August 5, 2021

The new modern


Charlotte Rowe uses formal planting and swathes of limestone to bring an uninspiring garden in the UK bang up to date.

This was a large, long established 650m² garden in Wimbledon, south-west London, with a number of mature trees and shrubs, some in poor condition. The terrace was paved with old York stone that had seen better days. There was a garden house that was attractive but in the wrong place and a large lawn surrounded by beds. The garden was underused and aesthetically not on a par with the house and its interior.

The clients wanted a more stylish, classically contemporary garden with formal, clipped planting and they particularly wanted to include a fireplace, a dining area and a pétanque court. Charlotte Rowe Garden Design created an upper terrace of buff-coloured English limestone with a long water feature cutting through it, surrounded by ‘cloud’ planting of Buxus sempervirens. The water falls over the edge of the stone down a 1.2m water wall of deep-brown polished granite. At the end of the garden, the water feature is mirrored by a long polished granite strip in the ground with a vertical monolith, which acts as a focal point when viewed from the house.

The partially enclosed, private fireplace garden with a western red cedar arbour and a log fire as its main focus sit below the terrace at ground level. Charlotte Rowe designed a wide, built-in day bed for which the company commissioned a mattress and cushions in outdoor fabric to match the cushions of the teak armchairs. There is also a store cupboard.

The full-sized pétanque court is next to the fireplace garden, which is planted with tall, multi-stem Amelanchier lamarckii trees that are uplit at night and bounded by a row of box pleached Carpinus betulus. To fulfil the client’s wish for formal planting, a structural garden was created using ‘green architecture’ in the form of hornbeam, yew and buxus hedging to give a layered effect.

A limited colour palette of greens, limes and creams were used for the planting, featuring clipped Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’, Ilex crenata, Prunus lusitanica, Hebe parviflora angustifolia and Myrtus communis tarentina, interplanted with perennials and ground covers. A number of trees were removed and replaced with mature specimens, including a Parrotia persica and a Fraxinus angustifolia ‘Raywood’, as well as a mature Osmanthus heterophyllus and box pleached and fastigiated Carpinus betula. In total, more than 20 trees were planted.

Construction challenges

● The terrace to the rear of the house was 1.3m above the main part of the garden so it was decided to put the water feature on two levels. Charlotte Stone couldn’t be sure of the stability of the substructure of the terrace until the York stone had been removed, so test pits were excavated to ascertain what works were required. Although the existing retaining wall could not be used as it was neither structurally sound nor parallel with the house, the remedial works were not extensive. However, the provisional sum allowed for the terrace did increase.

● In total, 13 different stones were considered. Baycliff Lord, from Burlington Stone in Cumbria, had been the first choice and was ultimately what was used, but as it is a relatively expensive option the client wanted to explore other possibilities before making a final decision. The limestone the company specified for the upper terrace varied in colour from slab to slab so this needed to be selected and laid very carefully to achieve the look the designers were after.

● It was decided to use self-binding gravel for the pétanque court, which presented a few problems as it took two attempts to achieve the correct colour and texture.

● The design required the garden house to be uplifted and relocated, which was carried out successfully. However, the garden entrance was narrow and would not permit delivery of some of the larger, more mature trees. Rather than crane them in, the gateway was widened, by removing some of the brick wall, and a more generous gate was designed and constructed.

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