To maximise the feeling of getting back to nature and to make it a relaxing space, the garden needs to work both aesthetically and practically. For some people, a lawn is the defining area of the garden, but it does need additional extras to bring it to life. Ben Scanlan, owner of Silvertree Gardens in Braunton, suggests adding planted borders for visual effect. “If it’s large enough, then a central ‘island’ bed layered with planting can be good focal point,” he says. Alison Bockh, from Alison Bockh Garden Design in Winkleigh, agrees that a well-kept lawn surrounded by contrasting borders is visually pleasing. “Within the lawn, a specimen tree or group of trees carefully positioned as a focal point or to enhance a view can add interest,” she says.

Caroline Curtis, partner in Eden Design near Kingsbridge, suggests mowing only the central areas of lawn, allowing the fringes to grow into wildflower strips. “This meadow effect can look particularly beautiful in more naturalistic gardens and is an easy and effective way to attract wildlife,” she says.

Ben, however, acknowledges that a lawn is not a necessity. If the size and space doesn’t allow for grass, then the edges can be softened with greenery and textured planting. “Add some larger architectural shrubs for a striking look,” he recommends.

To make the most of the outside space, a seating area is a must. Both paving and decking are still popular, and a small patio with a bench and a pergola will provide a sunny spot. Stone paving is hard-wearing and will last years, and there is a wide variety of choices, from slate and limestone to sandstone. Alison recommends Indian sandstone for its variety of shades. However, there are other brands ethically sourced from the UK.

Decking is a cheaper option and can be constructed fairly quickly. “It’s useful if your garden has some awkward slopes or height differences and you don’t want to do too much digging and groundwork,” says Ben. “Although it does require some regular annual or bi-annual maintenance (pressure-washing and occasional treating) to stop it becoming slippery, especially if it’s in a shady, damp location.” Alison advocates synthetic alternatives, which are more expensive but will last longer and look like wood. Caroline is impressed by composite decking because it is constructed from post-consumer rubber waste and is therefore an eco-friendly choice.

Garden designers have to deal with different requests, and Ben finds some customers are craving sunshine while others demand a shady spot to relax in. If space allows, both sun and shade can be incorporated. To take shelter from the rays, Ben recommends a pergola with a climbing plant such as clematis or honeysuckle. “Shade-sails can create a striking, contemporary look and can be easily taken down when you want that sun back!”

Alison finds that it is always worth creating a shady spot. “Patios are often sited to catch the sun, but eating in hot sunshine when we do get a BBQ day is not really very pleasant.”

As well as function, the garden has to look welcoming and attractive. Ben says: “Some prefer clean, modern lines for a contemporary garden, while for others it’s about curves and organic shapes.” He advises keeping it simple and not trying to squeeze too many ideas into one space. This is relevant to both features and materials used.  “The style of your garden will often determine the type of materials you use,” he says. “For example, a curvy, informal garden will suit reclaimed bricks, old sleepers, or riven paving slabs, whereas the straight lines of rendered block-work, sawn or smooth paving and hardwood screening will accentuate a contemporary, urban design.” 

To be sure of achieving the garden of your dreams, it is vital to draw up a plan. “Think first about how you want to spend your time there and build a plan around what you want to do while you’re there – and what you don’t,” suggests Alison. 

For smaller outside spaces, planning the garden with solid, bold shapes often makes a garden appear bigger, so raised beds might provide room for additional planting and add interest. “Give the lawn a strong specific shape and wrap your borders around that,” says Alison. “Borders can be all sorts of designs that will be disguised once they are planted, but you will still notice the shape of the lawn, which will pull the plan together. Well-planted borders can look better and are often less work to maintain than a big lawn.” 

All designers agree that gardens that reflect the surrounding natural landscape are the most harmonious and successful. “The rural landscape of Devon provides a wonderful setting for gardens, where windswept clifftops, rolling hills or Devon hedges bursting with colour are only a stone’s throw away,” enthuses Caroline.

Once the design is done, thoughts should turn to planting. Ben finds that most of his clients like low-maintenance plants, while still providing impact. Ben recommends Cordyline australis, a striking, easy-to-maintain plant which looks a bit like a palm; Trachelospermum jasminoides, an evergreen climber with attractive flowers and a lovely evening scent; and Fatsia japonica, with large, hand-shaped leaves that give great texture and colour.

According to Alison, Phormiums do well in coastal regions – bold, strappy, hardy evergreens in various shades. “I’m particularly fond of Euphorbias – another bold, exotic-looking plant with bright acid-yellow bracts and greyish foliage. They like good drainage but are generally uncomplaining.”

Tips from Caroline include installing plants that have similar pruning requirements, so they can all be cut back at the same time, along with planting ground cover, which helps to cut down on weeds. “I am a big fan of multi-stemmed shrubs and trees, too – try Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ or Amelanchier lamarckii.”

For final finishing touches, why not add some structural pieces. Dena Bex and Tim Pike own Classics, a treasure-trove of vintage finds based at Hill House Nursery in Landscove. From riveted galvanised tanks used to display topiary and olive trees, to a vintage bath planted with annuals, Classics sells one-off items that will make the garden special. “This year there has been a particular interest in using our containers for marginal plants such as irises or marsh marigolds, and some people have also been inspired to turn the containers into gazing ponds,” says Dena.

“The meadow effect can look particularly beautiful in more naturalistic gardens”Caroline Curtis, Eden Design near Kingsbridge
Architectural shrubs
Add some larger, architectural shrubs for a striking look. Demonstrated here in a garden created by Eden Design
Wooden steps
The style of your garden will often determine the type of materials you use - demonstrated here in a space designed by Silvertree Gardens
Green patio table and chairs
This vintage French garden patio set is available from Hill House Nursery
Lucy Baker-Kind

Published 1 July 2016

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