Creating a calming garden space

Winkle and Philip Haworth used original design ideas and colourful planting to turn a bare lawn into a series of inspiring outdoor rooms, including a parterre and seperated by a variety of tulips

TODO alt text

It’s hard to remember this garden as uninterrupted, wall-to-wall lawn edged in skimpy borders of childproof plants, but that’s how it was until our two children grew up. It was basically a playground, and you could see the entire plot at a glance from the kitchen window,’ recalls Winkle.

‘However, I’d spent years taking a part-time diploma in horticulture, so once I had more spare time for gardening, I gradually began to dig up the lawn to make flowerbeds. Although I began revamping the garden in a rather unstructured way, I knew how to care for the plants. The difficult part was visualising what it would look like 10 years down the line.’

Fact file

  • The owners: Winkle Haworth lives here with her husband Philip, a retired dentist
  • The property: A semi-detached Edwardian house
  • The location: South London
  • What they spent: The couple’s project cost around £3,000

Studying garden history

The turning point came when Winkle went on a garden history course, and her eyes were opened to a wealth of design possibilities that could be adapted to suit the scale of her long, narrow south-facing plot. ‘I fell in love with formal Renaissance gardens, and in particular, box parterres,’ she explains. The appeal of parterres lay in their symmetrical pattern of low evergreen box hedges set into earth, gravel or brick, so Winkle decided to plant one in place of an unattractive, raised barbecue area clad in crazy paving. ‘I sketched the pattern while stuck in a London traffic jam,’ she recalls. ‘I knew it wasn’t the ideal location, because historically you are meant to look down on parterres, not approach them from below.’

Hidden from view behind a yew hedge, through a central arch, the parterre is positioned in the furthest third of the garden, in an area around the size of a badminton court. A formal arrangement within clipped box hedges and filled with white tulips, followed by summer roses.

Although small, the parterre is balanced with its surroundings, in common with the entire garden. So, it’s surprising to learn that it was the only area that Winkle planned on paper. ‘Most of the garden just evolved and, measuring three times longer than wide, the plot divided very naturally into three sections,’ she explains. Like many gardeners, she is extremely critical of what she has achieved, especially when seeing the pictures that Philip, a keen amateur photographer, takes of the garden. ‘All I can see is its faults, but then that’s how you progress and make improvements.’

Creating the garden

Creating any garden is a terrific learning curve, but one that Winkle has enjoyed, finding each year’s changes a stimulus. ‘Half the fun of having a garden is watching it evolve over time. I’d hate to think that what I have today is what I had when we first moved here, or that what I’ll have tomorrow will be the same forever,’ she says.

A beautifully aged York stone paves the terrace, skirting a modern kitchen extension to the imposing three-storey Edwardian house. The terrace is edged in pots abutting the fi rst area – a calm circle of lawn fringed in borders of tulips, alliums, daffodils and euphorbia. ‘Patches of green lawn are important for creating stillness between borders – mine become very busy with flowers in spring and summer,’ says Winkle. The second, middle area is linked by a circular patch of gravel, which replaced a lawn. ‘The grass increasingly struggled as of four triangular beds, each is contained the trees grew, casting ever-deeper shade, so I decided it was time for a change – with such little space, you become ruthless with anything that doesn’t perform.’

Steps link the second area to the parterre, passing a Gothic-style arbour. ‘Philip gave it to me as a birthday present, thinking it might make me sit down more. I don’t spend a lot of time there, but when I do, it’s wonderfully private and feels nicely cut off from the house,’ Winkle says. Draped in a weeping pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’), the arbour is painted in a soft shade of green that, along with rusted vases and lanterns, reminds her of happy holidays in Morocco. ‘It’s the same colour you find in Marrakech, where it’s often combined with terracotta,’ she points out. ‘As I’ve gone through life, I’ve collected memories that are woven into the fabric of my garden.’

Special garden

Distracting from the urban landscape, there are no less than 12 small trees. ‘They are the mainstay of the garden’s framework, and each one is chosen to look spectacular at a given time – in a small space you have to work hard to introduce wow-factor,’ says Winkle. In spring, it is a pink-flowered Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’) that catches the eye, along with pots of creamy narcissus and pink, frilled tulips. Nestling deep within the gravel garden, a black elder shoulders its way past shade-loving herbaceous plants – lamium, euphorbia, white bluebells, pink hairy chervil and cow parsley. On the lawn, a Gothic-style bench sits beside a dainty variegated dogwood (Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’), while maples (Acer palmatum varieties) edge a pool below the parterre where ‘White Triumphator’ tulips stand out against the dark green box hedges.

Tulips feature throughout the spring garden. ‘I love the way tulips stand tall in their surroundings with their huge variety of colour, form and pattern – and they’re also easy to grow,’ adds Winkle. In summer, she creates different colour schemes for each area by successively planting pots with cornflowers and larkspur and, as each batch nears flowering, slots them into the borders to fill any gaps. ‘I’m very fastidious about what I plant, ensuring that the colours are correct.’

Special gardens have a singular personality that is often a reflection of their owner’s. ‘Mine expresses my love of colour, texture and form,’ says Winkle. ‘I’m always busy, but I also have a tranquil side, and that’s what’s reflected here – somewhere I can share with all my family.’

The costs

Gothic arbour£1,700
Parterre box plants£500
Terracotta pots£450
Metal bench£300
Garden shed£270
Hazel wattle hurdles£240
Teak table and chairs£195
TOTAL£3,655