August 5, 2021

An English Garden


In a beautiful rural setting in the English county of Kent, two Tyler asbestos and concrete-frame barns sat within a concrete farmyard, ruining the look of adjoining gardens and a farmhouse.

The client’s specifications to completely revamp the property included replacing the barns, farmyard, entrance and an adjoining tennis court with a new building; improving access, creating a kitchen garden and other gardens and linking them to existing gardens and paddocks; adding lighting throughout the garden, and converting oil-reliant buildings and a swimming pool to renewable energy sources.

Getting under way

E-scape decided to demolish the buildings and start from scratch. Following a prolonged planning process (the site was in a conservation area) approval was gained to replace the barns with a traditional two-storey oak frame and Kent peg barn, incorporating a gym, meeting rooms, storage and garage. Surrounding this, the area was divided into seven new spaces:

● Main courtyard and vehicle entrance gate

● Mediterranean-style culinary herb garden

● Formal rose garden with central armillary sphere enclosed by box, yew and clipped hornbeam

● Naturalistic grasses and herbaceous garden, with a rose arbor

● Formal kitchen garden with raised oak beds and large glasshouse, including triple soft fruit cage

● New chicken run with fruit trees

● Soft fruit espaliers, including peaches grown against warm walls, and lemons and oranges in large moveable pots.

The kitchen garden was defined from the other areas by an ogee-arched clematis walkway lined by olive trees in pots and underplanted with Catmint nepeta ‘Walkers Low’. Cruck-framed oak arches fitted with LED downlights on sensors lead the way to the new glasshouse. Breedon gravel surfacing creates an informal working feel to the food production areas, with more formal areas defined in Indian sandstone and contrasting Belgian clay pavers. The main courtyard is highlighted with resinbonded gravel, which contrasts with the traditional oak weatherboarding and clay peg tile of the barn. Parking areas are defined in the strong colours of the clay pavers.

The rose garden is planted in shades of deep reds, pinks and whites dominated by varieties Darcey Bussell, Munstead Wood, Anne Boleyn, England’s Rose, The Alnwick Rose and Maid Marion, with four Mary Rose standards and various climbers completing the picture. It is enclosed by a braced oak pergola with clipped pleached hornbeams carefully framing the views across the Kent landscape.

A series of pathways and vistas link the new oak barn to the old gardens and a covered walkway aligns the centrepiece of the rose garden (the armillary sphere) to a specimen ‘Wedding cake’ tree – the graceful Cornus controversa planted to mark a family event which was the project deadline. Other features include containers of Fascicularia bicolour in the courtyard (evergreen, spiky plants that will thrive in low winter temperatures and need no watering in summer). Less hardy, Astelia silver spear need protection and are taken into the greenhouse for the winter. These contrast with a billowing green ‘box cloud’ feature creating a focal point. A new curved brick wall encloses the other end of the courtyard, framing espaliered fruits and climbers.

The informal grasses garden provides a counterpoint to the rigid formality of other areas. This is dominated by Allium and tulip bulbs in the spring before the early flowering maroon Cirsum start the season rolling, followed by blues of Catmint, Orange Erysinum, deep pink Lychnis and deep purple Salvias, mixed with blue and white Agapanthus. Miscanthus, Pennisetum, tall drifts of Verbenas, and feathery Stipas bring late summer and autumn flowering interest before the Hellebores show in the winter. Year-round structure is provided by the Hebe ‘New Zealand Gold’ and Buxus balls and box hedging. Taxus hedging compartments separate the spaces but lead the eye from garden to garden. The kitchen garden and fruit areas are dynamic and productive; after which the visitor arrives at the herb garden – heavy in scent with its gnarled olive centrepiece.

Repeat clumps of species provide form and colour to tie the gardens together, while strong architectural structure permeates the spaces. One of the most important elements of the scheme was air source heat installation, which provides the majority of warmth to the buildings, supported by solar panels. These all contribute to a large reduction in oil consumption. An existing swimming pool is also warmed by an array of south-facing solar panels. Further works included creating a large, graded turf lawn, a multi-bin composting centre and surrounding the entire garden by 600mm deep rabbit-proof fencing.

E-scape’s tips for similar projects

● Have a clear, strong design from the outset – agreed with the client

● Ensure communication is clear and constant

● Choose an excellent main contractor

● Choose with care and not just on price

● Keep your eye on the ball – this was a multi-faceted scheme that took two years from inception to completion. Co-ordination of the phases and elements as well as multiple contractors ensured constant attention was a critical factor.

E-scape chartered landscape architect John Simmons said: “We had great clients who trusted our thoughts on design and materials throughout, knew about gardens, were always positive and enthusiastic, didn’t cut corners on quality, and were easy to work for but committed to a high standard of delivery.

“Once the scheme was in place, a team of two knowledgeable gardeners have been looking after the finished hard and soft landscaped areas to a high standard.”


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