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As the winners are announced at this year’s Society of Garden Designers annual Award ceremony, we reveal some of the best garden design ideas from the winning gardens, from triangular planters to circular paving, hidden playgrounds and grass steps. 

Small family gardens can often be dominated by unsightly play equipment leaving little room for anything else, but in this garden in East London, winner of the Garden Jewel category at the SGD Awards, Adolfo Harrison MSGD has created a hidden playground, weaving elements of play throughout the design so that both children and adults can enjoy the space.   

Monkey bars form a pergola to which swings and slides can be attached, boulder stepping stones are laid out to enable children to jump from one to the other along the length of the garden, and two moon benches provide a snug place where they can sit, set within a living wall to create a playful face.  

Mirrors are used to make the space feel bigger and a 'ceiling' created by the canopy of long-stemmed bamboos focus attention within the space and create a more intimate atmosphere.  


Photo by Richard Bloom

If you have a patio garden and are looking for ways to encourage more wildlife into it, take inspiration from Butter Wakefield’s winning small garden where she uses oversize copper containers filled with a glorious mix of trees, shrubs and perennials to create an urban oasis.

Plants include multi-stem birch trees underplanted with evergreen Ferns and spring flowering Crocus; beech balls with Erigeron daisies and Muehlenbeckia; and shrubs and perennials including Syringa microphyllia ‘Red Pixie’, Euphorbia schillingii, Geranium pyrcenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’ & Cirsium rivulare ‘Blue Wonder’. 

Using walls for planting, whether you use a trellis or containers, is a great way to make the most of your garden, but for maximum drama a full living wall is unbeatable.

Winner of the Grand Award at the SGD Awards, John Davies, incorporated hydroponic walls into the roof and basement gardens of this office building in London, featuring a mix of flowering shrubs and perennials, such as buddleia and fuschia, to complement an evergreen planting framework and create a year-round effect with seasonal colour.

You can position a living wall anywhere, but remember to choose the right plants for that part of the garden, just as you would with a border.  And if you don't want a full living wall, use climbing plants and wall shrubs such as clemetis, roses, honeysuckle or wisteria to add a vertical element to your outside space.   

If you are concerned about the environmental impact of your garden and are looking for ways to make it more sustainable, Sue Townsend’s ‘Samphire’ garden, winner of the Beth Chatto Award for best Eco Garden, demonstrates how you can create a garden that can benefit the planet and which is bursting with texture and visual interest.  

The coastal garden in Suffolk uses a rich palette of drought-tolerant planting including native seaside plants, grasses and Mediterranean shrubs surrounded by a stone mulch in different sizes and set amongst paving of locally reclaimed York Stone. Plants include verbena bonariensis, eryngiums, euphorbias, lavender, achillea, ballota, miscanthus nepalensis, pennisetum, verbena and thymus. Make sure you use permeable surfaces to allow water to be released naturally into the ground. 

The angular styling of mid-century modernism has timeless appeal, so if you're looking for ways to update your roof terrace or garden patio and encourage wildlife into your garden along the way, why not replicate the triangular planters in John Davies's winning roof top garden in East London?

The bespoke system of planters, built with sloping walls to encourage bees, butterflies and birds, compliments the modern architecture of the building and the choice of core-ten steel echoes its industrial heritage. Filled with flowering shrubs, insect-friendly perennials, prairie-style grasses and multi-stem trees, the planters are surrounded by an Iroko bench and lit from beneath to create the illusion of floating. 

Designed to provide a biodiverse green spot within the City of London, the outer facing walls of the planters are also filled with plants inserted into letter box style apertures allowing the greenery to be viewed and enjoyed from the road as well. 

Photo by Richard Bloom 

If you like the idea of hearing the trickle of running water in your garden but don’t want a fountain, try a simple stone trough and water spout like the one incorporated into Butter Wakefield’s winning Ribbon Wheel garden. The beautiful antique trough is designed with wall panels hanging above it, incorporating antiqued mirror to reflect the garden beyond and painted a dark grey to set off the green of the surrounding plants.

Timber posts don't have to be confined to fencing a garden off from the neighbours. Carefully positioned within a garden they can be used to frame plants or seating areas and add extra interest to borders or paths.   

In their NHS 70 Garden for Addenbrooke's Hospital, winner of the Healing or Learning category,  landscape company Bowles & Wyer uses reclaimed oak posts to frame the view along a meandering path at its centre, positioning them at different heights and angles so that new aspects of the space open up to visitors as they make their way through.

Photo by Richard Bloom 

Green roofs, living roofs, vegetated roofs, — whatever you want to call them, planted roofs are sprouting up everywhere and can be home to an array of plants from grasses to flowers, as well as being the perfect way to bring biodiversity into your garden. 

In his garden in North London, winner of the Planting Award Stuart Craine MSGD has created a stunning sedum roof in pastel powdery pinks, adding a softness to the abundant greenery in the surrounding garden. You can create a green roof on any flat surface or unsightly roof - from bin stores to bike sheds - and if you're not sure what to plant, simply lay a ready-seeded wildflower turf.  

Photo by Marianne Majerus

Beautiful paving can transform a garden. In her Ribbon Wheel garden, Butter Wakefield has created an elaborate paving design of ten interlinking circles, each one different in design and size and connected to one another by a ‘ribbon’ of York cobblestones. The circles, created from a combination of limestone and York stone, are laid in a mix of  setts and cobbles creating a stunning effect.    

Position planters or furniture in the centre of each circle and light from beneath for extra drama.   

If your garden is on different levels but you don't like the idea of lots of stonework and want it to flow together seamlessly from one space to the next, take inspiration from Helen Elks-Smith MSGD, winner of the Large Residential Award. Instead of incorporating stone steps, Helen has used grass treads, integrating them into the existing lawn to connect the lower patio to the small sun terrace above. 

A growing trend, multi-stem trees can create an architectural showpiece in any space with the elegant canopies lending themselves to layered underplanting or, if planted exclusively, to create a striking structural statement.

In this modern Suffolk garden, Caitlin McLauglin, winner of the Fresh Designer award, uses multi-stem trees and soft planting to create a deconstructed woodland environment in the front courtyard garden, while Andy Sturgeon FSGD, winner of the International award, used native multi-stem trees in his winning garden in Bermuda to enhance the scale of the space. 

Images of all the winning gardens in the SGD Awards 2020 can be seen here.  

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