First impressions count…

In my eyes, it is just as important to pay attention to your front garden as it is the back.  And now the BBQ season is over, this is a good time of year to start thinking of ways to add interest to the front.  Many of our clients prefer this time of year to have work done in the garden – when they are spending more time indoors and before the (hopefully) better weather arrives in the Spring!

Transforming the appearance of your front garden could be as simple as the installation of a new fence, pathway or drive. Or a new planting design will add colour and interest in the winter months (obviously my business partner Alison Tipping is the expert to consult on this one!)

A recent design for a client involved putting in a new shingle drive and installing a distinctive fence at the top of the lawn – these simple but effective changes help define and make better use of the garden space.  The before and after photos below illustrate the point nicely:

Before After Before After

Over the last two weeks ALDA Landscapes have been working on another front garden. This time the transformation was created by building a new brick wall along the boundary of the garden closest to the pavement and by a radical clearance of overgrown shrubs and plants.

In the before photo you can see how overgrown the ivy clad wall looked and how the abundance of shrubs obscured the view of the house. The after photo reveals a new brick wall and the garden cleared ready for a new planting scheme to take shape over the next couple of months. We were also asked by the client to repair an existing brick wall – not an easy job as the weather turns more wintry, but I’m sure you will agree it was worth it, as the photos reveal below!

Earley - before0 Earley - after0 Earley - before1 Earley - after1 Earley - before2 Earley - after2

And just for good measure, here’s a photo of another front garden we designed and constructed earlier this year (more details in this blog post):

Front Garden4

So now is a good time to get thinking of ways to improve the appearance of your front garden and up the curb appeal of your house!

Contact us if you need a hand…

Aco drain

An introduction to garden drainage… from an expert

Here at ALDA Landscapes, garden drainage is dear to our hearts, particularly after a succession of years with spells of prolonged wet weather.  How to deal with surface water is a critical consideration in so much of what we do. Here’s our whistle stop guide (starting with the simple stuff, before moving on to some more complex challenges):

1. Ask, Ask, Ask!

When having any landscaping undertaken, you should ALWAYS ask your chosen contractors what they are intending to do regarding drainage.  No question about it.  Don’t be afraid to ask!

2. Paths & Patios

There is one main aim here – to prevent water sitting (or running) where it isn’t wanted.  This includes:

  • preventing puddling
  • stopping water pooling next to the retaining walls of a sunken patio
  • and probably most importantly, preventing a build-up of surface water against the wall of the house.

Where possible, paths and patios should always be built with a fall (a very gentle gradient) to direct water to a lawn or border, where it can be gently absorbed into the soil.

Where the land slopes towards the house (or where there is no lawn or border to drain to), additional drainage gulleys and channels (e.g. Aco drains) may be required to capture & disperse the water – either by feeding it into a strategically located soakaway, or – and where permissible – the household storm (rainwater) drain system.   Rainwater should never be mixed with the foul drainage system.

3. Retaining Walls

Retaining walls are another area where drainage is vital – to prevent the build-up of water behind the retaining wall (& potentially, subsequent collapse of said wall!) The drainage here normally takes the form of weep holes or vents in the wall and / or a perforated pipe set in shingle, angled to take the water into a soakaway or other outlet.

4. Front Drives

Front drives bring a whole new set of issues of their own… house owners now need planning permission before building a new or replacement drive that:

  • is over 5 square metres
  • uses an impermeable material (e.g. standard block paving)
  • and has no facility for the drive to drain to a porous / permeable area.

Assuming you don’t want to hassle of having to apply for planning permission (who does?… besides, permission may well not be granted anyway) the drive either has to:

  • drain to a border / lawn / gravel area, where the water can be absorbed naturally into the soil (drainage might be simply by means of a fall, or by way of drainage gulleys / pipework / soakaway)
  • or be constructed using permeable materials (gravel, permeable paving, or porous asphalt for example) so that the water can drain through it.

Full government guidance on what you can and can’t do with a front garden can be found here at the time of writing (or try Googling ‘paving front gardens – government guidance’).

 


That’s the simple stuff covered. But when most people talk about garden drainage, they aren’t talking about patios and retaining walls. Rather, they are referring to the problems caused by having a frequently soggy or waterlogged garden (or part thereof!) – often due simply to the local topology surrounding the garden.

Last month’s blog on how to cope with wet gardens discussed ways of easing these problems by de-compacting the soil, using plants that are happy in wet soils etc. But often, if an area of the garden is permanently wet, the only real solution may be to install some form of land drainage system.


5. Land Drainage Systems

Whilst land drainage systems come under various different guises and names (French drains, Fin drains, dispersal systems – e.g. the leach fields used with sceptic tanks, etc), they all work on the same basic principle:

Rainwater (or rather groundwater) always follows the path of least resistance, and it will flow down even the gentlest of slopes.

A typical land drainage system comprises a herringbone layout of perforated plastic pipe, laid in trenches on a bed of gravel, and encased in coarse gravel. The pipe network is laid so that it slopes down, such that the water is transported away from the problem area, normally (but not always) into a soakaway, from which it can gradually seep away into the surrounding soil.

Before the trenches are backfilled, a geotextile membrane is normally used to prevent soil particles getting into the trench, and also help to prevent root encroachment from surrounding trees.

All this sounds tremendously wonderful in theory (well, it does if you have a waterlogged garden). But in practice, the installation of land drains can be somewhat problematical.

Problem 1:

If a sufficient enough fall cannot be “manufactured” for the water to drain away by gravity, it might be necessary to install a pump. So far so good – a bit of a pain, but there’s a solution at least.

Problem 2:

And the single biggest issue associated with land drainage – where to drain the water to.

It is not always possible to find a suitable location for a soakaway – the garden may be at the bottom of a natural slope and naturally collect all the rain from the surrounding land. A soakaway here would be almost permanently full during wet weather, with the water simply backing back up the perforated pipe. (Additionally, heavy clay soils are not always a good match for soakaways, as the water struggles to drain through).

If there is no place for a soakaway, it might be possible to drain the water elsewhere – neighbouring waste ground, or a drainage stream (if permissible). But if you are surrounded by other houses / gardens, your neighbours won’t be very amused if you simply drain your garden into theirs!

Lateral thinking required!

As a company, ALDA Landscapes has a lot of garden drainage experience. A simple land drainage system plus soakaway is achievable in most gardens. But in some cases it really is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve an economically viable solution.

And that’s when some lateral thinking is required – and often this way, a sensible and pragmatic solution can be devised. We are currently considering building up a large section of a garden, so that a soakaway can be located beneath the built up area (with a raised patio above). Part of the thinking here is that the additional soil brought in will help to absorb the excess ground water. Watch this space; we’ll let you know how this project develops!

In Conclusion

This is of course only an introductory guide, but hopefully one which will give you a good overview of the subject – and give you the sense that drainage problems can be overcome!  Let us know if you have questions.

In the meanwhile, another very useful and extensive resource can be found on the PavingExpert website: http://www.pavingexpert.com/drainage.htm.

 

It’s not just gardens we design and build… 2014 saw two high quality garage builds!!

Newbury Garage - Completed

Over the years, many of the landscaping projects I’ve worked on have involved brickwork and/or timber construction. As well as building many summer houses and arbours for clients, there have been some more specialist projects too – recreating an old Victorian wall for example.

But this year I’m excited that we have taken our brickwork and construction experience a step further and built two garages. Both are substantial buildings constructed from red brick, with tiled roofs. One of the garages was designed with office space at the rear.

Wargrave GarageThe photo to the left shows the first garage we built this year, in Wargrave.  The photos below (click to view larger versions) show the second garage, in Newbury, and reveal the various stages of the build of the garage with the addition of the office. The first step was to take down the old garage and to arrange for the asbestos roof to be taken away by a specialist company with a certificate provided to guarantee safe disposal.

Once we put the concrete footings in the garage takes shape! Great care is taken to match the colour of the bricks to those of the house and the same goes with the French clay tiles for the roof to make sure they blend in too. The wooden frames – see photo – reveal where the windows and side door will be positioned and also show the French doors situated at the entrance to the office giving a good indication of how the finished build will look!

It is very satisfying to see the garage completed and I look forward to building more in 2015. Of course, I couldn’t achieve this without the fantastic workmanship and building skills of my team at ALDA Landscapes!

Top tip

If you’re planning to add an extension, garage or conservatory to your property, it’s a good idea to plan the adjoining bit of garden at the same time (even if budget dictates that the garden has to wait for a bit before being constructed. Often the overall result is better this way, as you can then see the big picture from the outset – and it might even mean you adapt your building plans a little to ensure the best fit and flow with the garden. Let us know if you need some help thinking things through.

Carex stipata

How To Cope With Wet Soils / Gardens

If you constantly find yourself battling a soggy, wet garden, it’s probably caused either by the existence of a high water table or by compacted soil leading to poor drainage. Or quite possibly both.

Prolonged periods of rain of course then compound the problem – as witnessed by many of our clients earlier this year.

Organic matterCoping with compacted, poorly draining soil

In the case of soil compaction and poor drainage, the problem can be alleviated – partially at least – by improving the soil structure. This is particularly the case with the heavy clay soils that are found in much of ALDA-land!

Try the following:

  • Dig the soil over (when not too wet) to de-compact and allow more air in
  • Add plenty of organic matter
  • Perhaps add sharp sand and grit. But note – sand and grit may help but are not as effective as organic matter, and tend to make the soil extremely heavy to work with.

Coping with a high water table

IrisA garden does not necessarily have to be low lying to have a high water table. Local topography plays a part, along with a number of other factors. If you live somewhere with a high water table, drying out your garden can be slightly problematical.  To say the least.

Installing land drains is often the best, or indeed, the only real solution.  (As an aside, I am planning next month to write a blog post looking at drainage, land drainage systems, soakaways, where you can/can’t drain water to… watch this space!)

But what if installing land drains is impractical? Land drains of course have to drain the water off to somewhere and there isn’t always a “somewhere” to drain the water to.

If land drains aren’t an option, another way of coping with wet soil caused by a high water table is to raise some of the garden. The simplest approach would be to build a few raised beds for plants to grow in. Or you might consider bringing in soil and lifting a whole section of the garden out of the wet – although there are obvious cost implications here.

Plants for wet soil

CarexIf all else fails, then perhaps the best solution is to grow plants that will cope with the wet conditions for prolonged periods (although not many plants like to be permanently submerged).  Some plants to consider (there are many more):

  • Trees: Alder, Liquidambar, Sorbus
  • Shrubs: Cornus alba, Hydrangea, Sambucus, Kerria, Weigela
  • Bamboos: e.g. Phyllostachys
  • Grasses: e.g. Carex
  • WeigelaPerennials: Hosta, Zantedeschia, Astilbe, Iris (not germanica types), Rodgersia, Primula (some), Lobelia cardinalis, Lysimachia, Rudbeckia, Persicaria, Ligularia, Astrantia, Helenium, Actaea.

And some plants to definitely avoid (i.e. those needing good drainage):

  • Most alpines
  • Lilies
  • Phormiums & Cordylines
  • Hebes
  • grey leaved “Mediterranean” plants e.g. Lavender

And even if your garden is normally dry…

Of course, most gardens will become saturated after very long periods of rain. Heavy rain will compact the soil, sometimes leaving an almost impermeable “pan” on the surface; it will also leach out a lot of nutrients. So, once the garden has dried out, give the garden a much needed helping hand by first de-compacting the soil as described above, and then giving the borders a feed with a general purpose fertiliser to replace lost nutrients.

 

Image credits: Matt Lavin, Diana House, Muséum de Toulouse, jacinta lluch valero

 

Patio and damp proofing

Don’t always believe the builder!

Alison has finally persuaded me to venture into the blog-o-sphere and publish my first blog post.  Let’s just say this is seriously outside my comfort zone!

I’m John Hill, and head up ALDA’s garden construction team – I & my team are responsible for constructing all the gardens you see featured here on the ALDA website.

Here’s the story.

Builders are not always aware of the choices available to clients when it comes to the hard landscaping. As a result, builders have in the past advised our clients incorrectly.

A case in point was a client whose design plan was to make the most of her new extension by creating the outside patio flush with the floor where it leads to bifolding doors.

Her builder said that the only option was to go for decking, and that it was not possible to build above the damp course.

Patios, Damp Proofing & Drainage

Actually, it is entirely possible to build a patio above the level of the damp course.

With the correct approach -damp proofing the house wall, and installing proper drainage -building a patio that reaches right up to the threshold of the door is indeed a feasible option.

This means that the client has a choice of various finishes in terms of the patio floor surface – black slate, Indian sandstone, limestone, concrete etc etc.

And the moral of the story…

Don’t always believe the builder!  Or rather, in all seriousness, always ask the right expert for the problem in hand – if you’re thinking about redesigning your patio, ask a landscaper not a builder.

Bonus moral to the story?  If you try hard enough, you might just get a garden construction expert to write a blog post.  Maybe.

Until next time…

 

 

Mountainous garden!

How to cope with… a sloping garden

Is your garden a bit, umm… mountainous?

Ok, not mountainous, but does it have a slope to it?  Here are some pictures to whet your appetite:

The Challenge

Sloping gardens.  They’re challenging for home owners and garden designers alike.

  • Most people want to have a large enough level (ish) area near the house to locate a patio, and children (and some adults!) need a level area of lawn for play – football, cricket etc. Creating these level areas normally entails excavating / moving / introducing soil and building terraces and retaining walls, as well as steps and ramps. These jobs are normally expensive in terms of both labour and materials.
  • Lots of steps and retaining walls also require serious consideration in terms of safety – high retaining walls and steep steps are hazardous places for adults as well as children, and ramps can be slippery in wet or frosty weather. Walking up and down a large sloping garden can be a pretty tiring experience too (let alone trying to get a lawn mower from one end of the garden to the other)!
  • With gardens that slope uphill (away from the house), the number one issue is often how to situate a large enough patio to create a sense of space, without the need for a mighty tall and imposing retaining wall.  Other challenges?
    • Good drainage is vital – if you don’t want the new patio turning into a swimming pool during wet weather.
    • Creating a design that allows one to see the top of the garden from the bottom.  The top of a steep garden is unlikely to be visited much in winter, but it can still present a nice view when seen from the house.
  • Although visually, a garden that slopes downhill is perhaps easier on the eye, it presents another unique set of challenges:
    • If a large patio is required and the slope is steep, a tall retaining wall will be required – meaning a big drop at the end of the patio
    • Again, if the slope is steep, creating a design where the lower levels are visible from the top (particularly from inside the house) can be rather challenging.
    • If ground levels are built up too much so that the new level is high relative to the boundary fences, you can end up peering down into adjoining neighbours properties – something that they may not particularly welcome
    • And gardening on a downhill slope can be extremely back “breaking”.

If all that’s not enough, you may also like to ponder the ultimate challenge… a sloping garden that also has a cross fall.

Some Opportunities

But before you rush off to sell your ‘house with a drastically sloping garden’, let me also give you the up-side.  Sloping gardens also present some great design opportunities.

  • Natural slopes can be used to create wonderful water features – bubbling streams and cascades. Water spouts can also be built into retaining walls – with water pouring into a pond or some form of sump below.
  • The physical separation caused by retaining walls means you can do different things with different parts of the garden.
  • The highest points of the garden can be utilised as vantage points – either as areas with great views down over the rest of the garden, or as areas where features can be located – to be visible from down below.
  • Steep downhill slopes can be used to hide eyesores – at least when the garden is viewed from the house.

Mini Case Study

Before moving on to some tips and considerations, I wanted to share with you two photos (before & after) to demonstrate what a difference good design can make in a sloping garden.  In this case, the slope is relatively minor, but there all the same.

Cobbetts before1Burghclere1

What did we change to make this work so well?

  • Slightly enlarged patio area creates a more spacious feeling
  • Added a ramp to the side of the garden, allowing easier lawn mower access to the lawn
  • Widened the steps to create a more impressive feel and open up access to the top level
  • Added curved beds to take away the harsh ‘rectangular’ feel of the previous design

Some Tips & Considerations

So, what should be considered when designing for a sloping garden?  Here are a few ideas we’ve gathered over time:

  • If the slope is only slight, the garden can be levelled by locating a timber retainer such as a sleeper or 9”x2” timber inside the boundary fences, and infilling. Never just stack soil against a timber fence – it will rot and warp the fence.
  • Terracing a sloping garden may be the obvious solution, but terracing an entire garden is costly, and can make the garden too fragmented. So, perhaps consider whether the whole garden needs to be levelled / terraced. Could you perhaps have some flatter areas, and some areas sloping.
  • Think about building things into slopes, for example, vegetable beds can be constructed into the slope, so that they are at, or close to, ground level on one side, and raised at the other.
  • Remember that if the levels up and down a garden are adjusted, there will also need to be retaining walls / edges at the side boundaries.
  • Instead of one very high retaining wall, how about having two or three stepped walls, with planting / raised beds in between. This will take up more horizontal space, but will be safer as the walls be lower in height, and potentially more attractive.
  • Retaining walls over a certain height must have railings to comply with local planning / building regulations. Consult your local authority for details.
  • Drainage is critical – make sure that any contractor has a made provision for drainage of the wall itself (eg weep holes), and for drainage of any patio surrounded by retaining walls.
  • In small gardens on steep slopes, steps can be tricky as they can take up a lot of valuable horizontal space. As an alternative, consider curving the steps, or building them laterally (i.e. across the garden), perhaps using the retaining wall as a side wall for the steps.
  • Taking away or adding soil, in large quantities, is very expensive. So, when terracing a garden, think about it as a “cut and fill” exercise, where you are taking soil away from one area, and relocating it somewhere else. The trick is to try and balance out the “cut” and the “fill” so that they nett out to as close to zero as possible.
  • Retaining walls can be built of many different materials – in addition to brick, think about natural stone, sleepers, telegraph poles, log palisade, concrete block (which can be painted, rendered etc).  Or even gabions.
  • In our experience, decking can often be as expensive, or nearly as expensive as paving. However, on sloping sites, decking can be a more cost effective solution. This is particularly the case on downhill slopes as it can remove the need to bring in large quantities of ballast (or build solid retaining walls) that would be required if the area was to be paved. In addition, the area under the deck might be suitable for storage.
  • If the cost of creating a nice patio near the house is prohibitive, think about locating a sitting area elsewhere in the garden.
  • And finally, if the garden is truly mountainous, do seriously consider calling in an expert, such as a structural engineer, particularly for the design of retaining walls etc. Better safe than sorry – always.

 

Photo credits: Berit Watkin (cropped – banner), ALDA Landscapes

A Front Garden for Entertaining

How to cope with… an open plan front garden – a case study

Front gardens are often purely functional.  Pull up into the driveway, park the car, put the bins out, … you get the idea.

But sometimes, there’s an opportunity for something a little more special.  In this case, our client (someone who we had previously designed a garden for about 9 years ago!) asked us to design her front garden.  She and her partner love entertaining friends and family, so wanted an area to sit and enjoy the last of the evening sun, as it moves around to the front of the house.

This, together with the need to keep the front garden fully functional in terms of parking etc provided an interesting set of design elements to get right:

 

Front Garden3
  • Space for two small, interlinked patios – we knew the garden was going to be used as a space to sit and relax
  • Space for cars (and also between cars) – to get in and out with shopping, and to get past with wheelie bins and bikes
  • Privacy from passers by and neighbours – the location of borders and specific plants (as they grow) is very important

 

  • Widening of the drive entrance to allow easier access for cars
  • Channelling the postman to the front door through an archway – and not past the front bedroom window
  • Drainage – the ground slopes gently down towards the house
  • An attractive focal point/scene from the bay window in the sitting room

 

Front Garden1

… quite a long list!

We built the garden in January, and planted it over the Spring and early Summer (so the planting you see in the photos is still very young).  By the time we’d finished, this really was quite a transformation (the plants were so tall in front of the bay window last year, you could hardly see out!)

Our clients now tend to start the evening off in the back garden, and end in the front garden as the sun moves around.  It’s also a great setting in which to greet guests arriving at the house.

 

 

Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar

How To Attract Insects To Your Garden

This blog was almost called “How To Attract Beneficial Insects To Your Garden”, but when we started to think about what a “beneficial” insect actually is, it became clear that you can potentially describe almost any insect as beneficial – if only in terms of its role in the wildlife food chain. Even the almost universally unpopular wasp spends a lot of its time in early summer catching aphids to feed to the wasp larvae in the nest.

Why?

Most of us want to attract at least some insects into our gardens. They can be beautiful and interesting in their own right (e.g. butterflies). They pollinate plants. Good bugs (e.g. hoverflies) eat bad bugs (e.g. aphids). They provide food for other forms of wildlife (e.g. bats eat moths). And most gardeners these days want to do their bit for conservation and diversity.

How?

  • Provide a range of habitats. In addition to lawn and borders, consider having an area where the grass is allowed to grow longer for butterflies. Consider installing a pond, or maybe a wildflower area if you have the space.
  • Provide food for insects – throughout the season. For example, bees that have hibernated overwinter will be more than ready for the nectar provided by early flowers. Early flowers will also encourage hoverflies and lacewings to lay their eggs in areas where their larvae can hatch and start to devour aphids and other less desirable pests.
  • Plant Buddleja and other plants that are good food sources for insects like butterflies and bees. Some good examples: Verbena bonariensis, Lavender, Erysimum, Origanum, Sedum and Echinops.
  • Night scented flowers will encourage moths. Consider Jasmine, Evening Primrose, Honeysuckle and Night Scented Stock.
  • Both moths and butterflies will be attracted by plants that will provide food for their caterpillars e.g. nettles.
  • Late flowering plants like Ivy can be an invaluable source of food for many insects in October / November.
  • Many insects have very small mouth parts(!) so tiny flowers are often very popular – fennel, Borage and Heuchera for example. Conversely, some large double flowers are either sterile or have nectaries which insects find hard to access.
  • Don’t be too quick to deadhead plants!
  • Try not to use pesticides, especially when the plants are in flower.
  • Provide water for insects – shallow pools where there is less risk of them drowning.
  • Provide shelter for insects. This might take a variety of forms – log piles, mulch, a few stones, a compost bay or two. A well planted garden, with a few large leaved plants will also provide shelter from the rain.
  • If you are really keen, of course, you can also buy or make a bug house, or insect nesting box for the insects of your choice.

The Downside

If you really want to attract insects to your garden, it might be necessary to be a little tolerant of some damage to your plants…

Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar

… a few weeks ago, I found that one of my Fuchsias had been almost totally devoured by this huge (it was over 75mm long) and very beautiful green caterpillar and one of its siblings.

Elephant Hawk MothI now know that this is the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawk Moth, which is normally brown but can also be bright green. Having discovered what a beautiful (dusky pink and green) moth the adult Elephant Hawk Moth is, I allowed the caterpillars to have free rein on the one Fuchsia in question.

 

In fact, when I found one of the caterpillars desperately trying to make its way to pupate under our shed, I gave it a helping hand as the local magpies were showing an unhealthy interest.

This was a much nicer fate than that meted out to the sawfly larvae that were skeletonizing my roses!

 

 

Photo Credits: David Tipping, Darius Baužys

Working to a deadline (… and not just a normal one either!)

If you run a business, you’ll know what it’s like to get that warm fuzzy feeling inside when the hard work pays off and you get a note from a client saying how pleased they are…

Dear Alison,

Please find final cheque enclosed.  We are delighted with our new patio and want to thank you and John, and all the boys(!) for doing such a lovely job.  It was a pleasure to have them here and you delivered just as you said you would and a bit ahead of time too!  Thank you very much – we have no hesitation in recommending ALDA landscapes.

With very best wishes from Juliet & Tony.

 

Terrace

This was truly a case of Team ALDA to the rescue – well, sort of!  Our clients had started to renovate their patio, removing some of the surrounding wall and reshaping it.  Part way into the project, they decided that professional help was needed.  We were recommended to the clients by a friend whose garden we’d completely revamped a year or two ago.

Time was of the essence – the revamp was in preparation for the wedding reception of our client’s daughter – in mid-September.  The terrace needed to be completed by the end of August, so that the making good of the lawn would be settled before the wedding.  Also so that our client, a keen plantswoman (her plants were lovely – she certainly didn’t need any help from us in that respect!), could spruce up the planting before the big day.

And so we did a lot of work in a very short period of time.  Part of the curved retaining wall and steps were rebuilt; the terrace now has a small enclosing wall at the top level – which gives a bit of cosiness, but then has wide steps leading down and opening out onto the garden below (and a new little patio at lawn level) – all great for a big gathering.

We completed mid-August – ahead of schedule!  Now let’s just hope for sunshine when the wedding day arrives!

 

Using gabion baskets as retaining wall

Using gabions for retaining walls – a case study

Many of the gardens we design involve gradients to a lesser or greater degree.  If the gradient is relatively steep, or if a completely level lawn is required, some sort of retaining wall is necessary.  We use a wide variety of materials for this; the option we choose/advise depends not only on personal preference, but also cost & the wider design.  Some of the more common materials for retaining walls and/or raised beds are:

  • Brickwork
  • Timber / sleeper walls
  • Log palisades
  • Rendered walls
  • Gabion baskets

We recently incorporated gabion baskets into a garden design in Newbury – the baskets were filled with Purbeck stone and used for a retaining wall.  This gives a lighter feel than a solid brick wall, and is also a relatively inexpensive option.  The Purbeck stone here blends well with the tumbled limestone paving we chose.  We paved over the top of the gabions, providing both a path at the top level, and a bit of a seat – or at least somewhere to perch as you walk down the ramped, stepped path – or in this case, if you want a few seconds break from the garden office.

About this garden

The brief:

  • This is very much a family garden – our client has two teenage children, plus a dog.  Children and friends make heavy use of the (existing) swimming pool in summer, so this was a key feature to retain.
  • There was a lot to fit into the space (including an office); levels were complex.
  • Our busy client enjoys gardening, but has little time for it.

The solution:

  • Simple, open space at the upper level, with the main patio, lawn & swimming pool (we removed some old balustrades along the side of the swimming pool).
  • Our client was originally thinking of a curved ramp/path down and around the garden (with the office to be located in the bottom left hand corner).  But we devised a cleaner, more contemporary design, and removed some conifers at the side of the garden.  This made better use of space, and allowed us to locate the office along the side boundary, making room for a private sitting area (with its own mini lawn) in the sun trap in the corner at the lower level.
  • As well as using gabion baskets, sleepers were used for the solid and tallest bit of the retaining wall, creating an effective mix of materials & form.
  • Our client opted to do their own planting, so we created a limited number of borders which they can enjoy planting & maintaining.

The result is a deceptively simple, practical and family-friendly garden – which works well for this family.