauty.” Hav­ing co-owned a plant nurs­ery for 16 years, along with a de­sign and land­scape busi­ness, Sean’s knowl­edge and ex­per­tise with plants were put to good use. He em­pha­sises that “the gar­den has to look good with­out too much main­te­nance”, so he selects plants he knows will per­form and be­have, those with com­pat­i­ble habits that com­ple­ment one an­other and min­imise com­pe­ti­tion. “Or­na­men­tal grasses are par­tic­u­larly use­ful as they of­fer in­ter­est through tex­ture and form dur­ing most of the year,” he says.

As I pre­pare to leave the gar­den, my eyes wan­der for one last time, rest­ing on a large rounded planter to the side of the din­ing area. Stand­ing over a me­tre high, its con­tents – a generous hum­mock of Hakonechloa macra – echoes the shape be­low, while softly mov­ing in the breeze. A bold state­ment that some­how re­mains del­i­cate.

Fac­ing page En­closed by green­ery and flow­ers, the un­clut­tered din­ing area of­fers glimpses to the gar­den beyond while pro­vid­ing a com­fort­able en­closed space to re­lax in. Dap­pled light through the Wis­te­ria ‘roof’ above em­pha­sises a sense of shel­ter. This page, from above left The stu­dio at the rear of the gar­den pro­vides an ex­tra es­cape. Painted with Sadolin Su­perdec Sar­gasso Sea, it nes­tles dis­cretely among generous clumps of Mis­cant­hus sinen­sis ‘Morn­ing Light’ and a neigh­bour­ing ap­ple tree. Pleached horn­beam ( Carpi­nus be­tu­lus) gives added height and struc­ture to the gar­den all year round, help­ing to dis­guise the bound­aries and make the space feel big­ger by as­so­ci­at­ing well with the sur­round­ing trees.

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