On a recent sunny Friday, we had the privilege to be invited to tour one of our clients’ gardens at their lovely Manor House in Hampshire. It was really satisfying to see how quickly the garden has established a firm sense of maturity and belonging in the short time since its completion in 2014.
It’s been fantastic working with the owners over the years, who’s enthusiasm for the project and ongoing development of the garden, is nothing short of infectious! We had the opportunity to chat to one of them on our walk around the garden and it was wonderful to hear about how much he loves his garden.
He’s absolutely passionate about understanding how to nurture the garden and develop it over time. Being a successful businessman himself, he understands the only way to really do that, is to do it yourself for a while to learn the process and maintenance required to keep the garden flourishing. Much to his credit, and his team of carefully chosen part-time gardeners, the garden is looking truly magnificent. It is always a great pleasure to work with clients over time, visiting at intervals throughout the year to advise on maintenance and the ongoing design development of the garden as it matures.
Front of House
The original drive to the front of the Manor House was short and brought people directly beneath the imposing façade, encouraging them to park only in front of the façade, obscuring the views across the garden from the front door.
We decided to divert the driveway to approach the house via a new sweeping drive, whilst also providing ample parking to the side of the house, to encourage cars to park away from the façade of the building. With a defined direction to follow, and the façade uncluttered, visitors are now guided instinctively to the front door with a clear view of the Manor House, and open views out into the garden from the house itself. The new planting along the façade of the house is simple yet bold, creating an elegant statement of arrival, in a confident and softly formal way.
The new garden incorporates some of the existing features of the site, such as garden walls, large topiary, established hedges and the lovely historic buildings. When our clients bought the Manor House and surrounding buildings, they were in need of complete renovation and restoration, the results of which are stunning. There was little in the way of garden, other than an allotment style vegetable garden, mature trees and hedges, along with a rather suburban 1970’s pond in an illogical location to the rear of the house.
We quickly established the need for a cohesive Master Plan for the garden, something to tie all the floating elements together, and enhance the different areas of the garden. It was important to create a garden in keeping with a traditional formal manor house and associated historic features. Working with the idea of garden rooms, we clearly defined the intended atmosphere, purpose and structure for each area, while making sure that the different spaces linked together to encourage the user to explore and move from one ‘garden’ to another. The new elements of the garden cleverly work with existing hedges and topiary to great effect, incorporating established structure with new, adding to the framework of a thoughtfully designed garden.
Working with a more formal layout and detailed planting scheme near the house, the design moves out to increasingly relaxed and informal areas beyond the main terrace and lawn, with simple planting schemes that gradually merge with the countryside beyond. Some spaces have an element of playfulness and fun, while others are more formal and elegant, with some areas, such as the productive garden and tennis court, having a clearly defined purpose.
Terrace and Sculpted Lawn
The main formal terrace sits at the rear of the house, flanked on either side by existing curved walls, with enticing archways leading through to adjacent areas. The curved walls adjoining the house effectively lead you out to the different areas of the garden. The deep herbaceous borders in front of the walls are packed full of colourful showy planting, producing enough wow factor and impact to provide all the detailed planting needed to leave an impression strong enough for the whole garden.
From the terrace you step onto a large and effectively simple sculpted lawn set on three levels. Each level separated by carefully crafted grass banks reflecting the curved walls by the house. Three sets of steps lead up from the lower lawn, aligned to the main axis of the garden, set into the bank and constructed using reclaimed Yorkstone. These were designed to focus on a lovely old Yew, brought back from near death, after suffering years of poor management.
You wouldn’t know it now, but the lawn used to slope down towards the house, which felt oppressive and made the house feel hemmed in and a bit claustrophobic. By creating a large expanse of levelled lawn, it now feels open, with better views out from the house. The lawn, designed to be structurally interesting all year round, uses a simple sculpted form. It’s now a large low maintenance area providing big impact and looks particularly good in in winter with frost on the banks and low raking light defining the curves.
Wildlife Pond and Wildflower Meadow
The wildlife pond and wildflower meadow were introduced to the garden in 2014, accessed via a little bridge over the ha-ha, which is perfectly lined up with the main axis view from the house and central set of steps. Talking to our client on our walk around the landscape, it became clear just how much he loves the wildflower meadow. It was lovely to see how excited and happy it made him, constantly coming across new plants, and keen to identify them all. We were all really excited recently to find three Common Spotted Orchids that had appeared of their own accord for the first time – evolution in action!
Wandering through the meadow along mown paths, it was lovely to listen to all the different birdsong emanating from the surrounding young woodland, and admire the myriad of wild and native flowers, just teaming with bees and butterflies, and dancing damsel and dragonflies. It was stunning, the epitome of peace and relaxation! We can see why our client loves it so much. It’s amazing to think that just a few years ago, this area of calm tranquillity, had been a ploughed arable field devoid of wildlife. Last time we visited the garden we even saw a Sparrow Hawk bathing on the edge of the wildlife pond!
To help the aquatic planting establish, after the wildlife pond was constructed and lined, the liner was covered with chalk. The marginal planting around the wildlife pond thrived and now buzzes with pond life. Dragonfly’s flit between the wildlife pond and adjacent wildflower meadow, which is continuingly changing colour, providing ongoing interest and new surprises. It was just breath-taking and incredibly refreshing to spend time next to the water during the heat of the day.
The wildlife pond has two beaches, a pontoon with seating, and a little ladder just tempting you into the water. The clients love it so much they have been known to swim in the pond all year round! It looked so inviting. A couple of canoes lay abandoned on the beach at the far end and you could just imagine the family having fun on the water.
Encouraging Wildlife into our Gardens and Landscapes
We believe it’s so important to consider wildlife and the greater environment when designing our gardens and landscapes. It’s an easy thing to say, and most proclaim it, but we firmly believe there is so much more that we can all do to benefit our environments, without compromising the aesthetic or functionality of our designs, while adding great benefits and beauty in the process. The wildflower meadow in this design is a perfect example of how we can incorporate a haven for nature, wildlife, and humans alike! Not only is it beneficial to the natural world, but it also performs for the owners of the gardens and landscapes, our clients, throughout the spring, summer, and autumn, much longer and more ever changing than your average herbaceous border will do!
The desire to increase privacy was an important consideration from the outset, as the property is surrounded by a network of public footpaths, which made the garden feel overlooked and uncomfortable. This was achieved using woodland and natural planting, instead of hard boundaries, to maintain a soft edge to the garden, which in turn made it feel connected to the surrounding countryside. It has proved to be incredibly effective, as you really wouldn’t know how overlooked it once was, it feels very private now and yet still part of the greater landscape.
Orchard and Productive Garden
From the meadow we walked back over the little bridge and up one of the side set of steps from the lawn to the orchard. It’s always really lovely to see how clients engage with their garden over time after it’s been completed. A lovely example of this was a hammock we found strung up between the orchard fruit trees swinging in the breeze.
Beyond the Orchard lies the re-imagined Productive Garden, with its new formal layout designed to tie all of the existing elements together. This was one of the first areas to be developed, featuring a pattern of neatly clipped box parterre style borders, now absolutely crammed full of cutting flowers, fruit, herbs and vegetables, with two central arbours defining the intersecting paths, all designed around the existing greenhouse, pump house, and adjacent tennis court.
Both a productive and ornamental space, with seating and a water feature highlighting views through, linking the different spaces and adjacent gardens together, it works well on many levels. Our client bought the antique fountain that inspired the pond in the centre of two intersecting paths, making a lovely feature and adding the restful sound of moving water to the productive garden.
The End of our Tour and Final Thoughts
Lastly, we peeked into the walled garden on one side of the house, accessed via one of the archways in the curved wall. The garden surrounds the side terrace and pool house, and is beautifully simple, with a tiered lawn and a circular area with seating and a firepit. A more intimate spill out space from the house for evenings and entertaining.
Throughout the garden there is a draw to explore, tempted by a distant feature, or a cleverly placed path, sometimes a hedge just obscuring a view to another ‘garden room’. It really is a garden of surprises and delights!
At the end of our visit we met our client again pruning the climbing rose on the cottage by the entrance and had chat about garden maintenance. He suggested we explain to future clients that it is possible to have a garden like his that is relatively low maintenance for its size and seeming complexity. Since carrying out a lot of the maintenance himself, working and learning alongside his part-time gardeners, he’s found that he can make it work with just one part-time gardener 3 days a week, plus twice-yearly hedge cutting and mulching.
Although any garden will require maintenance of some sort or another, and need budgeting for, he is right, there are ways of designing a striking garden without needing to have a full-time gardener, and in the process, keeping costs under control. Provision for ongoing maintenance is something we will always discuss with clients early in the design process to ensure we design a successful garden.
All in all, it was a fabulous way to spend a few hours away from our desks! Feeling inspired by our visit, we’ll be featuring more of our gardens over the coming months, so please have a look from time to time to see what we’ve been up to!