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Project: Seaside garden transformation

Project: Seaside garden transformation

Helen Elks-Smith MSGD turned a tired seaside garden and unloved jetty in Dorset into a harbourside haven

The clients originally asked us to look at this garden, which backs onto Christchurch Harbour, with a view to reviewing the planting. The house had been their holiday home, with low-maintenance planting to match, but was now to become their permanent residence.

It soon became evident, however, that the main issue with the garden was structural. At the end of the garden were some faux Victorian railings, which not only created a massive disconnect between the garden and the landscape beyond, but jarred with the natural curves of the harbour.

Sea change

The garden had amazing views, but it managed to miss every single one – quite a feat. This wasn’t something the clients had thought about – when things aren’t right in a garden, and there’s nowhere for the eye to rest, people often blank out the problem spaces. It’s a designer’s role to see space differently, and we offered to come up with some solutions.

Working with a budget of under £50,000, we ended up making changes to much of the 30m x 11m garden. There were a couple of things that we could not change: the deck up by the house and the bulk of the jetty that runs out over the sea, which we could only tweak. A flight of curved steps lead down from the house to the lawn that sweeps towards the water. ‘Ribbons’ of planting define this lawn, soften the linear boundaries and create a visual connection with the wider landscape.

The texture of the Purbeck stone for the terrace and path become rougher as we move away from the house, with the seating spaces positioned for the views. However the planting encloses the terrace, so when viewed from the house the focus is on the harbour, not the terrace.

This garden has flooded at high tides, so the sea wall was raised to the level of neighbouring properties. Soil was banked up on the garden side and planted with the very tough native marram grass, Ammophila arenaria. The planting elsewhere in the garden echoes the wildflowers of the nearby Jurassic coast, such as Armeria maritima. These are tough conditions – wind is an issue, and the lower part of the garden is regularly sprayed with sea water.

Waterside sanctuary

The clients are really pleased with the garden. I very rarely suffer from garden envy but this location is special. Light bounces off the water and at low tide off the cool tones of the sand. This is now an incredibly peaceful space. Life moves on, though, and the clients have now sold the property. We are currently working with them on their next garden, another beautiful waterside location. The new owners love the garden and it was a key factor in their decision making so I hope it will continue to flourish. 

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