Enlisting Help from a Designer8th January 2013 • General • Stephanie Donaldson
Last September’s knee-shattering incident made me think that the time had finally come to rethink the hard landscaping in parts of the garden. As it happens, the accident happened in a flat area, but I’ve known for some time that irregular steps, narrow pathways and other hazards are just inviting an accident. My expertise is plant-based and I’m not good at hard landscaping, so I decided it was time to enlist the help of a garden designer. Both husband and friends were surprised that I felt this was necessary, but just because I know a lot about plants and have a good eye, it doesn’t mean that I understand how to construct a steeply sloping path, or replace a crumbling area of paving. Rather than waste money getting things wrong, I decided it was better to spend some of my budget on calling in someone knowledgeable.
A Fresh Eye
I wanted to ask someone who didn’t know the garden to come and cast a fresh eye over it and assess its strengths and weaknesses. I also wanted someone who would work with me rather than trying to impose their ideas on my garden. As it happens, earlier in the summer I met a very nice woman, Elaine-Marie Wigg, manning a plant stall at a local event. We got chatting and I discovered that she was a garden designer who had recently moved to the area and was trying to establish herself locally. I liked the way we shared a passion for plants and I felt she was someone who would ‘get’ my garden.
Elaine’s first visit was in particularly dreadful weather, with me still hobbling round on crutches and the garden looking as bad as it ever has, after 3 months of enforced neglect. She went away to have a think and by the time of her second visit, when I had started to actively garden again, I suspect she was relieved to discover that emerging from beneath the previous mess there were the bones of a rather lovely garden. I liked her description of the garden as having an Italianate atmosphere and that she felt we should aim for subtle changes rather than a makeover.
Deciding on Priorities
We talked through her initial ideas. She assessed the priorities as – improving access from the gate to the front door and ensuring that I could get to the greenhouse from the front door without risking life and limb. With these two things in mind her suggestions are:
· the steps from the gate to the front door are reasonably wide but I display large pots on them – Elaine suggested that the steps are extended on the other side of the railings (which will be extended to the bottom of the steps) so that the pots can still brighten the entrance without narrowing access
· my much-loved quince tree should go – it is now so overhung by the mimosa that it is not growing well and it is planted in the border that we plan to reduce in size so that the path in front of the house can be widened. I do have a bush quince in a pot as a replacement.
· a large bay tree that has loomed over part of the garden really should go – I’ve pondered this on several occasions so I will not regret its demise. Bay leaves anyone?
· the paving below the lawn is very uneven and covers a wider area than is needed – it will be replaced with sympathetic materials (still to be decided) and made narrower which will allow for more planting (hooray!) in an area no longer shaded by the bay (hooray, hooray!!)
· the steps down to the greenhouse are far too narrow and far too dangerous – once the bay tree has gone it will be fairly easy to replace them with wide, properly constructed steps