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Going Ornamental

Stephen Anderton explains how he has transformed the bottom of his garden with a new feature that glows in the sun and makes him glow with pride.

What do you do when your back garden fizzles out under tall trees at the bottom of a slope? Mine used to, but not any more, I am glad to say.

My garden faces east and slightly down hill. You can breakfast on the terrace at the back of the house in blazing morning sun, but after noon the house spreads its own shadow over the garden. By the evening the garden is in shadow, and the sun is on the trees and the field beyond. You long to be over the fence, and out there in the sun, instead of here in the gloom.

Well, you used to. Not any more. I have built a huge reflector to capture the sun. I have turned it round and brought the sun back in. I have plugged the leak. And all with a wall.

Of course it is good to have big trees in a garden, but sitting at the foot of them can feel threatening and unsatisfactory. So what I also needed was a comfortable place to be - to sit and eat or read - at the edge of those trees. Something which would turn the garden round, stop the sense of the garden slipping away under trees. Somewhere to be. A focus.

Now you could achieve that through any number of means. A summerhouse, perhaps? Well, I hate summerhouses. All that cutesiness and leaded windows. And summerhouses make such an inward-looking focus in a garden. I wanted a reflector. Something outward looking, to bring you back to the space. A place to bask, not a place to hide. It rains little enough here in East Anglia for a roof not to be a necessity.

A wall or a terrace then. But in what style? When you build anything new in a garden, you should always make it modern and as high quality as you can, unless there are compelling reasons to fit in with strong existing architecture. My house is 1908 yellow brick, fancy at the front, but plain as plain at the back. It makes no demands. A red-tiled yellow brick building at the bottom of the garden would have looked like an outside lav, and there could be no reason at all to make anything rustic alongside a house like this. So modern it had to be.

I played with ideas on paper. I sketched split-level terraces backed by dog-legged bas-relief walls. Glass bricks, which I love and happen to be very fashionable just now, were also there. But still I was making something imperfectly proportioned and too small.

Then I saw the Latin Garden at Chelsea Show in 1998, designed by Christopher Bradley Hole. Here was a series of beautifully proportioned living spaces amongst bas-relief walls. This was obviously the man to design a sculpture-wall for me, and he did.

In March my builder kept saying "You're daft. You could have had a double garage for this price!" Well, not quite: but who wants a double garage? Life is short. I'd rather have something beautiful to look at.

We call the wall the lyceum, for its theatrical potential as well as its mathematical, Aristotelian proportions. All through the afternoon it glows in welcome, and there is such pleasure in watching its own internal shadows change as the day wears on. It sits in a bowl of green planting, and in the evening the shadows of bamboos wave across it like a Bounty advert. Instead of being a sad tease, the bottom of the garden is definitely the place to be.

The moral of the tale? If you want a garden building, make it work for you. Make sure it will do the job you want it to do. Decide on its function before you think about style. Don't feel you have to go for something off the peg. Go for something modern unless it would be unreasonable to do so. And forget the double garage. What profiteth it a man, if he gain a double garage, and lose his soul?

Illustrations: Marianne Majerus


Articles reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com



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