Extra living space in the garden

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Paul Baker and Kirsty McConnell were able to rely on Paul’s landscaping skills to turn an uninspiring layout into a multi-functional outdoor room.

Landscape gardener Paul Baker

Fact File

The owners: Paul Baker (right), who is a landscape gardener, lives here with his partner Kirsty McConnell, a sales assistant

As a landscape gardener, I’d always thought our garden was very uninspiring,’ says Paul. ‘When Kirsty and I moved in five years ago it was just a small patio garden measuring 12×7.1m, with a patch of lawn and a few plants around the edges. It hadn’t been touched since the house was built by the developers 11 years ago.

‘I knew I could make something of it. As I’d be able to do most of the work myself, it meant we could use most of our budget on stylish design extras,’ he adds.

It was important to Paul that it was more than just a summertime garden. He wanted a relaxing space with a patio, gazebo, water feature and lawn, plus year-round interest.

With his father’s help, Paul sketched out some designs based on the garden divided into rectangles set at 45 degrees – with the angles deceiving the eye into thinking the space was actually bigger. By using rectangles, he was able to create specific zones with separate spaces for a patio, lawn and decked area with a gazebo. It also allowed for some deeper areas of planting within a triangular-shaped bed.

‘The main problem was the heavily compacted soil. Rather than bringing in costly diggers to break it up, the cheapest option was to raise the soil level by adding a mix of topsoil improver and compost,’ says Paul. ‘It provided a good base for planting and helped us to create the sunken patio, which was left at its original level.’

Paul built a decked patio area with a gazebo at one end of the garden to catch the late afternoon sun. He made a recessed roof for the gazebo, using a thin layer of polycarbonate that is barely visible unless you’re sitting directly beneath it.

‘It gives some protection from the rain but is really designed to provide a little shade so we can stay outdoors longer,’ he says.

Clever planting has created year-round interest. Paul’s favourite time is spring when the garden is coming to life. Although it is at its best in early June when the perennials are flowering, he believes a good balance through the seasons is essential.

‘I love the rich colours of the acers in autumn,’ he says, ‘while in winter the evergreens provide colour and structure.’ Part of Paul’s new design has included a feature tree planted in every bed to create instant height and to provide privacy when they mature. Each tree has a different leaf shape and colour.

‘I chose a winter flowering cherry, an Indian Bean tree and two shades of acers for the side beds and planted silver birches at the back,’ he explains.

Paul has also created a focal point with an elegant water feature. He set the solid block shape on a concrete base then added the pump and lighting cables. Plastic beading, rather than metal beading, has been used at the edges to help avoid corrosion and it was rendered to create a smooth edge. He then painted the interior with a black resin and finished the exterior surface with a coat of masonry paint.

‘The water feature is a simple but effective design but it really makes a statement here – I love it,’ he says.

The garden wasn’t an instant creation, however, as Paul explains: ‘If I had been commissioned by a client it would have taken six weeks to complete. As I did it all myself, it took about three years – I worked on the garden during holidays and weekends. It was worth it though.

‘My favourite aspect of the garden is the way it changes daily with the light, while Kirsty loves the water feature,’ he adds. ‘We’re out here most evenings and weekends – even when we’re indoors the patio doors are open so we can enjoy it.’