Gardenista: Sourcebook for Outdoor Living · Mar 31, 2015

11 Garden Ideas to Steal from London

In the micro-climate of modern London, a minimal house needs a minimal garden. With every material and each plant highly considered, the trick is to allow a garden to relax and come alive. Here are 11 ideas to steal from the city:

Every Inch Counts

Above: Garden designer Anna Wardrop created a multi-tasking corner with built-in seating in A Small Town Garden in Stoke Newington.

This north London garden has a clever mix of planes: horizontals provide seating and raised beds while vertical surfaces are criss-crossed with climbers. Built-in seating allows you to be among your plants, at eye level.

Tall Plant, Small Footprint

Above: Shrubs lurking in dark corners are the first thing to go when planning a new town garden. Wavy screens of Verbena bonariensis (Shown) bring in movement and color; the popularity of this self-seeding, no-staking verbena in the UK shows no sign of abating. Verbena and members of the scabious family are particularly attractive to pollinators.

Above: Photograph by Nina Pope via Flickr.

Perfect for busy people, both verbena and scabious (Above) look after themselves. For giant scabious in a town garden, see Garden Designer Visit: Jinny Blom in Primrose Hill.

Blurred Boundaries

Above: For a client who was a fashion designer in Fulham. London-based garden designer Charlotte Rowe made a small townhouse backyard into an extension of indoor space with a dark-stained oak deck that matches the indoor flooring. For more, Before & After: A Jet Black Garden with White Jasmine Perfume.

A feature of larger country gardens is the outdoor room, away from the house: it helps to structure a space and to provide shelter. Here, shelter is a given, with frost almost unknown in London. Even when the back door is closed however, it makes sense to connect the indoor room with the very visible one outdoors, through hard materials and palette.

Trees as Sculpture

Above: Ginkgo trees against a glossy black backdrop. For more, see Trend Alert: Black Fences.

Discipline is key in a town garden. Repeating plants, repeating trees; lots of green and if you really want to look at your plants (instead of letting them disappear into a sea of brown-gray brick) lots of black. These trees will bring in extremely vibrant autumn color as well.

Ups and Downs

Above: Designer Chris Moss uses his own south London garden as a moodboard where design solutions occur at different elevations. For more, see The Black and Green Garden of Chris Moss.

For house-dwellers, a garden needs to be designed from above. (Standing in the basement of a London house can involve mainly looking at a brick wall, as the garden comes into its own up a flight of dark steps.) Designer Chris Moss created a lightwell by pushing back the area and building wide steps, for a more generous, livable feel.

Ornamental Edibles

Above: Designer Charlotte Rowe's raised beds for an edible garden in London.

Growing food in a constricted space is less daunting than the traditional sprawl of a vegetable garden. Raised beds are easier to cultivate while providing a controlled environment for plants. They look smarter than holes in the ground and are natural components of an urban design. Built to a reasonable height, they double as seating.

Pared Down Palette

Above: Designer Tom Stuart-Smith limits the palette to green in a long, narrow London garden. for more of this garden, see Designer Visit: At Home in Jurassic Park, in London.

Tom Stuart-Smith can be relied on to go against the grain and this garden is less of an outdoor room than a parallel universe. At the back, somewhere, is hidden a children's sandpit but this is less about practicality and family-friendliness than drama. Tree ferns need to be wrapped up in winter, north of London, but here they provide year-round light and shade, with solid green box balls at their feet. The grasses and vines do react to the seasons.

Box Balls

Above: Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

Evergreen shapes are a must in a town garden whether it is formal or informal. They provide structure, in any shape you care for. Despite the ongoing desire for box, the dread of blight means that many designers are using alternatives such as yew, which can be maintained at a diminutive size. For more on yew, see Renew with Yew: The Easiest and Hardiest Hedge.

With box, allow a certain distance between topiaries to allow good air circulation. For more on healthy shrubs, see How to Eliminate Boxwood Blight.

No-Lawn Zone

Above: Near Hyde Park, a tiny town garden by del Buono Gazerwitz Landscape Architects has a quartet of pleached mulberry trees clipped to create a shade canopy. For more of the firm's work, see A London Terrace Gets a Grown Up Update.

Which is more important: a perfect lawn or privacy? A pergola here provides some cover and further dashes the hopes of a decent sward. Added to space constrictions, grass is a bit of a pipe dream in town gardens plus, it requires more care than it perhaps deserves. Ditch it.

Soft Hardscapes

Above: In another London garden by del Buono Gazerwitz, pleached mulberries are trained against a pergola. Photograph (L) via Haverum.

More privacy, with a Mediterranean flourish. The 2014 garden of del Buono Gazerwitz at the Chelsea Flower Show featured "roof-trained" limes. It was a homage to Italian horticultural heritage, in a modernist setting. Here the effect is achieved with mulberries, more usually associated with ancient gardens, gnarled into strange shapes. Training and pleaching is a signature look for the design duo and an ideal solution to the urban predicament of too many neighbors.

Water Rills and Shallow Steps

Above: Luciano Giubbilei's garden at the Chelsea Flower Show last year. Photograph by Carolyn Willitts via Flickr.

Over the clipped bay hedge from the del Buono Gazerwitz garden at Chelsea last year was another anglicized Italian star Luciano Giubbilei. His 'Best in Show' garden was similarly geometric in its hardscaping, with very ebullient planting (including yellow lupines) to lift the mood. The water rills which ran through the hoggin, with its park-sand effect, ended in a shallow pool. Wide steps are an invitation to sit or paddle. With or without water, the proportions calm everything down.

For more of our favorite London gardens, see:

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