We took a gamble on buying this house, because we viewed it on an open day and hadn’t even seen the whole property before we put in an offer,’ says Laura.
But with an intriguing history and hideaway location in the centre of a popular market town, the Georgian-style house had a wealth of charms to attract both Laura and husband Duncan.
- The owners: Laura and Duncan Meredith, who are both retired
- The property: A two-bedroom house, built in 1867, which was once the home of Royal Academy artist Frederick William Elwell
- The location: Beverley, East Yorkshire
- What they spent: The couple’s garden project cost around £32,700
Their home sits within a private south-facing walled garden and even has its own decorative folly, now used as a garage. ‘I had always liked the idea of having a secret garden and this one looked perfect,’ says Laura. ‘It was overgrown and half the plants were dead, but we loved that it was private, and thought it had lots of potential.’
The house has a fascinating history, as it was the childhood home of Royal Academy artist Frederick William Elwell. Laura was keen to show this artistic inheritance inside and out. ‘I love colour, pattern and bold shapes,’ she says. ‘I particularly like bright colours that remind me of places we’ve lived, such as sunny yellow, and the vivid floral designs evocative of South Africa.’
However, it was the ordered shapes and relaxed style of Italianate gardens that influenced Laura the most when she transformed the walled garden from a semi-wilderness into a series of well-defined, carefully structured spaces.
‘The garden was quite overgrown when we bought the house,’ she says. ‘There were conifers, which looked half dead, the paths were loose gravel and there was a very big wooden shed by the pond that was totally out of place.’
Clearing the garden
Laura and Duncan worked on the garden at the same time as refurbishing the house, so the two evolved together. To begin with, they took down the badly positioned shed to open up the patio area, then dug up the gravel paths and the grass, which was in poor condition. They removed all the trees that weren’t thriving, trimmed back anything that had become too big and straggly, and planted mature replacement trees to fill in the gaps.
‘I wanted to clear everything out of the garden that wasn’t working so we could see what space was left,’ says Laura. ‘My aim was to make the design more formal. The walled garden lent itself to symmetry and I liked the idea of creating balance.’
With the old gravel cleared away, the couple employed a local tradesman to extend a water pipe and electric cable into the garden, channelled into the ground. Then they called on landscape gardener Pip Tennison to help them tackle the larger jobs, starting with the paving. This was to cover a large area in front of the house and extend into paths around the main part of the garden, so Pip first compacted the entire area with sand before the block paving was laid on top. It took him over four weeks to lay the new lawn, patio and paths. ‘It’s a large area, but I wanted the patio to link into the main garden area, with a path going right round the grass,’ says Laura.
The original garden walls were in good condition, but much of the old mortar had started to crumble away, so Laura set about scraping off the paint and repointing the mortar joints while the landscaping was being carried out. ‘It was a laborious task — it took 20 minutes to clean each brick, scrape out old mortar and put in new,’ she says.
Laura worked with a local bricklayer to build the low curved walls out of reclaimed bricks to create raised beds, which separate the two main areas of the garden. Pip added low steps between the two levels and installed the trellis arch ready for climbing plants.
‘There was already a wide range of mature plants and shrubs in the garden – including elephant’s ears, bamboo, robinia and a fig tree – and I wanted the new planting to be as mature as possible so it didn’t take years for it to catch up with what was already there,’ says Laura. ‘Consequently, I bought the largest plants I could find, including the fast-growing creeper that covers the archway.
‘When it comes to choosing plants, I know what I like but I’m not a natural gardener, so a lot of the time it’s a case of experimenting to see how things work out,’ she says. The first year was a time of discovery, because things that we didn’t even know we had were sprouting, after lying dormant all winter.’
Laura was particularly keen to grow fruit in the space. ‘When I was a child we didn’t have a garden, and it was only a few years ago that I first picked an apple and ate it straight from the tree,’ she says. ‘It was fabulous, so I wanted to have a couple of fruit trees when we moved here. We planted two apple trees – one a Bramley and one an eating variety – as well as a Victoria plum tree.’
If you’re planning a garden redesign, take inspiration from Laura Meredith’s experience
What I’ve learnt
‘Ask for expert advice before making any important decisions. We had help from local landscape gardener Pip Tennison, who advised us on everything from paving to planting. If you have a good idea of how you want the garden to look, it’s useful to have the help of an experienced professional, as they have ideas you wouldn’t have thought of.’
My top tip
‘Work to the scale of the garden and don’t be afraid to think big. Large plants, oversized pots and bold design ideas can have a strong visual impact and help to define the ways in which the different outdoor spaces are used.’
My best buy
‘The lighting from B&Q only cost around £20 but it’s made a huge difference to the garden. It’s easy to forget that gardens are used just as much in the evening during summer as in the day, and good lighting completely changes the atmosphere. It means we are more tempted to sit outside and enjoy the peace of the garden until long after dark.’
My favourite store
‘Langlands Garden Centre near Market Weighton has a huge range of plants, as well as garden accessories such as pots, statues, trellis and tools. It’s almost a day’s outing if you also visit its farm shop and restaurant. We’ve bought a lot of items for our garden at Langlands.’
I couldn’t live without…
‘…our table and chairs – we spend so much time in the garden, and really enjoy relaxing over a cup of coffee or having a leisurely supper outside, that we couldn’t manage without them. They’re the right size and style for the patio, and create a link between the house and garden.’
|Paving, including labour||£15,000|
|Statues and urns||£6,000|
|Plants, trees and shrubs||£5,000|
|Extending water/electric supplies||£200|
|Metal plant stand||£40|