Now We can Live Outdoors as Much as We Want to
This garden is now so bright, it’s hard to imagine that it was ever the dark, uninspiring space that Amy and Fraser Claxton were first faced with when they bought their Victorian house in Dulwich, London, back in 2014. “When we first moved in, the garden was very bland with no colour,” remembers Amy. Uncared for, the north-facing garden was heavily overgrown. “There were Amy’s dream garden came together in just three months cobwebs everywhere and it always seemed to be so dark out there. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be,” Amy recalls. Having moved house because they needed more space, it seemed criminal to not be able to use the large, 13.5m-long plot. But work had to wait until the house renovations were complete. “We did the house up first, and then turned our attention to the garden,” says Amy.
And with a stunning new kitchen complete with bifold doors that throw the house open to the outside, the pressure to transform the garden into a useable space was on. Amy and Fraser started their search for a suitable designer. Having lived in the same area for 13 years, the couple recognised a garden designer’s branding that they’d seen on various vehicles. “We wanted a designer with knowledge of how to work within The Dulwich Estate. This is a conservation area so there are stricter laws in place for planning and building,” says Amy. That designer was Kate Eyre of Kate Eyre Garden Design (eyre-design.co.uk) and, as soon as they met her, Amy and Fraser knew she was the right person for the job. The garden presented quite a challenge. “It was a bit of a mess!” admits Kate. And Amy and Fraser had high expectations for a design that would transform it into an open, modern outside living space for themselves and their three children. The family love being outdoors, whatever the weather, and enjoy eating and entertaining al fresco, so it was important that the garden included a variety of seating areas that could be used in spring, autumn and winter as well as through the summer, day and night. It also needed to cater for the needs of the family pets: a sausage dog called Slinky, a lizard named Zuko and turtle Leroy.
GARDEN GYM GOALS
Amy and Fraser wanted to build a huge garden room to be used as a gym, so the overall design had to include and work around it. “When we spent two years living in Madrid as a family, we got used to spending even more time outside,” says Amy. “We also got used to having a gym there, so we wanted to have some workout space here too.” Measuring 4.7 x 3.6m, the garden gym would take up nearly 15% of the available ground-space. “The building had to be placed a metre away from all boundaries to meet the planning restrictions and so it didn’t encroach on the neighbours,” says Kate. The positioning of the gym left a narrow strip at the rear of the garden, running alongside the building. Rather than use it as a f ti l space to store bikes or firewood Kete The positioning of the gym left a narrow strip at the rear of the garden, running alongside the building. Rather than use it as a f ti l space to store bikes or firewood created a lovely nook with seating and a fire pit, ensuring the garde could be used year-round. “I love that area at the back it’s just so cosy,” says Amy. “And now that the planting has matured, it feels really private. In winter, we toast marshmallows, and I take myself off down there all year-round for a nice gin and tonic after a hard day.
The lighting makes being out there any time of the day or night possible and enjoyable.” The gym also made good use of the plot’s shady aspect. “The garden faces north, which did make the design a little bit tricky,” explains Kate. “The back of the plot gets no sun at all until at least midday, but this means there’s a nice shaded area to hang out in.”
Another major challenge was the metre drop in height between the kitchen and garden. Kate’s solution was to build a good-sized deck leading directly from the kitchen, creating an outside living area and kitchen, reached via a sweep of wide steps, which felt separate from the rest of the garden. The expanse of wood is broken up with a huge planter, its walls painted a dark grey to complement the timber decking and cedar trellis. The fencing around the terrace was raised. “Because the deck is so high, we had to think about privacy and consequently raise the boundaries to compensate,” explains Kate. The outdoor kitchen area sits on the terrace right outside the kitchen doors, tucked behind huge planters. It’s clad with the same timber as the trellis fencing to tie into the rest of the garden and floored with porcelain paving to create a distinct zone. The paving is easy to keep clean and unifies this outside living area with the house interior, and plenty of weatherproof storage ensures there’s no clutter. “The outdoor kitchen was such an important feature,” says Amy. “We had Fraser’s Big Green Egg ceramic barbecue (£995, big green egg.co. uk) built in.”
To select a colour scheme, Kate created mood boards for Amy and Fraser to look through. “They went for a simple palette of white, purple and blue,” says Kate. “It’s really relaxing on the eye because we limited the plants to a repetition of just four or five different varieties. It’s a really simple and effective approach and looks great in the dark grey planters.” The containers run down the left-hand side of the garden, stopping just before the gym and firepit area, and are filled with easy-to-grow, low-maintenance blooms. Although the colour scheme is simple, a variety of strong shapes brings lots of interest. Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ is the star of the show with huge, round white flowers in summer, with a supporting cast of blousy echinacea ‘White Swan’ lasting well into October. A purple punch is provided by geranium ‘Rozanne’, which spreads into beautiful trails so it’s perfect in large planters, and the tall elegant stems of Verbena bonariensis. The quirky, spiky blooms of echinops ‘Veitch’s Blue’ add a sophisticated blue hue. A leafy backdrop to show off all this flowery loveliness is provided by pittosporum ‘Variegatum’, an evergreen shrub with silvery grey-green foliage edged in white, and golden Mexican feather grass. “We are so happy with the results, especially now that the plants have matured a bit,” says Amy. “We gave Kate a free rein – we just loved her ideas so no compromise was necessary. I turned 40 last July, so I had a big party, which meant I got to use the garden to host 70 friends. I can’t wait for this summer, when the plants will be even bigger and we get to entertain out here more and more!”