Redesigning a garden to encourage local wildlife

Although Barbara and Paul Blackburn never committed their ideas to paper, they have transformed their outdoor space with a nature-friendly redesign and planting scheme. The new garden, with it's densely planted borders and snaking pathways, is the perfect haven for all manner of local wildlife.

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Barbara and Paul Blackburn have redesigned their back garden to create a nature-friendly outdoor space. By combining densely planted borders with winding pathways the couple have made a haven for local wildlife, and the garden also houses a summerhouse perfect for relaxing.

Barbara and Paul BlackburnFact file

The owners: Paul Blackburn, a lorry driver, and his wife Barbara, a housewife The property: A two-bedroom semi-detached house built in the 1970s The location: Chard, Somerset What they spent: The couple’s garden project cost around £1,350.

‘When we first moved into this house, our 33x8m garden was very overgrown. It is an east-facing plot, so many of the plants struggled to grow in the shady areas,’ says Barbara. ‘We thought it would be best to start again from scratch.’

Once the couple had cleared the neglected space, they built a summerhouse from recycled timber at the far end of the garden for storing their tools and outdoor furniture. They painted it bright blue and purple to make it an eye-catching feature.

‘We built a decked area in front of it so that we could relax outside and enjoy the summer months,’ says Barbara.

They also positioned two greenhouses in this corner of the garden, camouflaging them with a variety of plants.

‘The greenhouses didn’t cost a penny – my brother gave us one of them, and we picked up the other free through a local advert,’ Barbara explains.

The couple worked their way from the back of the space towards the house, without putting any plans on paper, envisaging the layout as they went along.

‘We didn’t want to be able to see the whole garden from any one place, so Paul laid winding paths – we don’t like straight lines – to connect different areas,’ says Barbara. ‘The direction of the paths depended on the position of specific plants and trees as well as arches smothered in clematis, which we believed would be essential to create height on the flat plot.’

This combination of twisting paths and tall plants and trees such as phormiums, bamboos, yews and willows creates the illusion of a larger space than the plot’s dimensions suggest. It also produces an element of surprise, with paths forking unexpectedly to reveal secret corners.

‘Paul and I make a good team, because we complement each other,’ says Barbara. ‘For example, Paul is great with hard landscaping and anything that needs to be built, whereas I’m more interested in the planting and producing new specimens from seed and cuttings.’

Their Japanese maples grow especially well in this east-facing space, because they thrive in the partially shaded areas where the ground remains moist even at the height of summer.

Flowering plants such as lobelia, gladioli, astrantia, agapanthus and ligularia are at their peak at this time of year, along with several types of clematis. Near ground level, there are clumps of ornamental grasses which provide habitats for wildlife and beneficial garden insects.

‘We’re mindful of the wildlife in the garden, which attracts many birds to shelter in the dense foliage of our trees,’ says Barbara. ‘We’re not totally organic, but we do compost garden and kitchen waste, and recycle wherever possible.’

Barbara admits that the garden involved a lot of hard work. ‘But it’s now the perfect escape for us to relax,’ she smiles.

The costs

Lawn turf, seeds and plants£660
Path winders and paving slabs£135
Bubbling urn water feature£80
Metal garden arches£70
Gravel and pebbles£42