Creating a dream outdoor room

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By turning an old garage into a sunny patio, Lynne and Les Alexander transformed their garden into a tranquil spot to enjoy year-round.

Fact file

The owners: Lynne Alexander and husband Len, a consultant structural engineer
The property: A three-bedroom bungalow, built in the 1930s
The location: Edinburgh, Scotland
What they spent: The couple’s garden project cost £20,000

‘Our home has been in the Alexander family for years. The south-facing garden, with its truly stunning vista, is the main attraction,’ says Lynne. ‘We renovated the house in 2006, and a couple of years later we decided to update the garden.’

The Alexanders’ wishlist for the outdoor space included a low-maintenance design with a large deck, a pergola for climbers, a greenhouse, water feature, vegetable beds, fl ower borders and a small lawn. ‘To achieve everything we wanted, we soon realised that we would need to enlist professional help,’ recalls Lynne.

The couple contacted local landscape designer Gillian Polley, and were instantly impressed by her ideas. ‘We also knew it would be a good idea to use someone from the local area,’ says Lynne. ‘Gillian is familiar with the soil and the local climate, and therefore knew what would grow well and thrive in our garden.’

Lynne and Les were willing to spend a sizeable amount on the project, as they could see the benefi ts of improving the space. ‘We saw the garden as being an extension of the house, and as we’d done so much renovation work, it was simply a way of completing the project. The reception rooms are all at the back of the property, too, so it was all about making the most of that amazing view. A garden is also a great investment for the future – it will continue to grow even more beautiful as it matures,’ explains Lynne.

With an old concrete driveway, the remains of a run-down garage, lots of grass and an old apple tree, the existing garden was fairly uninspiring. Rather than removing the garage, Gillian suggested transforming the remains into a walled terraced area, creating the perfect spot to enjoy the afternoon and evening sun.

By plastering the inside and outside of what remained of the walls, and painting them cream, the derelict area has been turned into a tranquil corner of the garden. ‘We did think about painting the walls blue, but cream tied in with the interior of our home and it has created a far softer effect, which means the flowers grab your attention rather than the paint colour,’ explains Lynne. Built-in wooden seating, natural stone paving and raised beds for seasonal bedding plants and climbers, add colour and depth to the space. ‘I dreamed of having a walled garden and Gillian made sure I got one,’ smiles Lynne.

The redesigned old garage is now home to Lynne’s beautiful collection of peonies, which were uprooted from her parents’ garden many years ago. She also included a collection of dahlias to add colour to the neutral backdrop of the cream wall. These also have a special personal connection, having been lovingly looked after by three generations of her family. A small, rich wildfl ower bed adds further contrast in this corner, and demonstrates Lynne’s skill for complementing Gillian’s subtle palette with refreshing bursts of colour, resulting in a vibrant, yet tranquil, blend of styles.

Elsewhere in the garden, the concrete driveway was resurfaced in resin-bonded gravel, and a new greenhouse and raised vegetable beds were built, screened from the rest of the garden by fan-trained espalier apple and plum trees on wires.

Gillian’s design also incorporated a large decked area at the rear of the bungalow, which would make an ideal outdoor eating area. ‘The workmanship of the contractors drafted in by Gillian was flawless,’ says Lynne. Gravel pathways flow around organic-shaped beds of sun-loving perennials and spring bulbs. The paths lead the way to a small lawn, pergola and a tall stone water feature. ‘We didn’t want a large lawn, but this manageable area is a nice addition to the patchwork look that has been created,’ explains Lynne. ‘I wasn’t keen on having gravel in the garden, but Gillian talked me into it and she was right to do so. Lots of different textures add interest, and the overfl owing plants have softened the stones and sharp edges.’

The couple have allowed an area in the south-west corner to become overgrown. The wild space also provides a contrast to the neat bedding areas, and creates yet another mood in the garden.

When the leaves fall in autumn, the white bark of the slowly maturing birch trees become a beautiful feature. ‘Each section of the garden has a different feel, and Gillian’s planting has ensured that there is interest all year round,’ says Lynne.

The new garden has had a huge impact on Lynne and Les. ‘It has exceeded our expectations,’ says Lynne. ‘It is so lovely to come home to, and there’s so much wildlife in the garden. The garden has enhanced our lives hugely and is now the focal point of our home. We love looking out at the view and it changes through the seasons, so we never get bored of it.’