Complementary textures and colours create the perfect fusion between this state-of-the-art house and its contemporary garden
Subtle shades and soft textures were used to create a contemporary garden that carefully echoes the colours and shapes of the building it surrounds.
DESIGNER PROFILE Helen Elks-smith MSGD trained as a garden designer at Writtle University College in Essex. She started her design practice in 2004 when she moved to Hampshire and won a gold medal at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show in 2016 for her Zoflora garden.
WHAT DID THIS GARDEN LOOK LIKE BEFORE YOUR NEW DESIGN?
The garden was mostly laid to lawn, with an outdoor swimming pool and mature trees. The property was the former kitchen garden of a larger house, and it is surrounded by an old listed brick wall, with a single-storey house in the centre. The owners had commissioned architect Dan Brill to reconfigure the house, and the area we can see here is the bedroom wing, which looks out on to the swimming pool; the kitchen and dining areas are behind it in the middle of the house, while a garage, utility room and sitting room make up the west wing.
TELL US ABOUT THE DESIGN BRIEF FOR THE GARDEN.
My brief was for a family garden, with a dining area, kitchen garden and lawns for the owners’ children, as well as more secluded areas around the bedrooms. The owners wanted something modern that would complement the house’s contemporary architecture.
HOW DOES YOUR DESIGN MEET THE BRIEF?
I designed two key social spaces outside the dining room and kitchen, with table and chairs, sofas and a lawn. The bedroom wing was more problematic, since it needed to be screened from the pool, but still maintain a connection between the house and the rest of the garden. My solution was to design a series of sloping terraces leading out from each of the bedroom doors, with beds of textural planting between them to create a feeling of enclosure and privacy. A gravel path edged with Stipa gigantea (grasses) separates the terraces from the pool. The linear paved areas echo the building’s block-like form, and the simple planting and colours give the garden a contemporary look.
WHAT INSPIRED YOUR PLANTING CHOICES?
I wanted the planting to sit quietly in the landscape, flowing out from the rooms but not taking too much attention away from the building. The ornamental grasses, sedums and phlomis seedheads reflect the colours of the listed brick wall and complement the building’s black glass panels, while providing the textural quality I wanted. To create height and structure, I have included Amelanchier trees, which have flowers and bronze-tinted foliage in spring, followed by small purple berries and red leaves in autumn. The Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ also adds height and its dark-purple leaves create splashes of colour that are picked up in other plants, such as the Acanthus spinosus (bear’s breeches) and Hemerocallis ‘Sweet Hot Chocolate’.
WHICH PLANTS WOULD YOU RECOMMEND FOR AUTUMN AND WINTER?
I would choose plants with strong winter outlines and interesting seedheads and bark, with a few seasonal flowering shrubs, such as Sarcococca confusa (sweet box) and Lonicera fragrantissima (winter honeysuckle). The grasses here include Anemanthele lessoniana (pheasant’s tail grass) and Hakonechloa macra, which are both semi-evergreen and have russet tones in autumn and winter. These provide a perfect match for the pink autumn flowers and dark foliage of the sedum Hylotelephium ‘Matrona’ – the seedheads and stems of
The ornamental grasses, sedums and phlomis seedheads provide the textural quality I wanted.”
this perennial plant then turn bronze over winter. Silvery evergreen Santolina chamaecyparissus (cotton lavender) and the glossy green leaves of Choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom) will also brighten up your garden in the darkest days of winter.
HOW DO YOU LINK THE GARDEN WITH THE HOUSE?
Using consistent, repeated shapes that relate to the measurements of the house’s facade, and to its windows and doors, will help to underpin the connection between your home and garden. Hard landscaping materials will also sit more quietly and support the planting visually if the colour and texture complements those used on the house. Here, the flamed black basalt paving and gravel pick up the black glass panels, and the red cedarwood cladding on the building also complements the colours of the grasses, phlomis seedheads and sedum flower buds.