Level best

In the first of a new series, we look at real gardens in Berkshire and The Chilterns and see how they have been transformed by garden designers.

Jamie Higham of Green Dot Gardens and garden designer Sue Berrido of Mad About Gardens tell us how a terraced townhouse garden in Windsor was given a tropical treatment.

bench and cushions

Sue, tell us about the garden: It was a small terraced garden behind a townhouse. The area was on three levels and none was large enough to be of any use.

Step by step guide to creating a gardenWhat was the brief? To create an outdoor room for entertaining. The client also had a puppy; which needed to be taken into consideration. As she is a busy career woman, she wanted a low maintenance garden where she could relax.

Sue, what inspired the design? The garden was overlooked, so privacy was an important element. Screening was essential, but the main criteria was that it should be an extension to the house – and extra living and dining space. The client had styled the interior of the house in a contemporary way, so it was essential that the outside should be the same. When you take the requirements and personality of the client into account, the property itself and the opportunities the site presents you with, the right design will gradually evolve.

Jamie, what problems did you encounter? Because the ground was on three different levels, a lot of excavation work had to be undertaken. As this was a townhouse garden, with no access for mechanical diggers, this involved excavating very dense clay by hand and wheel barrowing it out. Digging out our client’s garden also meant her nextdoor neighbour’s garden had to be retained, so walls and fencing had to be put in place. The fencing was very difficult to get even and we also had some concrete foundations to negotiate.

Jamie, what materials did you use? There was a lot of smooth, treated pine decking. We don’t recommend grooved decking as this takes longer to dry out and allows algae to flourish. The shingle we used on the paths was from granite chippings, which bind together better and don’t end up on the decking.

Any special features? The water feature was a simple one bought from a garden centre. The built-in timber seats are an excellent idea for small gardens and look great with cushions for relaxing or entertaining. They can also be hinged for storage if required.

Tell us about the planting scheme: Along the back fence we used bamboo to screen. This can grow up to five metres tall, but we planted it in a raised bed, which controls its roots. If it is allowed to grow unchecked, it will run and run. Much of the planting is with low maintenance evergreen architectural plants. The dwarf fan palm chamaerops humilis is interesting, as is the castor oil (Ricinus communis’Impala’) pittosporum. Flax (phormium tenas) gives height. We also planted a hedge of lavender. Cordiliyne Australians gives a tropical feel around the base. Colour was added by planting blue grasses or Festuca glauca and purple-leaved heuchera to give a splash of purple.

How long did it take? Two men working 55 days.

Total cost? The job was completed for less than £18,000.

Result: A perfect, low maintenance space for entertaining. “Our client is really proud of her garden now and wants to show it off”.