David Michell's Meadowview home features a fantastic landscaping scheme. Inspired? With meticulous planning, clever planting and regular maintenance, you can also create a modern exterior space
Gardens are left until last among the demands of a building project, but it pays to start planning early. Beginning a project with a garden design in mind means you can preserve parts of your plot before the builders move in, and get them to clear any trees or shrubbery when they are preparing the site, both of which could save money later on.
If you're starting a garden from scratch, it's well worth employing a designer (which is different from a landscape gardener), who can create a concept that will unify your plot and advise you on appropriate plants. Find one through the Society of Garden Designers. Fees can be charged at an hourly rate, a fixed percentage of the total contract value, or an agreed fixed fee. David Michell paid designer Graham Pavey around £3,000 to create a concept and then asked three landscape gardeners, all recommended by Pavey, to tender for the work, taking on Shalane Garden Services. All up, it cost £60,000, though Pavey says it is possible to do something for much less.
There are various rules and regulations you should be aware of, covering everything from tree-preservation orders (which mean you can't cut them down) to what type of paving you should use, so check with your local planning department before you start work. For new-builds, such as David Michell's, a landscaping scheme will often be required as part of the planning application.
Graham Pavey says a garden should reveal itself in stages. Use corners to draw people further in to the garden and encourage them to explore, and install features such as pavilions and ponds to provide focal points that unite the space. David Michell's pavilion, made bespoke by Kingswood Building and Joinery, acts like a hub in a wheel, with all other elements radiating out from it. His garden also uses curves, which create beds of varying depths, making it easier to group together taller and shorter plants in one spot.
Different plants suit different soils, which range from alkaline to acid. Explore what's growing nearby to see what will thrive, and consider location and aspect – different plants need different amounts of light and shade. Also make sure you have enough space for plants and trees to take root. Graham Pavey has useful planting advice on his website. Tips include using evergreen structural plants first and placing them in key points around the garden, then filling in the remaining spaces with seasonal plants, paying attention to when various plants will be in bloom, so colourful plants are in view of the house. After that, create visual interest with tall or spiky plants.
Low-maintenance gardens come at a cost: patios and paving are easy to maintain, but expensive to install; lawns are cheaper to install, but time consuming to maintain. If you're adding top soil, make sure it's screened for weeds. You can also cover flowerbeds with mulch, which prevents weeds from growing by starving them of light, but this can be costly (around £50 per cubic metre for bark mulch) or you can spray weeds, but this can kill off other plants. The simplest and cheapest option is to pull out weeds by hand. Pavey says you should expect do this for the first year or two. David Michell currently spends five hours each day maintaining his garden – this includes adding finishing touches, such as a board walk and log store. He expects it will require around five hours every week once it's settled. He also spent around £1,000 on steel edging around the paths to keep the lawns in place.
Timing your project
It took seven months of work to create David Michell's garden, with hard landscaping in May and planting in autumn. Graham Pavey says the ideal time to start landscaping is mid summer, so the garden can be built over the winter, ready for planting in spring. Autumn and spring are best times to plant, with Pavey preferring spring (his cut-off date is June) – because plants are sown in winter he says they are fresher, and, being smaller, they are also cheaper, though he suggests planting mature trees in the winter.
Pavilions, walls, ponds and lighting all ramp up costs and require careful planning. David Michell paid around £7,000 for his pergola and pavilion, and his gabion wall required concrete foundations with steel reinforcements. For ponds, make sure you have a big enough tank beneath the ground for water – Graham Pavey says 15 gallons is sufficient, and you could install a basic water feature for around £700. For lighting, plan ahead so you can install wiring, and choose areas carefully: Pavey warns of a domino effect, where you balance lit areas with more lit areas. David Michell has wired his gabion wall, but is waiting until his garden grows a little before deciding which parts to light. Pavey says low-voltage lights offer more flexibility than mains-voltage lights, as they can run off a transformer connected to the mains, so you have greater choice about where you place them.
Words Luke Tebbutt