Designing a garden to suit the whole family

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Kirsty and Bobby Monaghan’s urban garden combines creative planting with a layout that’s perfect for play, entertaining and relaxing, making it suitable for the whole family.

Kirsty MonaghanFact file

The owners: Kirsty Monaghan (pictured, right), a garden designer, lives here with her husband Bobby, an industrial designer, and their three children, Jack, 18, Isla, 16, and Romy, 11

Most gardens are seen from ground level, but we have a bird’s-eye view from our home office,’ says Kirsty. ‘To see a garden with strong shapes is really inspiring. As my husband and I are designers and spend so much time drawing shapes on paper, it’s satisfying to see them translated onto the ground.’

It is three years since mother-of-three Kirsty redesigned their gently sloping plot to take into account the needs of their three children. ‘They were growing up and needed their own space, but at the same time I wanted a more self-indulgent garden with lots of plants and different areas where we could relax or entertain,’ she says. ‘The result reflects my love of visual richness in colour, pattern and texture.’

Incorporating seating areas, the redesign has curving paths, less lawn and more flowerbeds in place of the original stretch of grass and rectangular shapes. It’s based on interlinking circles of lawn separated in a sinuous path which, laid in sandstone setts, leads from a stone terrace behind the house to a raised patio at the far end. ‘The garden faces east, so we needed somewhere to enjoy the evening sun,’ she says.

The patio is in a deep, north-facing border that flows up to the terrace, while the opposite side has an even deeper border centred around a magnolia tree. It was the magnolia that attracted Kirsty and Bobby when they first saw the garden 14 years ago. ‘There was this sunny, peaceful space with lots of lawn and the magnolia in full bloom – it was spectacular,’ she recalls.

Once they moved in, they made few changes to the garden apart from replacing a rickety deck and installing a shed. ‘It was just a lovely, large space for the children to play in,’ she says. Little was changed until the arrival of a giant trampoline in 2010. ‘Even though I tried tucking it away in a corner, you couldn’t lose sight of it,’ says Kirsty. Fortunately, with the children at an age when they no longer needed close supervision, it could be screened behind the evergreens in a far corner. ‘It was another reason for choosing a circular layout because, when Romy outgrows the trampoline, I’ll be left with a four-metre circle, which will slot perfectly into the curves of the existing layout.’

A key part of Kirsty’s design was the levelling of the lawn, something that delighted Bobby. ‘He disliked the way it sloped, and now that it’s levelled he thinks it’s one of the best projects we’ve undertaken,’ says Kirsty, who had her doubts during the levelling process when two weeks of rain created rivers of mud, much to the frustration of Mark Downes, a hard landscaping specialist. ‘But once Mark and I were able to start work, I’d see Bobby at the home office window giving us the thumbs-up.’ Once the hard landscaping was complete, Kirsty made considerable savings by doing all the planting herself, making existing mature plants go a long way by dividing the clumps.

The new lawn has settled in despite being on heavy clay, but it has been well looked after. Each autumn, the grass is spiked to aerate it, and then it’s given a top-dressing of soil, sand and fi ne compost. ‘It really helps to build up a good top layer of soil – the grass doesn’t waterlog like it used to,’ says Kirsty. The lawn is positioned to allow deeper borders on the sunny side of the garden, but Kirsty lavishes as much attention on her north-facing border of shade-loving plants, such as Fatsias, Viburnums, Camellias and a dwarf cherry laurel above lower-growing box, ferns and Heucheras. ‘It’s important to have year-round interest, and I love to plant using a palette of contrasting leaf sizes, colours and shapes,’ she says. Summer colour also thrives, with shade-tolerant perennials such as aconites, hardy geraniums, foxgloves and Japanese anemones. In a small circular bed stands a potted Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’), one of Kirsty’s favourite plants. ‘The heart-shaped leaves look incredible with the sun shining through, with a kind of stained-glass intensity,’ she says.

The opposite side of the space is planted very differently, with a number of silver-leaved plants such as Astelia chathamica and Lychnis coronaria that crave sunshine. ‘Silvery plants reflect the light best,’ says Kirsty. Aromatic lavender and African lilies edge the patio, while the border brims with daylilies, geraniums, catmint, salvia and ice plants repeated along the bed. ‘Ice plants offer so much – vibrant new foliage, limegreen buds, long-lasting pink flowerheads that go deep red in autumn and turn dry, adding structure in winter,’ Kirsty adds.

Roses are another favourite, not only for their beauty, but also because they provide maximum flowering in little space. While Kirsty’s borders are carefully planned, she encourages self-seeding plants such as Alchemilla mollis and Verbena bonariensis. ‘I let them grow a little to develop a good root system before moving them,’ she says.

Kirsty loves to potter around in her garden. ‘You only have yourself to please, and it’s amazing how a few minutes’ weeding turns into several hours, with no sense of time passing,’ she explains. The children are happy, too, and the trampoline area has become a hideaway where they chat with friends. Kirsty is delighted that her design has produced both a flower-filled garden and an essentially social space. ‘It’s a garden that reflects where we are as a family,’ she says, ‘and, as we tend to be outside at every opportunity during the summer, it’s a lovely place to be.’

The costs

Hard landscaping materials and lighting£2,500
Additional furniture and accessories£400
Plant pots£200

Author: Gardenpix