In the ninth of a 12-part series on Designing a Large Country Garden we look at the things to consider when including a
garden terrace in your landscape.
GARDEN TERRACE DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS
A terrace is one of the most essential components in the garden masterplan. At least one generous terrace, outside a principal room, will really draw you into the garden and once there, will provide the ideal setting in which to appreciate it.
A well-designed terrace should be proportionate to the scale of the house façade it is associated with. We often suggest as a rule of thumb, it extends from the house by two thirds the height of the façade. We will often align a terrace with the aspect of the house it is serving, using doors and windows as reference points, so the proportions of the terrace will echo the architectural detailing.
While every project is different, some proportions seem undeniably right dictated by need for furniture size or function. For instance, a 5m x 8m terrace or minimum 4m x 4m, space allowing of course. There should be ample space for comfortable movement around garden furniture and containers and for easy access into the garden.
The relationship between the house and the surrounding landscape should also be considered and the terrace should, broadly speaking, be designed to connect with the surrounding garden design too. It is important to create a relationship between architecture and landscape. We, therefore, tend to find geometric layouts work best in this regard. Along with paths and steps, the terrace is the levelled, horizontal element in the garden that links and frames architecture with its surroundings. It is often the introduction to the commencement of a journey around the garden.
It’s often a multi-purpose space that needs to work equally well as a dining and entertaining area and also a space for simply relaxing and unwinding. For this rural cottage, pictured below, we combined space for dining and more casual sitting, surrounded by planting, to create a less formal effect relevant to the setting.
In larger gardens, we will always consider several terraces and not always associated with the house. Some may be placed away from the house in the shade, offering cool sanctuary on hot days. Others may be placed to allow for comfortable sitting and enjoyment of views.
Some terraces may be more formal associated with formal family occasions connected to the drawing room, while others may be more intimate for day-to-day family use such as for morning coffee positioned outside a study or kitchen.
It is important to consider the aspect when positioning a terrace, or series of terraces, so they can be enjoyed throughout the day, in both sun and shade.
GARDEN TERRACE MATERIALS
When it comes to choosing materials, we would always consider the local vernacular and where appropriate, or possible, we would use materials that reflect this. It makes sense to source materials as locally as possible, to achieve a garden that feels rooted in its surroundings, so we would often incorporate local stone and brick or reclaimed materials.
Landscape materials should always compliment the house, and for many of our clients the natural choice is reclaimed Yorkstone. It looks particularly good in an historic setting and with many listed buildings, and it weathers beautifully to enhance the look of the garden over time. Reclaimed materials ensure the terrace looks as if it has always been there. They can also settle a new-build house.
For instance, reclaimed Yorkstone gave a timeless look to this herb garden, pictured beloW, and a combination of brick and flint reflected the materials found on the house and local walls.
We also find Limestone works particularly well when a project requires a transitional material to sit between a modern area of the garden and a period property. For example, where the terrace of a new pool garden sits within the grounds of an historic house.
We are never a fan of stone right up to the façade of the house, particularly if newer stone materials are used since this makes for a stark and somewhat bleak appearance to an essential space. Planting needs to surround and soften the hard elements within the garden and so we will always incorporate borders between the house and terrace, with generous access points to key doors and into the garden.
It also ensures one is surrounded by interest, scent and colour which is one of the joys of sitting in the garden in the first place.
We always discourage the use of reconstituted or artificial materials since they never weather as successfully as natural materials and rarely ever look at home in their setting.
Carefully mixing landscape materials can make for interesting effects and surrounding it with planting is a great way to break up the terrace space and identify zones for different activities. For instance, we might introduce areas of gravel within a large stone terrace to create a relaxed feel for a seating area and to mark it out from a more formal dining space. For instance, for clients in Berkshire, we designed an informal stepping-stone effect for an intimate and cosy seating area with Oak sleepers laid between sawn Yorkstone, pictured below.
Of course, a terrace is not just a level seating area that leads from the house, a garden on a sloping site can have a series of individual terraces, each with their own distinct character and use. Changes of level in a garden increase the visual drama and, where appropriate, they are a wonderful addition to the garden masterplan. Occasionally we will sink or raise a terrace depending on the effect we are trying to achieve and the location in which the garden sits. A raised terrace can create a dynamic composition and really open vistas into the garden.
Raised terraces can also create a proud platform for the house, leading the eye towards the beautiful architecture from the gardens.
PLANTING AND LAWNS
Surrounding a terrace with planting will help it to settle naturally into the landscape. We also incorporate planting on the terrace with groups of pots and containers artfully arranged, or large planters with seasonal interest which can offer more colour and structure throughout the year.
Borders running alongside the terrace or planting pockets set into the terrace will also soften the hard edges, making the space feel welcoming and blending it beautifully with the garden beyond.
We often find it desirable to frame a large lawn with the main terrace, allowing a good link between house and garden and this makes for a very flexible entertaining space. The lawn and terrace becoming the hub of family life during the summer months.
Look out for our journal posts on large garden design covering:
Driveways and Entrances
Views & Borrowed Landscapes
Designing with Water