Welcome to our Blog. Inspiration, updates and industry trends from the team at Landscaping Solutions.
Do you secretly long for a more Nature-friendly garden but fear the work involved? If you’re a garden designer, do you struggle to inject Nature-friendly elements into a brief because of clients fear it will result in an unwelcome workload?
A low-maintenance corner of easy-care shrubs and perennials like the scented daphne (in background) and the hellebores in the foreground offer sustenance to insects early in the year. (Picture: Helen Gazeley)
Gardens are many things: a place to relax, to entertain, a play area for the kids, a haven, perhaps just somewhere for the cats to laze in the sun. Whatever it is, it certainly shouldn’t be a burden.
A garden is also where the natural world comes closest to our lives.
If we allow it to.
Garden-design briefs often veer towards pushing Nature away. Even as the merits of trees and plants in controlling pollution and producing cooling effects, the advantages of wildlife corridors across cities, and the physical and mental health benefits of looking out at a natural scene are increasingly understood and extolled, we lay more artificial grass, cut down trees, and even pave over entire gardens, generally in the interests of Low Maintenance.
The Outdoor Room
In part, it is the landscaping industry’s fault. We have spent the last two decades, since Groundforce took TV viewers by storm in the 1990s, describing the garden as an outdoor room, making it out to be an extension of our living space. And while we can certainly extend our day-to-day living into the garden, it is most certainly not a room.
What has been the effect of calling a garden an outdoor room? We suggest that it’s subtly altered expectations, and had a major impact on the look of gardens over the subsequent decades. If the garden is another room, it should look pretty much the same all year round and, if it’s a room, then all it needs is a quick dust, Hoover and tidy-up every so often, just like the lounge indoors.
In many ways this is ideal. Low maintenance is understandably one of the most frequent demands for a garden design, with mowing, weeding, leaf-blowing and pruning kept to an absolute minimum.
But what is missing?
Benefits of a Nature-friendly garden
A single flower gives bees the chance to collect pollen where double flower sometimes don't. (Picture: Helen Gazeley)
A nature challenge run by The Wildlife Trusts in 2015 asked participants to do one “wild” activity every day for a month. Participants reported at intervals on how they felt. It turned out that even simple activities like feeding the birds and planting bee-friendly flowers made a difference, with an increase of 30% in participants reporting themselves in excellent health at the end of the challenge.
Other research has demonstrated how a view of nature reduces the need for pain-killers, aids healing, rests the mind and reduces negative emotions.
Children gain enormously from interaction with the natural world. In fact, research into human development portrays childhood as a time when we particularly want to explore it.
And none of the above is possible without the building blocks of a Nature-friendly garden that will attract the wildlife to give you the restorative and stimulating environment that will make a haven for you and a playground for your children.
The landscaping industry’s role?
At Landscaping Solutions we believe that we all have a responsibility towards Nature.
We feel privileged to be part of an industry which is uniquely placed as a bridge between the needs of our clients and the natural world. We can distance people from Nature, or we can create a manageable environment which harmonises with Nature.
If we look after it, it will repay us, with all the benefits listed above.
Client-friendly AND Nature-friendly
A mix of summer shrubs and self-seeders creates a nectar-rich corner. (Picture: Helen Gazeley)
What does this mean for your garden or, as a designer, your clients’ garden? At Landscaping Solutions, we’re not advocating creating a wilderness outside the back door. We have built award-winning gardens that major on high-quality hard landscaping, with very formal designs and minimalist planting. We’re not going to preach about what should and should be in your or your clients’ garden. However, we choose our materials and plants mindfully.
And this is where we can help. Most garden-design briefs allow plenty of room for Nature-friendly elements. They may not be things that you immediately associate with a low-maintenance garden but, if properly installed, they require little attention while enhancing the design, bringing the pleasures of Nature closer to your window, and making a more sustainable design for local flora and fauna.
Here at Landscaping Solutions we have an excellent understanding of how to introduce tiny differences with a big impact, adding a Natural element and yet give you a living space that you can use as part of your daily life and not slave over.
Ivy makes an ideal, easy-to-trim fedge (mix of hedge and fence) and strikingly structural fruit which feeds thrushes in winter. (Picture: Helen Gazeley.)
From choice of productive shrubs, trees and nectar-rich flowering plants that will attract and feed wildlife, choice of grasses and wildflowers for the lawn and minimum grass-cutting regimes, to the installation of safe ponds and small areas of locally appropriate habitat, we have plenty of tools in our toolbox to create a design that will give you an interesting, sustainable garden throughout the year.
We work sympathetically with designers who want to expand the Nature-friendly extent of designs. We can also provide a garden design service. Alternatively, if you would like to make some changes, however small, to your existing garden with a view to supporting wildlife and are wondering what you could reasonably do, we’re happy to advise.
For more information or an informal chat about options, contact Ben West.
A leading industry event, taking place at Sandown Park Racecourse, Surrey, Futurescape brings designers, landscapers and contractors together from all over the UK, creating a stimulating platform for industry debate. Ben will be asking exactly what are our responsibilities as an industry in creating outdoor spaces, and how can we reasonably fulfil them?
If you’re thinking of putting gravel down in your front garden or driveway, there’s a good chance that you’re attracted by the idea of low maintenance, ease of installation and economy of materials.
Beth Chatto: The Drought Tolerant Garden. Designed by David Ward. RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2019. (Stand no. 200) Copyright © RHS. Credit: RHS/Joanna Kossak. See below why this was the perfect inspiration growing under gravel.
Installed correctly, it’s an ideal material for fulfilling all those criteria, but what’s less recognised is that it can be used to create unique and attractive garden that will, not only incorporate all the practical necessities of a front garden, but will also welcome you home at the end of the day.
Designing a front garden to be both practical and attractive, and maybe look just a little different, can be a challenge. You need enough space for parking, easy access to the road for bins, a surface that works well in all weathers, that’s easy for all types of footwear and wheels to traverse, and that complies with required SUDS regulations, removing the potential need for planning permission. Low maintenance requirements are also usually a priority for this area.
Understandably, the practicalities generally take precedence, even to the extent of the whole frontage being given over to hard landscaping. But there are alternatives.
In this article we’ll look at one of the most unusual and one of the most economical to create - the gravel front garden.
A Gravel Garden, not just a Gravel Driveway
Of course, we’re all used to gravel driveways - plenty of which give gravel a bad name. Badly installed, they leak stones onto the pavement, grow weeds with enthusiasm and settle into ridges under the car wheels while, in a worst-case scenario, being extremely hard work to walk on.
By contrast, a well-designed and expertly installed gravel garden will be low maintenance, solid underfoot where it needs to be, won’t migrate, and will offer a lower-cost option that grows a diversity of planting, therefore giving your house a frontage that has all you need and is welcoming and attractive.
Making Gravel Driveways Work
So, how are the gravel driveway problems listed above solved? By using a stabilisation system in combination with the right type of gravel. Here at Landscaping Solutions, we are registered installers of CEDAdrive, the invisible gravel stabilisation system that creates a surface that is very easy to walk on, even in high heels, and is wheelchair- and pushchair-friendly.
It also solves practical issues relating to SUDS and planning permission.
A Quick Word about SUDS
SUDS - Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems - replicate natural drainage, diverting water away from sewers, with the intention of taking pressure off the sewerage system and reducing surface flooding. The system is a requirement in all front garden developments, with more than five square metres of hard landscaping permitted only where the surface is permeable or there is a permeable area for the water to drain into.
We’ll go into SUDS in more depth in a later article. However, gravel front gardens are completely permeable, allowing rainwater to percolate virtually unimpeded into the soil, and therefore fulfil all the criteria with no need for planning permission.
A Gravel Garden by Design
For an idea of how it could look, this year’s Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival in Surrey provided a perfect example.
The sword-shaped leaves of irises make a bold statement against gravel in the Beth Chatto Garden at Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2019. Picture credit: Ben West.
Beth Chatto, who died in 2018, was one of the most influential gardeners of the twentieth century. In homage, the festival named her its 2019 Horticultural Hero and featured a recreation of her Drought-Tolerant Garden by David Ward, Garden Director of the Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead, near Colchester, Essex.
“I loved the Beth Chatto garden,” says Landscaping Solutions’ director Ben West. “It was mainly naturalistic, colourful, vibrant, with lots of different textures and shapes.”
It included a huge number of plants which thrive under gravel and provided a huge variety of plants which make ideal choices for a front garden design. Included in the planting were easy-to-grow herbs like fennel, lavender, thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage and catmint; the edible brassica sea kale; plants like lamb’s ears, whose furry leaves beg to be stroked; colourful flowers like red-hot Helianthemums, misty-blue Perovskias, and the sunshine yellow Verbascums, punctuated by the pure white flowers of such plants as perennial stocks. This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as choices are concerned.
They’ll even multiply without your intervention. Self-seeding is only a problem when it happens in the wrong place. A huge advantage of installing CEDAdrive is the inbuilt geomembrane that separates the gravel from the soil below, preventing deep-rooting plants taking hold. If other plants show their heads, they just lift away from the 40mm depth of gravel.
A complete gravel front garden
Use of CEDAdrive means that those parts of your front garden that need to be walked on, parked on, and offer a pathway to the main road for the bins offer exactly those capabilities.
With a gravel mulch used across the rest of the front garden, these necessary areas will then blend seamlessly into the whole, creating a sense of air and space unrestricted by driveway edging or strictly delineated flower beds. This in itself will make the front garden feel bigger.
Beth Chatto: The Drought Tolerant Garden. Designed by David Ward. RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2019. (Stand no. 200) Copyright © RHS. Credit: RHS/Joanna Kossak.
Ben loves the natural feel of a carefully curated gravel garden like this year’s feature garden at Hampton Court. “What I like about the Beth Chatto garden is the informality of the planting,” says Ben. “The plants aren’t hemmed in with a hard edge; there is no well-defined border. Instead the planted area weaves in and out, with scalloped edges. It makes it more fluid and interesting.”
If you’d like to discuss the potential of a well-designed gravel front garden for your property, which will bring pleasure for years to come, contact Ben at Landscaping Solutions on the number above or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Indoor/outdoor living. Once something of a novel idea in the UK, it’s now a staple ingredient of garden design and, as garden landscapers, we get huge satisfaction in a clients’ delight at their new connection with the outdoors when a design is complete.
Crisp lines characterise this stunning garden design in South West London.
Often bi-fold doors opening onto decking is all that a client asks for, especially in the small gardens you find in urban Surrey and London. So much more can be done, however, and we were thrilled to be involved in this stunning BALI-award winning build in South London, a garden that offers multiple opportunities to enjoy the outdoors throughout the year, and which provides real-life inspiration.
The garden design brief
The brief was very clear - a space for entertaining and which would provide entertainment. A strong geometrical design was important, with all-the-year-round interest provided by structural, symmetrical planting. “With our large glass doors at the back of the house, we felt that it needed to feel like a natural open continuation of the kitchen/dining room, with similar smooth floor tiles and at the same level,” said the client.
The client wanted a garden that they could walk straight out into on the same level in bare feet.
They wanted a contemporary space suitable for relaxation and reflection and which naturally felt part of their living area. “I wanted a garden that I could walk in and out from the kitchen without shoes, on a flat, clean and smooth surface.”
And - for a busy family - low maintenance was a priority. “Our expectation for our new garden,” said the client, “was that it would not only have a design wow factor, during the day, at night, and through the seasons, but it would also be comfortable to live in with children.”
Garden designer Simon Thomas excelled at fulfilling the brief. Then it was Landscaping Solutions’ turn to get stuck in.
Starting the Landscaping
As is so common with garden landscaping projects in London, the only entrance was through the front door and all waste had to be removed through the house.
Planting includes pleached Carpinus betulus to add height and structure, with Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’ scrambling over the screen fencing, while Foeniculum vulgare ‘Giant Bronze’, Verbena bonariensis and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ add airy planting to the architectural Buxus sempervivens and Taxus baccata hedging.
“This involved the removal and manual handling of at least ten tonnes of existing soils and turf, stone paving and a timber deck,” says Ben West, owner of Landscaping Solutions. “As London gardeners, one of our daily tasks revolves around making sure that the client assumes that nobody has been in the house.”
This means that, every bit a part of our job as is excellent workmanship, is ensuring that our exit path is clean and tidy at the end of the day, ready for the clients to come home.
The landscaping teams at Landscaping Solutions really enjoy their work. As we explained in a recent post, teamwork is integral to the way we operate, so once Ben had visited the site and met the clients, he presented the concept to staff members for planning and construction feedback. Involving the guys who will be working on a project early on adds an edge to the result. “By the time we came to start work,” says Ben, “the construction team were really keen to get in and express themselves on the features and the detailing.”
Boundary lines were tweaked to accommodate neighbours’ concerns.
London gardens don’t just have problems with access. Inevitably work impinges on near neighbours who voice their concerns, and it was no different here when the boundary lines went up as the first stage of the build.
Looking after relations with the people who will have to live with your new garden is another intrinsic, and very important, part of the job. “Good communication is essential when these situations arise, along with the ability to be flexible and think on one’s feet,” explains Ben.
We tweaked heights and levels on the boundary screens, and peace was restored.
Installing the pond and water feature
A water chalice designed by David Harber was a key feature, contrasting architecturally with the rectilinear fireplace at the end of the garden. We built a circular pool of rendered blockwork, coated inside with fibreglass and finished with mosaic tiles and bullnosed coping to pick up the step treads to the upper terrace, an addition made during the build.
During the work it was decided to raise the fireplace above the rest of the garden, so a terrace was created with step leading up from the pool area. Behind the fireplace is a bespoke partitioned storage unit for bicycles, tools, toys and the gas bottle feed for the fire.
It was important to ensure the water from the pond didn’t overflow. Even though the Mint Sawn Sandstone paving was sealed, it could still stain from prolonged contact with water from the pool. We devised the remedy by installing a hidden submersible pump that could be linked to the main storm water system via sub-surface pipework and operated by remote control either from inside or away from the home. We also installed drip irrigation to all the flower beds.
Remember the brief? That the garden would have a wow factor at night too? Stainless steel light fittings illuminate the screen fencing, LED light are recessed into the paving and raised beds, with strip lights illuminating the step treads and spotlights offering dramatic uplighting to the architectural planting in the beds. Again, they are remote-controlled. With the flames flickering in the fireplace, the wow factor is unmissable.
At the 2011BALI National Landscape Awards the judges commented on the “exceptionally good detailing” and awarded us Principal award in the £20,000 - £50,000 category.
Most of all, though, the satisfaction of the clients in having their dream realised was the highest reward. “On a personal level it was a great feeling to stand in the middle of the action,” says Ben, “working closely with the designer, the clients and our hard-working staff, and watch everything come together.”
For more information on how Landscaping Solutions can transform your garden, contact Ben on 0208 241 2402 or email email@example.com.
Here at Landscaping Solutions, we’ve got to know some of the garden designers we work with pretty well.
A garden in Hampton, Surrey, designed by Pam Johnson. She describes her designs as having become increasingly “planty” over the years.
One of the great pleasures of working with the same person on a variety of projects over the years is becoming familiar with another’s working practices so you virtually start from where you left off when the next garden design brings an opportunity to team up again.
“It’s the team you end up working with that’s critical,” says Pamela Johnson. Pam’s had twenty-five years’ experience in the business, training at the College of Garden Design when it wasn’t so much a growing profession, as she says, but a very small growing hobby. Things have certainly changed in a quarter of a century.
For Pam, there’s no substitute for good ground preparation. “If it’s not done properly, it’s hard to get a garden working when it all starts growing.”
Since she started, Pam has designed many gardens in and around London, but has now moved to Dorset. “I had enough of tiny London gardens and the logistics,” she says; if you’ve any experience of the problems of parking, access and spoil removal in Central London, you can probably sympathise.
While she was here, though, the result was some truly gorgeous gardens, of which we’ve been lucky enough to build a large number. Building relationships with designers is equally precious to us. “Ben’s very good with clients and good at running a team, which is critical,” says Pam, “but the next person who’s very important is the foreman.”
Another view of Pam Johnson’s design for a garden in Hampton, Surrey.
The foreman is the one who heads up the team on site, keeps things running smoothly, liaises with the client and keeps the designer informed on a day-to-day basis.
“As a designer,” adds Pam, “that’s the person you work with most.” Here at Landscaping Solutions we have three permanent teams and the foreman of each stays with a project from start to finish. “That’s critical, too,” adds Pam. “If a foreman has a good sense of design themselves, and an understanding of your design, is good with the client and understands your relationship with the client, then it’s good combination. If you’ve not got any of that, then it’s a nightmare. Tom, whom I worked with, is delightful, very talented.”
A beautifully balanced design which won a BALI award for a Surrey garden.
Pam approaches a garden very much from the point of view of the client. “I interpret within their means, manage their expectations. You don’t want something inappropriate to the circumstances. If I was to design something that I wanted, it wouldn’t fit the brief.” At the forefront is always the understanding that, as she says, “It’s not my garden, it’s the client’s garden. And it’s important for the landscaper to respect that too.”
There’s quite a skill to marrying up expectations with circumstance to create a happy solution. Some clients came to Pam because they loved the look of her own garden. “Aspirations can be tricky,” she says. “Unless you were a really good gardener, you wouldn’t be able to achieve that.”
Now in Dorset, Pam is taking a break from designing and, instead, is concentrating on working on the blank canvas of her new garden, currently mostly gravel. “It needs proper structure,” she explains, and she plans to do things gradually, seeing how they develop. “I’m doing it very slowly, rather than all at once. ‘Slow gardening’,” she laughs.
Pam used a sinuous path to echo the border of the pond in this BALI award-winning Surrey garden.
Starting when garden design was so young an occupation, Pam spent many years as a member of the Society of Garden Designers, which has presided over an improvement in working practices within the profession. “The SGD has set out quite rigid guidelines about how to conduct business, making sure everything’s done properly and professionally.”
This has turned out to be to everyone’s advantage, from the client, who knows that sensible quotations have been obtained, to the landscaper, who gets as full a brief as possible from the start. “The guidelines inform the way you deal with contractors,” explains Pam, “so you get comparable quotes for a specification. If all contractors quote for slightly different things, that means nothing.” As a client, it’s vital that your designer understands how to specify and get quotes. “There’s always an anomaly,” adds Pam, “but that’s the designer’s problem to work out.”
As anyone who’s had a garden designed and built knows, “something unseen”, as Pam puts it, is likely to crop up. If a problem occurs, it’s usually the site conditions at the centre of it. “The weather,” explains Pam, “or something buried, or a neighbour who complains.
“A landscaper can be instrumental in working something out,” she adds. “You need someone with good people skills. Ben will have a talk with a difficult neighbour and then say, ‘We had a problem, but we’ve sorted it.’ It’s great when someone does that.”
It’s important that a garden matches the needs of its owner.
Not only that, but we understand that the project we’re working on won’t be the only iron you, as a designer, have in the fire. “If you want him to, Ben’s very good at stepping in and dealing with stuff that would have been the designer’s job if, for whatever reason, the designer can’t do it,” adds Pam.
The better a designer and landscaper get to know each other and the way they work best, the easier it is to liaise and anticipate any difficulties in a build. That’s why we believe in the importance of getting to know how the designers we work with like to do things and in building up a relationship. We’re proud also to have contributed to the success of a number of award-winning gardens in London and the South-East.
Pam will eventually open her new garden for the NGS, but it won’t be very soon. In the meantime, however, keep an eye out for a blog about her new garden and courses on gardening. We’ll give you a shout on our social media when they start.
“Designing gardens is a delight,” says Pam. We couldn’t agree more!
If you’d like a chat about how Landscaping Solutions can help you achieve the design you want, then give Ben West a ring on 0208 2412402 or email firstname.lastname@example.org