Redesigning a small garden

With expert help from a garden designer, in eight weeks Tiina and Paul Pickering transformed their small garden into a space perfect for entertaining

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Having moved to the UK from Sydney, Australia, we found our ideal house in London, near the River Thames,’ explains Tiina. ‘This is the first house we’ve owned in the UK, and we started renovating it as soon as we moved in, in August 2010. The work on the house was completed within two years, then we focused on creating a garden to suit the whole family. We wanted to live as we had in Sydney, where barbecuing, enjoying the sun and entertaining outside is important.’

The couple obtained a quote for the garden design in July 2012 and work started in September that year. In total, it took around eight weeks to transform the space. ‘The old garden included a small lawn with narrow borders, some shrubs and a decked area,’ recalls Tiina. ‘The space wasn’t very user-friendly, so our goal was to turn it into somewhere we could spend our free time. The most difficult design challenge was the asymmetric triangular shape of the space – a result of the house being on the apex of a bend in the road.’

Fact file

  • The owners: Tiina Pickering and her husband Paul, who works in banking, live here with children James, 24, Matthew, 22 Emily, 21 and Ruby, nine
  • The property: A detached 1930s house
  • The location: Barnes, south-west London
  • What they spent: The couple’s garden project cost around £50,000

The garden

Tiina and Paul had a long wishlist for the redesign, including an outdoor living and dining area; a space where Ruby, their youngest daughter, could play; a shed, hidden from view; and a barbecue. ‘We cook outdoors year-round,’ says Tiina. ‘Paul will lean out of the kitchen window to barbecue a steak in poor weather!’

Tiina had a clear vision of the overall style of the space, too, preferring simple, bold edges to create a low-maintenance, formal layout, softened with planting – mainly bulbs and herbaceous plants.

It became clear to the couple that they would need specialist help to create their dream garden in a relatively small space. ‘For the heavy work, Paul found Landscaping Solutions online, but he then needed a designer to pull the look together,’ says Tiina. ‘Ben West from Landscaping Solutions suggested Justin Greer, who is based in nearby Wimbledon.’

Seating area in garden

The designs

To help explain their vision, Tiina and Paul passed on images of preferred designs to Justin, but Garden Design Handbook by Paul Bangay, a well-known Australian garden designer, proved to be especially useful. ‘It gave me a really good idea for the garden,’ says Justin. ‘I like the same style as Paul, with structural trees, box-lined beds and ordered, neat and tidy practical spaces.’

The challenge was to make it all fit the awkward space. At one end of the garden, daughter Ruby’s trampoline was positioned behind a partition along with a shed. This also worked well to help square off the garden, making the shape easier to organise.

Fencing built by Ben West screens off the trampoline from Springfree Trampoline

Maximising space

To make sure the whole space was used, Justin placed the dining table in a stone terrace in the centre of the garden. As well as the modular lounge chairs on the decking near the kitchen, there is stone-capped seating on the central raised beds. Ben West built the decked area to be level with the interior floor of the house, creating a seamless indoor/outdoor space.

One of Tiina’s favourite buys was the multi-stemmed Amelanchier tree because of its year-round interest – flowers in spring and colour in autumn. ‘It breaks the view from the house to the table,’ says Justin. ‘I needed something to make it harder to see all the garden at once, and it’s visible both from the house and anywhere in the garden.’

A bank of topiary bay trees runs along one side of the garden, adding to the formal style. These are under-planted by the purple salvia and one of Tiina’s favourite plants, Hydrangea ‘Madame Emile Mouillère’. This popular variety, which gives abundant and large white flowers, lights up the shade under the bays. Filling the box-lined beds elsewhere are Polemonium, Libertia, lavender and, in season, irises.

Uplighters beneath all the trees add another dimension, highlighting them with a soft and even light, without being disruptive to neighbours. A small square water feature, built from the same stone and brick as the raised beds, is another focal point. ‘I didn’t initially ask for a water feature, but it was one of Justin’s suggestions,’ says Tiina. ‘I love its gentle splashing sound.’

The attention to detail has left Paul and Tiina very happy with their garden. ‘The build went smoothly and I wouldn’t do anything differently,’ says Tiina. ‘I was amazed by what we could have in this small space, and thanks to expert help, we’ve fulfilled our entire wishlist and more.’

The costs

Materials£18,108
Fees and extras£16,000
Labour£14,280
Site preparation£1,560
TOTAL£49,948