Anthea Harrison MSGD transformed a steep garden in Essex
On this project, the house was a new-build, which had been shoehorned into a difficult site – when I first saw the garden, it looked like you’d need a safety harness to mow the lawn! There were ramps and banks of planting so steep that maintenance was all but impossible and there were no decent areas of flat space to put furniture on. It was virtually unusable.
The clients wanted the usual things; a flat bit of lawn to play football on, an area to sit outside and eat with space for a barbecue, the ubiquitous trampoline. They had a baby during the project, so another element of the brief was making the garden safe for a toddler. Privacy was also an issue. The house and garden are raised from the road behind, so the first thing we did was plant pleached Quercus ilex along the fence line.
The design was based around three main flat areas: lawn, and two areas of seating. The house is two storeys on the front but three on the back, so my first step was to extend out from the kitchen on the middle floor, so you could walk out from the patio doors onto a deck for outside dining. The new deck was pretty much level with the neighbour’s fence, but cantilevered out over the client’s garden with a steep drop of a couple of metres on the right-hand side. There were glass balustrades around it and gates to stop the toddler escaping.
A narrow strip of paving outside the bottom level of the house had significant drainage problems and had filled up like a pool in heavy rain. I extended that strip to create an entertaining space with a water feature, and improved the drainage.
The final area was a level lawn created using a cut-and-fill technique. We used rock-filled gabions as a retaining wall in that area so we didn’t have to pour too much concrete in the ground, meaning we could still put in planting around it. The rocks in the gabions pick up the grey tones of the paving and the decking was also grey.
The lighting design was a real highlight of the end result. Three brightly coloured planters lit by recessed lights at the bottom of the stairs made a striking focal point and look stunning at night when you are sitting on the deck.
When you face problems like this, it allows you to get creative. I don’t think clients who buy houses with gardens like this appreciate what can be involved, they have no idea of the cost – it’s major structural work. It was a challenging project, but at the end we resolved all the issues successfully and created a stunning garden.