How to Bring the Garden In

Monday, August 10, 2015

Back in May I attended the Chelsea Flower Show, one of the biggest gardening showcases in the UK where many of the world’s most talented garden designers show off their latest work.

Some spectacular innovations are still on my mind today, such as water dyed to increase its reflectivity and mirrored, geometric planting boxes that created dazzling optical illusions. However, I was disappointed to see that contemporary design took a back seat in this year’s show; most of the gardens felt like a step into the past.

While there is real skill in recreating a garden from another time or place (no doubt thrilling for horticulturists), right down to the seemingly naturally worn dirt paths and crumbling statues, I can count on one hand homes where such a style would be consistent with their interior and architectural design.

What I strive to create is a natural transition from inside to out. If the interior is contemporary – as most of my clients request – that should extend into the garden.

There a couple of reliable techniques to achieve this consistency. One is floor to ceiling glass, creating entire walls from the exterior view so that even in the harshest winter you can enjoy the light and space provided by the garden. Then when it warms up, you can open up whole sections to let the smells and sounds of summer fill your home.

Another technique is flush flooring from interior to exterior, even better if the same material is used across both. When the doors to the garden are opened, this seamlessly extends the interior out into the garden, perfect to double the size of the kitchen in a dinner party or let children play freely between indoors and out.

Both are simple in theory but require absolute precision in materials and finish to achieve the desired effect. Perfect simplicity is very difficult to achieve.

As for the design of the garden itself, it must be complementary to the aesthetic of the home itself. In best case scenarios, they’ll be designed in tandem. This may involve architectural work, such as using the same materials in garden walls as those in the house, or seamlessly extending an interior wall outside – perfect for narrow urban gardens.

Garden design is much like stage design. Layering and props can be used to create a sense of depth and perspective, making even cramped urban gardens feel spacious.

Take, for example, green walls, where plant life covers an entire vertical surface, especially valuable if the ground provides few options for planting. These make a garden appear larger or more fertile by filling the view from inside with greenery.

Tiered gardens allow you to create separate layers that prevent plants at the front occluding those at the back. Because you can see further into the garden, it creates a sensation of increased depth – perfect for long gardens.

Then there’s scale. By using miniature versions of plants that we associate as being large, such as trees and hedges, you can create the illusion of a larger space. A simple winding path, small garden furniture or even built structures can have the same effect.

But most of all garden design comes down to your tastes and how you’ll use it. Do you want a lawn with plants growing naturally, or a patio and planters? Is garden furniture or open space more important to you? Do you like to sit in the shade of a tree or in the sun? Whatever you want, by designing the garden alongside your home or extension, you can get the most out of both.

I could go on with lighting tricks and the reflectivity of pools, but it’s time I let pictures speak louder than words. Have a look through our portfolio, where you’ll find a wide variety of homes where we brought the garden in.

By John Dyer Grimes