When a small garden gets you the prospect of, not one, but three awards, you've surely got something right. This is the enviable position of Anne Jennings, who set up Viridian Landscape Design with Andrew Halksworth in 2013.
Her garden for the small courtyard of a private residence in Chelsea is already among BALI's award winners for Design Excellence for a Scheme over £50,000 and is also in the running for the Society of Garden Designers' Small Residential Garden and People's Choice.
“Dead chuffed,” is how Anne describes herself, adding, “For various reasons, it's taken me a lot of years to apply for BALI and SGD membership—there's an arduous application process—and I got through on the first attempt. This was the first time I'd entered for the awards.”
The brief was to create a garden that had the character of a lost and rediscovered treasure, which meant that nothing new could be used. So Anne sought out antique urns, reclaimed distressed oak doors and reconstituted stone arches, to create the sense of a place with history.
“The thing that drove it was, they wanted a playhouse, but to put a playhouse in a tiny garden made it very dominant.” The answer was a bespoke shepherd's hut, proportioned to fit the space and given a distressed finish. “That dominated the whole job. We got it proportionally right and everything swung from that.”
Anne arranged other elements to give the illusion that the garden (10.3 x 11.3 at its widest points) led elsewhere. The client had asked that as much of the ivy that clothed the boundary fence be kept as possible, and the cunning insertion of an old factory window backed with mirror creates the impression of a hidden building. Behind the shepherd's hut old oak doors, one partially open and backed with a mirror, imply secret places to be discovered, while reconstituted stone Gothic windows backed with mirror and a Gothic arch clothing the entrance to the side passage increase the sense of history.
Reclaimed Yorkstone paving was an obvious choice to support the design, but large glass doors at the back of the house give onto a small raised patio, which also called for coping and steps. “What people often do is lay paving slabs for coping,” says Anne, “but that doesn't look good—to look right we needed coping all the same thickness.”
Reclaimed Yorkstone doesn't, of course, come in uniform thickness, so we calibrated all the coping and step treads to Anne's requested 50mm with a pencil-round edge profile. We also handpicked the paving to ensure that it was all 50mm thick. “The site was very congested,” says Anne, “and everything had to be completed very tidily and to schedule; being all the same thickness makes the laying faster. Different thicknesses of paving slabs can also mean thick joints which can look ugly, so this helped reduce the thickness of the mortar.”
The result is an unusual design that will continue to evolve. For immediate maturity, the owner requested large trees, and two whitebeams, a crab apple, flowering cherry and multistemmed dogwood were craned in around the plane trees in the street and over the four-storey house. “We had to get a licence to close the road,” adds Anne.
As the trees grow, the garden will become shadier. The climbers are spreading and gaps between the paving are already becoming colonised with Anne's choice of Mind Your Own Business, increasing the mis-en-scène of a venerable garden where plants have grown up through the cracks.
It's been a once-in-a-lifetime project. “Gardens now have a certain look—all engineered cut stone,” says Anne. “It's been a lovely brief. I've trawled through reclamation yards, got lots of creeping plants. I'll never get another brief like it. I'm really pleased with it for that reason alone.”
We think you'll agree there are lots of reasons to be pleased with it and congratulate Anne on a super result. The overall BALI winners will be announced in December, and the SGD winners in January. We may well be adding more congratulations in a few weeks' time!