Secret garden

Liz and Will Wells created secluded outdoor living spaces suitable for all seasons

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Having considered several designs for their long, narrow garden, Liz and Will Wells settled on a redesign that has created a series of secluded outdoor living spaces united by a central decked patio area.

Liz and Will WellsFact file

The owners: Liz Wells, who is an actress, lives here with her husband Will, a retired chartered engineer

Looking at our garden, it’s hard to believe it is only 3.7 metres wide,’ says Liz. ‘It appears narrow at the outset, but as you walk along the path and discover surprises at each turn it seems wider, because you can’t see it all at once.’ Adding to the illusion are fences built up with climbers, trees and shrubs, all without using up too much space. ‘It’s planted to take advantage of the borrowed landscape of trees in neighbouring gardens, which adds to a feeling of spaciousness,’ she continues.

It is five years since Liz and Will bought their Victorian home. ‘Our previous garden was only slightly wider, so I knew we could do something with this,’ Liz recalls. The couple moved in to find a lawned plot totally exposed to its neighbours and the elements, apart from a large sycamore tree overshadowing the far end. Over the following months, Liz worked on design and layout ideas. ‘I had this idea of creating different patios, linked by a winding path so that places would be slightly hidden but accessible,’ she says.

As the plot is north-facing, Liz noted where the sun fell at different times of the day, before settling on three separate seating areas – sofas near the kitchen for the morning sun and, to catch the evening sun, a paved patio with a dining table at the far end, partly obscured from view by a large Phormium. ‘In the summer we always eat outdoors, and the patio heater adds another month once the weather turns cooler,’ says Liz. Finally, there’s a third seating area in the centre, situated beneath a pergola that is clad in ivy and clematis to help cast shade throughout the day.

As Liz sketched out her ideas, it was Will, a trained draughtsman, who drew them to scale to check they would work. ‘I have a reasonable eye for measurements but I’m not precise, and where space is limited, there’s little margin for error,’ says Liz. They also took care choosing the hard landscaping, ensuring the general maximum of only three different surfaces within their design. Once the final plan was drawn up, Will built all the structures, including a pergola and planked path.

Working with timber is something that Will enjoys, but even he admits that the path was challenging. ‘It was hard work, so I built it in sections at weekends as I was still working full-time,’ says Will, who first laid a weed-proof membrane, before installing concrete foundations to support a timber framework. ‘As it’s an odd shape, it’s the only part of the design that I worked out on the ground as I went along.’

Once the path was laid, the focus shifted to planting the borders. The couple chose specimens such as Magnolia grandiflora, dense clumps of bamboo, a Chusan palm, New Zealand flax, a miniature pine tree and box balls. In addition, there are several large rhododendrons which need acid soil – the garden is alkaline – so they were planted in ericaceous soil in large pots submerged in the borders. The emphasis is on evergreen plants that provide a lovely view from the kitchen, even during the winter. ‘I didn’t want to look out on bare twigs and earth,’ Liz explains. ‘I prefer year-round interest.’

Initially, they lost several prize specimens to harsh frosts, but as the plants became established they grew hardier, and last winter there was no need for protective fleece. Some plants did not settle in their first position – a Prunus has been moved three times so far. ‘A garden should never be static, and you shouldn’t be afraid to move things around. Even professional gardeners have failures,’ Liz advises.

With its mature evergreens, decked walkway and borders that are mulched to suppress weeds, this is a low-maintenance garden. ‘I wanted to keep it as easy as possible,’ says Liz. She has succeeded, starting with the decked patio outside the kitchen which, at a quick glance, appears to be covered in lawn – though closer inspection reveals it to be Astroturf. ‘It doesn’t need scarifying, feeding or mowing – we simply vacuum up any debris,’ she explains. In addition, there is a leaky-pipe watering system to irrigate their plants and fl owers. ‘It was a godsend during the summer,’ adds Liz.

The sound of a gushing fountain fills the garden. An electrical supply for the pump and lighting was installed at the outset of the redesign. The water feature required a large hole to house the tank and electric pump, which was covered in a grille that supports the rocks. It is controlled from a switch in the house. ‘I love watching the water splashing onto the rocks,’ says Liz.

While there is much to enjoy, one aspect stands out. ‘It’s lovely wandering around, appreciating how well it’s come together,’ says Liz. ‘Best of all is sitting at the far end and looking back towards the house. It’s a completely new vista – like waking up and finding yourself in a different room.’

The costs

Plants and pots£4,800
Shed plus timber for decking and structures£2,600
Astroturf/tree removal£2,200
Lighting and furniture£2,000
Patio paving£1,400
Water feature£500
TOTAL£13,500

Author: Gardenpix