A relaxing outdoor room

Siobhan and Martin Henry have turned a dark, overgrown garden into a bright space with plenty of all-year-round colour and interest. the space includes a decked area and a gravel area surrounded by plants which creates a summery, courtyard feel.

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Siobhan and Martin Henry have turned a dark, overgrown garden into a bright space with plenty of all-year-round colour and interest.

Fact file

The owners: Siobhan Henry, who is a personal assistant, lives here with her husband Martin, a librarian, and their daughter Mia, four

Our garden transformation started the day the palm was cut down – it was like a blind had been opened in the kitchen, letting all the light flood in at last,’ Siobhan remembers.

The couple’s garden was overgrown, blocking all natural light into their house – it had become so dark that it was time to do something about it.

‘Once we started tearing out some of the overgrown shrubs, the garden seemed to double in size,’ adds Martin. ‘We found corners that had been lost for years.’

With the space cleared of some of the unruly shrubs, Siobhan started searching on the internet for a garden landscaping company to redesign their space. She settled on Merton Design.

‘We were impressed by the photos on their website showing the gardens they had transformed, so we called them in to come up with a new layout,’ says Siobhan.

The couple’s wish list included all-year-round colour and interest, plus a decking area for relaxing and entertaining.

‘We also wanted a low-maintenance garden, with hard landscaping, rather than a lawn,’ says Siobhan. ‘Mia, our daughter, hadn’t been born yet, so we were not looking for something child-friendly.’

Will Seaman and John Kiernan of Merton Design looked at the space and felt their large outbuilding was too dominant in the garden and suggested pulling it down and replacing it with two small wooden sheds, which would soften the overall effect and fit easily into a new design. They also included water features and a vegetable patch in the plan.

‘But it would have pushed us over budget, so we decided on camouflage planting to help disguise the outbuilding,’ says Martin. ‘We would like a vegetable patch and a water feature in the garden in the future, but we both felt that it was best to put them on hold.’

The couple were, however, pleased with the rest of Merton Design’s plans and told them to go ahead with the work. The new layout envisaged the garden as a continuation of the house with a timber deck area for entertaining and a gravel mulch “lawn” surrounded by a raised planting bed and painted in a deep purple shade for added interest.

It was lucky for the couple that they didn’t want a lawn as the grass was in a poor condition, which is why the gravel space was a perfect solution, especially as it would be low-maintenance.

‘Merton came up with a clever idea to draw the focus away from our ugly outbuilding by concentrating on the other corners of the garden,’ says Siobhan. ‘The decking was angled to catch the setting sun and a morning seat was added so we can make the most of the weather when the sun moves during the day. The camouflage planting has really helped too.’

Warm-coloured stone and gravel have been used against a bold accent of colour on the walls to produce impact in the space, while large planters and urns filled with colourful plants and flowers create plenty of interest on the gravel and paved areas.

As work progressed, the couple ended up going slightly over budget, because the soil in the garden wasn’t particularly good – it had probably been exhausted by two large sycamore trees and shrubs that had grown unchecked. The trees had to be cut down and tons of new topsoil were needed in the beds, otherwise their new plants wouldn’t be able to flourish.

It was around then that they discovered Siobhan was expecting Mia. As Siobhan says: ‘It was essential to stick to our strict budget with a baby on the way.’

With the work now complete, the couple are over the moon with their new space.

‘We make much more use of the garden – it’s like an extension to the house,’ says Siobhan. ‘The planting scheme is lovely and really does deliver all-year-round interest. We’re constantly surprised how it changes with the different seasons.’

Mia, who is now four, loves it too as she has a great outdoor space for playing.

‘She especially loves barbecues out here, weather permitting,’ adds Siobhan. ‘But even when the weather isn’t good, we have an attractive, colourful space that we can still appreciate in winter.’


Site clearance and waste removal£1,200
Spruce decking£280
Gravel and sandstone paving£3,300
Consultancy and design, including project management£4,200