Mel Feely Designed This Peaceful Sunken Sanctuary in Maidenhead Herself and it’s The Perfect Summer Space
W hen Mel and Lochlin Feely moved into their new home in Maidenhead, Berkshire, in 2011, revamping the neglected back garden was way down the agenda. They had a busy life, juggling a young family with the ambitious renovation project planned for their 1990s-built house. “We had a nice enclosed front lawn where the children could play and we could barbecue and eat outside,” says Mel, “so the back garden wasn’t a priority. There were lots of weeds, mature trees and shrubs, and an old pond, which we filled in for safety. Apart from a bit of cutting back, we hardly went in it and certainly didn’t use it.” Nevertheless, Mel and Lochlin chatted over various ideas for the space, deciding to address it once the house renovation was completed. They agreed it had the potential to be a functional, family-friendly area that would be an extra feature to their home. “It had to be a space that everyone could enjoy now, but also one that wouldn’t be outgrown in a few years’ time,” says Mel.
Searching extensively on Pinterest, Mel focussed on modern, linear gardens designed for relaxing, socialising and entertaining, with integral benches, decking and minimal, easy-to-manage planting. “A lot of the gardens I liked were on the Californian coast, or the Mediterranean. Their modern, sunken seating caught my eye, and I loved the idea of an outdoor cinema too,” she says. By the time work on the house was complete – it took several years – Mel knew exactly what she wanted. “I’d developed a really clear image in my head, and the idea was for the back garden to feel like a chilled, outside lounge.” With such a firm design in mind, the couple were happy to create their own layout for the new garden. “We decided against using a professional landscaper because of cost,” says Mel. “I’ve got some interior design experience, so I drew up my own plan.” Mel’s vision included a large, raised deck, inset with sunken, white-rendered bench seating around a firepit. A white-rendered wall would be built into the boundary opposite the seating to project films onto. Artificial grass and easy-care planting would soften the angles. Key to the garden’s character were some mature trees and shrubs, which Mel was eager to leave in place. “There was an amazing palm tree in one corner that I knew I’d definitely be keeping, as it adds quite an exotic feel,” she says. “I also left a tall photinia and a dark-leafed plum tree in other corners.
They give structure and help to make a brand-new garden feel more established.” With the plan fixed, the couple pulled together a trusted team to help them turn it into reality. Although their main contractor had never tackled anything similar before, they knew from previous work carried out on their house that he had the skills to manage landscaping and levelling as well as building and joinery. The electrician and other tradespeople who had been involved with the interior renovation also came on board. And Mel and Lochlin pitched in, helping to clear the site and put up new fencing. “I salvaged some rose bushes and lavender, which I replanted in the front garden and then we broke up the old paving,” says Mel. “Our builder reused the rubble under the decking, so that saved money and legwork, as we didn’t need a skip to dispose of it.
The digging out and landscaping was a massive task It was midsummer and baking hot!” The rectangular seating area was constructed first, with a very slight incline to ensure rainwater runs to one end, and then down and away through tiny drainage holes. Next came the raised, rendered flower beds and cinema wall. Mel and Lochlin had tested their projector indoors to get the correct image size and distance from the wall, and to work out where outdoor sockets could be fixed. “Watching the seating and structures taking shape was one of the most exciting points,” says Mel. “I could finally see the design coming together and visualise the end result.” The next stage was installation of the decking, a month-long task involving complex joinery and wiring for garden lighting and sockets. The couple had looked at composite decking, but h h l d b he more economical choice. The area between the decking and the cinema wall was then levelled and the faux lawn laid. “Artificial grass isn’t my favourite thing, but it was all about easy maintenance,” says Mel. “It means we haven’t got to drag the mower round to the back of the house, plus it’s clean and every time I catch sight of it, it just looks perfect!” With the structures all in place, planting was the final touch.
Focussing on simple shapes and a pink and mauve colour theme, Mel used plenty of potted hydrangeas and campanulas. For the rendered beds she chose small ferns and grasses, as well as lavender for scent and colour. “I don’t have much plant knowledge at all, so it’s been a learning curve!” she says. “I over-cared for my first lot of lavender and killed it all with too much water and fertiliser! Since then, I’ve read up on how to look after things and when to cut them back, so hopefully I won’t lose any more. “The garden works like an extension of our home. Being south facing, it’s an afternoon suntrap, but it’s a lovely spot for a morning coffee too, or just a place to sit and read. “If we’re entertaining, we’ll usually barbecue at the front, and then move back here on a warm evening. The adults chill and chat around the fire, while the children sit on beanbags and watch a film. We’ve got white and coloured lighting in the steps and around the perimeter, too, so it takes on a whole new look at night. Everyone loves it.
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