Garden redesign inspired by California

Upon returning from a holiday to California, Philip and Louise Brightling redesigned their garden with landscaping, new seating areas and an outdoor fireplace to create a usable outdoor living space.

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With their children grown up, Philip and Louise Brightling decided it was time to turn their large garden into a stunning outdoor living space.

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The owners: Philip Brightling, a garden designer and landscpaer, and his wife Louise, an office manager, (both right) live here with their daughter Elsa, 20. Daughter Sally, 32 and son William, 23, no longer live at home


Several years ago, we decided to radically overhaul our garden because our needs had changed so much,’ says Philip. ‘A garden isn’t something that is built and remains as it is; it grows and changes all the time.’

Philip and Louise’s garden had been a fantastic space for small children, with a treehouse, a secret play area up a flight of steps and large lawns to play on. There were also large herbaceous borders filled with plants, which the couple loved, but which were also extremely high-maintenance.

‘The children had grown up, the herbaceous beds were becoming too much work and it had got to the point where weeding the garden was the last thing I wanted to do on weekends,’ says Philip.

‘We were also keen to better link the house to the garden,’ says Louise. ‘I wanted to be able to look out at the garden from the kitchen, plus we enjoyed eating outside and sitting outdoors during the evenings.’

During a family holiday to San Diego, California, the couple found inspiration for their new outdoor space.

‘The nights were sometimes cool, but we were sitting beside an outdoor fireplace with big logs blazing in it, and it was so enjoyable that I decided I wanted to build something similar when I returned home,’ explains Philip.

On arriving back in Ireland, Philip started planning out the new garden. Creating a scale drawing, he marked out the house and boundary, then worked out where he could make changes to the garden design to create a better link with the house. As the large planting areas and lawns were too high-maintenance, he also reduced the planting areas, planning to make more use of small ground-cover shrubs, which are low-maintenance and can be mixed with herbaceous planting.

‘We also wanted a generous area for socialising; not only for eating outside, but also for sitting and enjoying the garden views,’ says Philip. ‘I also had to work out where to build my outdoor fireplace.’ Philip’s ideas for larger patio areas meant that there was going to be a lot more hard landscaping than before, so he planned to break it up visually by introducing different level changes and a range of materials, such as limestone flags for the main patio and warmer decking for the evening patio.

‘I also used stone chippings in a warm buff colour, with railway sleepers for the steps up to the children’s old play area,’ he explains. ‘I always wanted a water feature, too, so I designed one to go directly outside the kitchen/living area. It can be lit up, so we can enjoy it at night and in winter.’

Ensuring that there was year-round interest in the space was an important factor in Philip’s new planting plan. ‘Our previous garden had been wonderful in summer, but there wasn’t that much to look at throughout the rest of the year,’ he says. ‘To add interest, I included a broad range of plants that would provide colour even in the winter months.’ These include year-round hedging, dried seed heads, grasses, shaped trees with ornamental bark and heathers to overwinter in swathes of colour. ‘I’m a fan of box hedging, too, which is evergreen and adds permanent colour and structure to a garden design,’ he adds.

The garden project took three months to complete. ‘Part of the time was spent addressing drainage issues,’ explains Philip. ‘The land that the house had been built on was always quite marshy, and to build the original foundations for the house, the builder apparently had to dig down four metres. There is a slope in the land, from the top boundary of the garden down towards the house, so while we were doing so much work to the garden it was the perfect opportunity to put in a good system of French (or field) drains. These help to catch the water flow and divert it to a stream at the lower boundary. We also brought in 100 tonnes of topsoil before we started on the construction of new beds and planting.’

Philip did all the building himself in the three months, laying the patio and decking, as well as building his water feature with night lighting, and the ‘Californian’ outdoor fireplace. ‘The part I enjoyed most was selecting the shrubs and flowers to create the colour schemes that change constantly throughout the year, then working out where best to plant them,’ he says. ‘Redesigning the garden has completely changed how we use the outdoor space,’ adds Louise. ‘We now eat, live and entertain outside from May to September. The seating and barbecue area is very close to the kitchen so it’s easy to set up dinner outside, and the fireplace is a focal point for sitting and chatting with friends. We light the fire every evening through the summer months. During winter, the water feature is lit up at night and I love looking at it from the house.’

‘I love the finished garden, too,’ says Philip. ‘One of the best things is that there is now plenty of colour but it requires far less maintenance, so I don’t have to work on it all weekend. I can simply relax and enjoy the space instead.

The costs

Structural materials£25,000
Outdoor fireplace / oven£2,550