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
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
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com