A garden for entertaining

Be inspired by Clive Francis and Caroline Illingworth as they share how they transformed their garden into a series of stylish outdoor rooms to create perfect spaces for outdoor entertaining.

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Following a lengthy house renovation project, Clive Francis and Caroline Illingworth turned their attention to their uninspiring garden, transforming it into a stylish outdoor entertaining space.

Fact file

The owners: Clive Francis (right), a company director, lives here with is partner Caroline Illingworth, a hospice nurse and bereavement counsellor. 
The property: A 19th-century, five-bedroom former mill owner’s house, set in a third of an acre. 
The location: Harrogate  North Yorkshire
What they spent: The couple’s garden redesign project cost around £45,000

When we started looking for a house to renovate in 2009, a large garden was top of the wishlist,’ says Clive. ‘In fact, I’d say the garden was as important to myself and Caroline as the house.’

The couple found a period property on the outskirts of Harrogate that stood in a third of an acre, surrounded by school sports fields and countryside. ‘The garden was only a lawn with borders, but it was private, with a high beech hedge and lots of mature trees,’ says Clive. ‘We could see the potential to create a series of outdoor rooms rather than leaving it as an ordinary garden.’

For two-and-a-half years the couple did nothing with the space while they completed the renovation of the house. ‘After the builders had used diggers to create the foundations for their extension, the garden was completely devastated,’ recalls Clive.


The design

In November 2011, Clive and Caroline began their garden project. First, the builders laid a path and wide patio round the house, providing a dry area ready for work to start on the landscaping. It took two months to complete the paving, which includes a small area of Yorkshire flagstones reclaimed from the garden and larger areas of Raj Green Indian stone. The basic paving was finished by January, then there was a six-week gap before work on the rest of the garden could begin.

Clive and Caroline asked local company Garden It to landscape the site based on a design created by Julia Kelly of Garden Therapy. Their wishlist included features such as:

  • raised vegetable beds
  • a wildlife pond
  • a large outdoor shed where Clive and his friends could watch sport
  • an outdoor cooking facilities, including a spit roast and a paella stand
  • a fire pit in the middle of the garden

‘We have seven children between us, and when they bring round their friends we soon have enough people for a party,’ says Clive. ‘Nothing beats eating outdoors during a great English summer.’

The levels of the garden were dictated by the footings of the extensions to the house. The property is on a flood plain, which meant the internal floors had to remain on the same level as the garden, so the soil was pushed back and retained by a low stone wall to create the wide patio, with steps up to the lawns, pond area and decking. This worked out well because the doors can now be opened straight onto the patio, making it seem like one big room, inside and out.

The garden redesign took six months to complete, which was longer than Clive had first anticipated. ‘A lot of work went into the preparation,’ he says. ‘It was stressful at the time but you soon forget that when you are out there enjoying the results.’


Creating the perfect garden

One of the first jobs was to dig trenches for the land drains, which prevent waterlogging in poor weather. The pad base was created for the shed and the hardcore laid for the paths. The pond was then excavated and the good soil piled up behind it ready for a feature rockery, which hides the gravity-fed filtration system.

An area was dug out for the fire pit, decking was laid across the back of the garden for sun loungers, and the flowerbeds were dug over ready for planting. Garden It also built the circular stone pillar topped with a huge cast-iron paella pan, which is run on bottled gas. As the pan is too large to fit into a sink and takes two people to carry it, it is usually washed down in situ and oiled to season it and prevent it from going rusty. A hot water supply was also connected to a reclaimed sink next to the barbecue and the water can be turned off with a stop cock to prevent the pipes freezing up in winter.

Although the west-facing garden was designed to be a sociable, outdoor space, Clive and Caroline wanted to introduce colour with flowers, mixed grasses and small shrubs, as well as having vegetable beds to grow their own produce. ‘Once the plants were in and the grass was down the garden was completely transformed,’ says Clive. ‘It already looked quite established because of the mature boundary hedge and the four huge trees, which were here when we bought the house, but the greenery pulled everything together.’

With the fundamentals in place, the couple started to add the finishing touches. The spit roast was made by a friend from a mangle found by Clive and a motor large enough to be able to turn a whole lamb.

Garden It built two glass and stone cold frames by the garage along with a covered log store. Clive bought two large waterproof storage boxes to store away the soft furnishings in bad weather, and sourced a mirror for the end of the garden path, which Garden It set into breeze blocks and Clive painted. ‘I liked the idea of making the garden look as though it extended through the hedge,’ he says.

‘We’ve achieved exactly what we wanted with the new design and it has more than lived up to expectations,’ Clive adds. ‘The only things we might have done differently would be to have more vegetable beds, and to have built an outside toilet near the shed, but those small things aside, we have everything we could have wished for. The Garden It team did a fantastic job – after renovating the house we had almost run out of steam, but the garden has definitely been the icing on the cake.’

The costs

Landscaping, including walls, decking, clocheslog cover, fire pit and paella chimney£25,000
Spit roast£350
Food smoker/BBQ£320
Pots and planters£300
Patio Heater£180