A garden that thrives in the shade

Jules and Richard Sawyer have redesigned their outdoor space, creating a tranquil retreat with a fish pond and exotic touches that is perfect for relaxing and entertaining.

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Jules and Richard Sawyer have redesigned their outdoor space, creating a tranquil retreat with exotic touches for relaxing and entertaining.

Jules SawyerFact file

The owners: Jules Sawyer (right), who is a primary school teacher, and her husband Richard, a chef, live here with their children, George, 14, and Tilly, 11
The property: A four-bedroom semi-detached house built in the 1930s
The location: Esher, Surrey
What they spent: The couple’s garden project cost around £8,600

‘Our first impressions of the garden was its size – a 30x60ft plot with a pond, about 70 feet deep, which took up half of the outdoor space and was teeming with large koi carp fish,’ says Jules.

The couple wanted to redesign the garden, however, so they sold the fish and filled in the pond. They planned to work on the garden in stages as they were doing major renovation work in the house.

‘In the meantime, we added a flagstone patio at the back of the house, so our two children, George and Tilly, would have somewhere to play,’ Jules explains.

The following year, they put raised beds down the sides of the garden and laid another flagstone patio outside their new conservatory with a path joining it.

‘We were still concentrating our budget on the house renovations, when I received a small inheritance, so I decided to spend it on the garden,’ says Jules. ‘Our priority was to get the layout right.’

As there were flagstones across the width and length of the garden, Jules plotted out a new design using a piece of graph paper, with each square representing a flagstone. As part of the redesign, she created a path on each side of the garden for the family’s two dogs.

‘That way, they could circumnavigate the entire space without bringing in too much dirt on their paws,’ she explains.

She wanted plenty of height in the form of leafy shrubs and trees, with grass kept to a minimum, plus a series of decked spaces. A large covered pergola and a dining space for entertaining were also included in the redesign.

‘As we wanted quite a large pergola, we had it custom-built by a local builder. He constructed it in situ to house an eight-seater dining set,’ says Jules. ‘Amazingly, it took just two weeks to build.’

Jules was also keen to recreate a pond area as she regretted filling in the old one, so she designed a new L-shaped space measuring 4x4x2x2ft and 3ft deep. The builder dug out the groundwork, fitted the pond lining and installed a pump system. He then laid decking all around it.

Edged with a host of aquatic grasses, a moisture-loving Gunnera manicata, pretty red lobelia and fragrant mint, the pond provides a home for a family of 30 goldfish, plus there’s the added bonus of wildlife, such as dragonflies, newts and frogs.

A couple of cushioned armchairs and a sofa are positioned facing the pond, while a new bench seat conceals the pond pump. All make good vantage points for watching the wildlife.

The garden already had a vigorous wisteria and a vine, so Jules added an equally fast-growing clematis to climb up the posts of the pergola.

‘I wanted shady, sheltered areas as I suffer from a skin condition and try to avoid the sun,’ she explains. ‘There are lots of lovely shady spaces here now, but I had to choose shade-loving plants so that the garden looks lush all year round.’

Some of the original garden’s plants remain, such as a mature apple tree, as well as several camellias and ivy. These have been joined by more exotic and structural plants such as tree ferns, miscanthus and other grasses, phormiums and cordylines.

‘I particularly like our Japanese maple’s delicate leaves – I weave fairy lights into its upper branches to create a relaxing feel on summer evenings,’ says Jules. ‘There’s also a bamboo with two-inch thick bright yellow stalks that rustle noisily whenever you brush past them.’

Beautiful though the garden is, Jules doesn’t consider it to be a finished project.

‘This garden is forever evolving, as I love introducing new elements,’ says Jules. ‘Being a chef, Richard would like a firepit area, while I would love another pond. That’s the beauty of this space, it keeps growing.’


Pond and decking boards£6,450
Building work£1,000
Garden furniture£520