Gardens Illustrated Magazine

NARROW ESCAPE

A small, shaded, city garden has been transforme­d into a verdant urban oasis filled with trees, climbers and perennials

- WORDS MOLLY BLAIR PHOTOGRAPH­S SIETSKE DE VRIES

The brief

Dutch designer Erik Funneman had to visit the site of this city garden in Utrecht twice before a vision began to emerge. “When I got there, it was full of building materials and plastic covering,” he explains. “It was quite difficult to make something out of it”. It was paved with cheap concrete bricks, with no areas for plants. “The garden didn’t fit the space,” he says. “We had to remove everything.” Aside from a few specifics – a vertical garden, some water, plants to attract birds and a space to sit – the clients gave Erik a lot of creative freedom with the design. “It was not a very promising space,” he says. “They had no idea what they could do with it, but I found the complexity inspiring.”

The design

Enclosed by high walls, the north-facing garden is mostly in deep shade, save for a small area at the back, which gets a little sun. It’s also very small and narrow, so the design had to make every centimetre count. The clients had recently added a side extension, with a new glass-fronted office that opens out on to the brighter end of the garden, and a semi-undergroun­d bathroom below, meaning the garden is on two levels. “It’s part garden, part roof garden,” says Erik, “so it was quite complicate­d to design. We had to be careful with the weight of everything.”

It was clear that steps would be needed to connect the two terraces, but Erik didn’t want to lose any of the already limited space for planting, so he designed a metal grille that would allow for planting to continue under the steps. A sloped bed softens this transition, while climbing plants prevent the feeling that the walls are looming up over the space.

Erik created an area for a sizeable dining table where the owners could eat and work on the lower terrace, and a seating area in the suntrap on the upper terrace, where he also created a vertical garden or living wall. The front of the house faces south and offers space for the owners to sit out when it’s sunny, and looks over a cycle path and canal, but the rear garden offers a feeling of escape. “If they want to have privacy and peace they will sit in their back garden, and on hot days it is also a very nice microclima­te,” says Erik.

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The planting

The whole courtyard was grey and the large walls seemed imposing, but Erik knew that with the right planting it could be an inviting view. “The clients wanted a feeling of bringing nature into the city,” he says, “and a softer, green garden.” For instant impact, he used three trees in the lower courtyard: Ginkgo biloba, Carpinus betulus and Gleditsia triacantho­s f. inermis ‘Sunburst’. “I planted trees with small leaves to get a forest feeling of looking through the branches,” says Erik. “Naturally, it’s kind of a woodland environmen­t because of the shade, the moist soil and the high walls.”

The clients originally wanted more colour, but because of the challengin­g conditions Erik recommende­d focusing on lush green planting and textures. On the sloping bed under the metal steps, he planted a mixture of different textures and leaf shapes from Hakonechlo­a macra, Persicaria ‘Purple Fantasy’ and Heuchera ‘Brownies’ among ferns and a groundcove­r of mind-your-ownbusines­s, Soleirolia soleirolii, that softens the decking’s edge.

The 7m-high wall of the neighbouri­ng house creates a tall boundary, up which climbing plants, such as Clematis armandi ‘Snowdrift’, add interest. Erik is also training the Carpinus betulus as further cover. “This wall was my canvas for the garden,” says Erik. “It didn’t have to be completely covered. I like the contrast between the small leaves and the background.” The clients also wanted a vertical garden, which Erik sited at the back of the top terrace, where it catches the sun. This green wall is limited to a few plant species, including Hakonechlo­a macra ‘All Gold’, which provides autumn colour, alongside Asarum europaeum and Soleirolia soleirolii.

The hardscapin­g

All areas of the house look out into the garden, including the newly built, glass office space that leads on to the upper terrace. To tie the garden together, both terraces are decked with an FSC-certified Ipe hardwood, the soft colouring of which forms a backdrop that really allows the green of the foliage to stand out.

On the raised level, the team used a roof garden substrate to limit the weight of the planting, whereas on the lower level the garden soil was enriched with organic matter. Around the garden, uplighters allow for the space to be used at night and cast shadows from the trees on to the walls. A drip-irrigation system, used to help the plants establish, means there are no plastic hoses taking up unnecessar­y room in the compact garden.

The walkway and steps between the terraces are made from galvanised steel rods. “I wanted to keep the middle space green,” says Erik. “If there had been wooden or Corten steel steps it would have taken away from that. I wanted to create almost invisible stairs.” Each piece of steel is rounded, so the steps are comfortabl­e to walk on, and the distance between each bar was carefully considered to ensure the constructi­on was strong and safe. The steel was also chosen as a way of tying the concrete surroundin­gs and the house extension together – it’s modern in feel and matches the grey tones of the walls. “They wanted to connect the garden to the architectu­re without making it heavy; I wanted to keep it light.”

 ?? ?? Far left The garden is essentiall­y two terraces: a lower dining terrace given a calm, woodland feel by three trees and a water feature; and sunnier upper terrace, linked by metal-grille steps now engulfed by a lush mix of leaf textures, including ferns, heucheras, Hakonechlo­a macra and Persicaria ‘Purple Fantasy’. Left The sunny upper terrace is backed by a green wall down which cascades the grass Hakonechlo­a macra ‘All Gold’ alongside Asarum europaeum to create an impressive focal point for the long, narrow space.
Far left The garden is essentiall­y two terraces: a lower dining terrace given a calm, woodland feel by three trees and a water feature; and sunnier upper terrace, linked by metal-grille steps now engulfed by a lush mix of leaf textures, including ferns, heucheras, Hakonechlo­a macra and Persicaria ‘Purple Fantasy’. Left The sunny upper terrace is backed by a green wall down which cascades the grass Hakonechlo­a macra ‘All Gold’ alongside Asarum europaeum to create an impressive focal point for the long, narrow space.
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