By building a trio of terraces and putting in pockets of lush planting, the owners have transformed this compact garden into a welcoming city retreat
Terraces and lush planting have transformed this city space.
Awaving sea of foliage fills the wonderful view from Sue and Andy Chappin’s house. It is not so much a garden as a vision of the natural world, framed by bifold glass doors that allow the open-plan living space to blend seamlessly with a Modernist dining terrace. From here, the garden descends through two more stages to a deck that juts out over a river where, if you pause for long enough, you might spot a pair of muntjac deer coming down the far riverbank to drink.
It was, however, all rather different when the Chappins moved in to their St Albans terraced house four years ago. Although they were drawn by its amazing location on the banks of the River Ver, the Sixties property was dated. Inside, there was a traditional arrangement of small rooms, while outside long, thin borders emphasised the narrowness of the site. “As soon as we moved in, we applied to build an extension, which was clearly going to affect the garden,” says Andy. “Although we knew what we wanted, we had no idea how to achieve it.”
Deciding they needed a garden designer was the easy bit; working out who that should be was more tricky, until Andy came across Rosemary Coldstream on the Society of Garden Designers website. Her projects fused modern and classic influences within a simple framework, a style he thought would be perfect in such a small space.
“We had to fit a lot in,” says Rosemary. “Andy and Sue wanted a dining area and somewhere to sunbathe, and the space by the river was crying out to be turned into a relaxation zone. Given that the sloping site, which measured barely nineteen by thirty-two feet, was going to be on full view all year round, there wasn’t much room for manoeuvre.”
Rosemary began by dividing the length of the garden into a series of shallow terraces, basing her measurements on the dimensions of the relatively economical granite slabs they had chosen for the paving. “This gave us good proportions and also restricted the amount of expensive stone cutting we had to do, which helped to keep the budget down.”
On the shallow top terrace, an L-shaped bench was built to make use of every inch of space, while the flower beds, which blend seamlessly with their surroundings, are actually raised planters from the middle terrace, doubling as design elements on both levels. They are filled with a swaying mass of Verbena bonariensis and Asclepias incarnata in shades of pink and purple, laced with wisps of the ornamental grass
Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Heidebraut’, which act as a gauzy screen, dividing the top terrace from the rest of the garden.
Wherever you look, clever design makes this space appear larger, but there is one element that has actually increased its size. The deck at the end of the garden is cantilevered out over the water to add valuable extra feet where a curved bench now creates an eye-catching focal point, offering the perfect place to sip a glass of wine while watching the sun go down.
Although Rosemary has won several awards for this design, including the 2015 Pocket Garden category from the Society of Garden Designers, her greatest reward comes from the Chappins. “Thanks to Rosemary, this is now a beautiful space,” says Andy. “I would struggle to name a single plant, but I know we have something amazing.”