Real garden: a low-maintenance plant-lover's dream

Don't miss this modern garden makeover with its perfect entertaining space

garden with colourful plants, bushes and open bifold doors leading into an open-plan kitchen diner
(Image credit: Colin Poole)

Brent and Anne-Sophie Purtell’s garden transformation was kick-started when they extended the back of their house to create a contemporary, open-plan kitchen-diner. ‘There was a 30cm drop from the kitchen to a scruffy concrete patio outside,’ Brent says. ‘We took the opportunity during the build to raise and resurface the patio, making an outdoor entertaining space that flowed seamlessly from the kitchen-diner.’ 

See what they did to transform their garden into a sociable space. Find all our real home and garden transformations on our hub page. And find out more about all aspects of gardening over in that section, too.

garden with a trellis of leafy ferns, hostas and fatsias with plant pots and a swing

Quantities of rich soil helped establish shade-loving plants
like hostas, ferns and leafy fatsias on a neglected rubble heap. Bark mulch keeps moisture in and the weeds out. ‘There aren’t any flowers here, so this area feels different from the rest of the garden,’ says Brent. ‘It’s all about texture, foliage and various shades of green.’

(Image credit: Annabelle Grundy)

With the patio relaid with pale Indian sandstone, Brent turned to the rest of the garden. The large lawn ended at a second paved area shaded by trees and a wooden pergola-style structure. ‘It was a blank canvas,’ he says. ‘I love gardening, so I had to get out there and do something with it.’


The owners Garden designer Brent Purtell ( lives here with his wife, Anne-Sophie, and their daughters Josephine, seven, and Annabelle, five. The property A three-bedroom 1930s semi in Coulsdon, Surrey.
Project cost £16,400

Brent has spent the last three years gradually introducing fresh design elements. As this is a family garden, the big lawn was a key feature. To maximise interest, he cut sweeping beds along either side, breaking up the expanse of turf. The dense, prairie-style planting is inspired by renowned Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. 

garden with a large patio and dining area, with a lawn on a different level

Indian sandstone paving keeps the patio light and echoes the new kitchen-diner’s modern vibe. The low, red-brick retaining wall has been planted with box hedging balls for a formal feel around the table. ‘In autumn the grasses and fennels give the garden a coppery hue so the bricks work really well as you look from the house,’ says Brent.

(Image credit: Annabelle Grundy)

‘It’s about packing the space with self-seeding perennials, ornamental grasses and bulbs to produce a low-maintenance garden with year-round colour and structure,’ Brent explains. ‘It’s usually seen in large areas, but I condensed the natural effect into a suburban garden.’ 

garden with a summer house and a vegetable patch

The shed was updated with Farrow & Ball’s Lulworth Blue and All White paints.

(Image credit: Annabelle Grundy)

Brent’s desire to expand his knowledge led him to experiment with other aspects of planting. He made a compact but productive vegetable patch in the lawn, and took advantage of the shaded far end, turning a pile of rubble, dumped years previously, into a cool, tranquil foliage garden. ‘I’m out here as much as possible now,’ he says. ‘We’ve got room for the children to play, a brilliant entertaining space and a lush, fabulous garden that doesn’t need a lot of upkeep. It works for everyone.’

garden with a large lawn and lots of plants

Brent takes pride in keeping the lawn in good shape. ‘Being from Australia, I’ve always aspired to a beautiful, striped English lawn, so I do take care of it,’ he says. ‘I mow it weekly, and rake and feed it. It’s an essential part of the garden.’ 

(Image credit: Annabelle Grundy)
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‘I just fell in love with this naturalistic planting style,’ says Brent. ‘It looks very free but is carefully planned. White, blue and purple flowers come through in spring, followed by hot reds and yellows. You get stems and seed heads for autumn structure, before it’s all cut back at the end of winter, ready for next spring.’

As the garden is mostly ornamental, Brent limited the size of his vegetable patch, but it has been a big success. ‘It’s in the sunniest spot and I dug in lots of compost,’ he says. ‘We’ve had beans, potatoes, greens, root veg and squashes, and the children have loved planting seeds and seeing them grow.’ 


garden in summer with a vegetable patch and flowers

‘We’ve had beans, potatoes, greens, root veg and squashes, and the children have loved planting seeds and seeing them grow' says Brent. 

(Image credit: Annabelle Grundy)

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