Creating a cottage garden in a barren yard

Jan Beer has used colourful planting and architectural salvage to transform an empty courtyard into a characterful space with a gazebo and raised seating area.

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Jan Beer has used colourful planting and architectural salvage to transform an empty courtyard into a characterful space.

Jan BeerFact file

The owners: Jan Beer (right), who runs The Cottage Gallery (, lives here with her partner Andy Daintree, a general manager of a manufacturing company

‘My outside space was originally a dull, empty courtyard, with nothing growing in it,’ Jan recalls. ‘The house had belonged to a mechanic, and cars would be parked alongside it for repairs.’

Jan bought the property and began an ambitious refurbishment programme. She planned to renovate and extend the house for her new gallery showcasing British artists’ work. The barren yard at the rear was to be tackled too and turned into a pretty, secluded garden.

Her first job was to demolish an old workshop – a large concrete building with a corrugated iron roof – to open up the space and let in more light.

‘The workshop, with its vehicle inspection pit and hoist, was full of rusty machinery,’ says Jan. ‘It had to be all cleared out and we needed several skips, which was costly.’

Once the workshop and the ground had been cleared away, she was able to assess the shape of the space – a regular rectangle, with a narrow spur running alongside the house.

Jan started formulating ideas for her new outdoor space. She had plenty of furniture, potted shrubs and decorative pieces from her previous garden, which had been close to an acre in size.

‘I’m glad I didn’t part with any of the furniture as it works well in the new seating areas,’ she explains.

Jan, who is a passionate collector of salvage, was determined to find a place for an old-fashioned lawnmower and a milk churn in her new garden. She also had several large plants in pots, including a pieris and an acer, to provide an established feel and structure.

As she was project-managing the house renovation and launching her art gallery, she needed help with the redesign.

‘I called in Cindy Tratt (01278 751275), a local garden designer who advised me on the redesign of my old garden, and explained what I wanted to achieve, plus the elements I was keen to incorporate,’ she says.

Cindy drew up a plan and oversaw the landscaping work. A new raised circular terrace in one corner overlooks most of the space and is furnished with a wicker outdoor table and seating. In front of the terrace, a kidney-shaped lawn spans the widest part of the garden, covering about a quarter of the total space, with the remainder devoted to a series of paths, paving and curved flowerbeds.

‘I really love the look of circles and curves, so I wanted to use them in the redesign,’ says Jan. ‘Although I know it’s much easier, and often cheaper, to choose a layout with lines and angles, it’s not my style. Curves soften the overall effect.’

The curves disguise the plain, linear shape and rigid boundaries of the garden – although it isn’t a large space, its several distinct areas help define it.

‘The seating areas follow the sun, so you can always find somewhere to relax at different times of the day,’ says Jan.

As the garden is hidden by the boundary walls of the house, Jan soon discovered the advantage of a secluded space.

‘It’s wonderful, because it’s so sheltered from the wind,’ she explains. ‘It’s usually quite a lot warmer than outside the garden, and that definitely is good for the plants.’

A high, rugged stone wall running along the side to the front of the house has become a structural feature. It was initially partly concealed by the workshop.

‘It’s beautiful, and I didn’t appreciate it until the workshop came down and I could see it properly,’ says Jan. ‘The other walls needed to be rebuilt, but once they were rendered they looked too new and quite ugly against the old stone.’

Jan decided to paint the rendered walls green to blend them into the space.

‘It’s a dark khaki-green colour that gives the impression of greenery before any growth actually appears. When it first went on, it looked rather strange, but it works once you plant against it,’ she says.

The garden has been planted with a variety of evergreens and roses, honeysuckle and lavender, while several large potted shrubs are moved around when the seasons change. Odd spaces are filled with salad leaves and fragrant herbs.

Cindy and Jan designed a small water feature to nestle within the planting, along with some salvaged pieces.

‘I found the windows at a reclamation yard,’ says Jan. ‘They look amazing on the walls and provide a sense of depth. They were expensive, but I love them.’

She admits that she rather lost sight of her budget with all the work being carried out on the house and gallery, but now that it is finished she feels it was worth it.

‘My garden is such a relaxing, secluded space,’ says Jan. ‘I love the way it is evolving through the seasons, and there is always something unexpected at every corner.’


Landscaping and labour£2,500
Site clearance£1,220
Salvage windows/door£1,200
Garden design£375