Just a quick update on what's been going on since the last blog. With summer just beginning and warmer weather on its way (we hope!), we've been keeping busy with designing and building for lots of new clients. We’ve been working particularly hard on a garden design for a large ‘custom-built’ contemporary house. We’ve also done a little commercial work and several other large family gardens. An important consideration in family gardens is the incorporation of an area for the kids and an adult space for entertaining on a summer evening!

The idea of long summer evenings got us thinking about enjoying the garden after dark all year round (an important factor in contemporary garden design is that it can look just as stunning in summer or winter due to lighting placement and the architectural qualities of a contemporary design). So, when a client suggested that they might want a summerhouse from which to enjoy the garden on a cooler evening (let’s face it, without a firepit, heater or several blankets it’s not often warm enough to sit out all evening!) it got us started trawling the web for inspiration. One solution that came up was a high quality shed (don’t let the word shed put you off!). More affordable than an expensive new conservatory, yet they are still stylish and contemporary (we were impressed by a company called ‘Decorated Shed’).

If you don’t want to go as far a custom built shed, another option is a firepit. Firepits can either be free standing or built into the ground. Many of our designs incorporate firepits, with this one (with firepit built into the hardwood decking) being our favourite.

Anyway, hopefully the weather will stay warm for just a bit longer! It helps so much for the garden builds.

I find increasingly that my clients are requesting a garden ( or a space within the garden) to relax….de-stress…or even meditate.

If we go back to one of the main principles of Japanese garden design we find that one of the most important reasons for a garden to exist would to create a sense of calm, indeed for the user to be at one with his/her surroundings in a spiritual sense. (See Frantisek Staud's photos of the Zen gardens in Kyoto - http://www.phototravels.net/kyoto/zen-gardens-index.html)

The design principles contained in the ancient Indian philosophy of Sthapatya Veda (which predate both Chinese and Japanese doctrines) direct all architects and garden designers in the direction of working in tune with natural law. Very precise principles are laid down in terms of symmetry, orientation, the use of specific herbs and plants etc…..all with the aim of creating balance and calmness within the minds and body of the user. Indeed the ultimate aim of enlightenment or spiritual self-realisation seems at the basis of the design philosophies. (see Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s interpretation of Stapathya Veda)

Q : So…how best can we use and indeed interpret some of these ideas in our own gardens ?

A : Usually I would suggest to a client wanting a meditative garden some of the following :

1      A simple interpretation of the space: this means, basically, few elements to the garden and used in a non ‘busy’ or over fussy way. For example, planting can be limited to a few species to create a calming effect.

2      Simple, clean lines: ……spaces divided up with good,strong geometry.
In the example to the right, we used a simple sleeper walkway meandering through a garden space. The walkway forms a perfect ‘S’ shape when viewed from above, but links the house, garden and summerhouse.

3      Use natural materials where necessary: This same garden was constructed with hardly any concrete or other unnatural materials. We used the simple elements of: timber, water and stone and chose plants carefully to help create a sense of harmony.

4      Use water: The use of water, whether still or moving, can have a very calming and therapeutic effect on the garden user. Both the sound of running water and the play of light on the reflective surface of a still pool can be calming.

5      Use of plants : using plants which are fragrant (some herbs and flowers have a soothing type of fragrance, for example lemon, lavender and mango - as illustrated by the widespread use of aromatherapy) Some plants are soothing because they move in the breeze (e.g. ornamental grasses such as miscanthus, bamboo etc) Some plants, of course, are reflective just because they look so awesome !

6      Sustainability:  The very essence of sustainable gardening has of course been around since creation began (living in tune with our natural environment).  The delights of birdsong or the mere presence of other living creatures can have an instant therapeutic effect.

I remember a few years ago trying to finish a garden off to a deadline, as the client’s were due back from holiday. The garden was in a rural setting and featured a new, large wildlife-type pond, I was finishing off the last of the planting down by the water’s edge and feeling (bizzarely) somewhat stressed! Suddenly, a stunning damselfly fluttered by and settled on the surface of the water. All at once I felt a sudden inner calm...as if nothing in the world mattered and that everything in the newly created scheme had been worthwhile! I felt instantly connected to everything that really was really important in the universe…something that is so easy to forget in the hurly-burly of everyday life.

We have just been featured in this months (April 2010) edition of Homes and Gardens magazine. 

The article gave expert advice on the usage of garden decking and its 'eco credentials'.  They also printed a photograph of one of our designs (hardwood deck with seating and circular fire pit).                        
Great to see it in print!                                                        

The garden looks great at night, as can be seen from these photographs.  I am always amazed at how different a landscape can look at night.  In many ways the can client can have two quite different schemes for the price of one.  Especially if they have large patio doors or other big windows looking out onto the garden.

This is the view looking away from the house of the finished garden.
The photinia topiary are now in stainless steel pots, as the ground in this area is very boggy.
The view is much opened up now that the 2m high brick wall is gone, and the rendered walls give a light contemporary look to this outdoor space. You can also see the successfully finished (and clamped!) glass water feature in the background (more evening photos of it lit on the way!)
As can be seen from the photograph, the temperature is well below zero. It would be a good idea to always protect newly planted plant material if it is of a more tender variety. 
- If frost damage does occur, it is important to protect your plants from defrosting too quickly in the morning sun.  If the plants can't be moved, then the best way of doing this is by covering them with a thick black plastic.
- It's also a good idea to feed damaged plants with a balanced fertiliser, this will definitely help to encourage healthy growth.
- It's also important to watch out for snow damage (there's enough of it at the moment!).  To prevent your trees, shrubs and hedges getting disfigured you should try to shake off any excess snow from their branches.
- Something to avoid: walking on snowy grass!  It can damage the turf underneath and leave marks on the lawn.

We've just sent off our application for the 2010 RHS Tatton show, very exciting!  The picture above is the 3d garden visualisation we created using sketchup and photoshop.  A friend (Dan Archer    http://www.archersculpture.co.uk/) is very kindly going to lend us a great contemporary sculpture, for the week, to finish off the garden. 
We've decided to name the garden 'Tranquility Island' - the idea behind it is that it's intended as a retreat from the hectic pace of everyday life.  The snaking sleeper bridge represents the journey through life as a spiritual quest.  While arrival at the enclosed decked area is a metaphor for the fulfillment of achieving higher states of consciousness.  

The garden is very elemental - it uses water, timber, stone and plants to create a harmonious series of spaces.   We have tried to be environmentally conscientious with the design (the offcuts of boulders we're using would otherwise go to landfill), all the materials are going to be locally sourced to avoid unnecessary transport.

The preliminary planting plan for the scheme is ornamental with a Mediterranean flavour, we're going to use a selection of grasses and perennials set in large drifts.  We also want to include 3 - 4 large trees as a backdrop - hopefully some beautiful old olive trees.

Even with the wettest November on record, and with this current cold spell, we have managed to complete this striking elemental garden.  We are always excited about schemes which we can build without using concrete or other modern products.  This scheme features timber sleepers, huge slices of stone boulder (some as big as 2m x 1.5m!), water and an interesting selection of plants.  
The plants shown above are euphorbia, phormium and cortaderia.  We will have to wait until March to plant the marginal plants (plants like caltha and various iris). 


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