'Our new garden is as close to perfect for us as we can imagine'

Longing for an outdoor space full of year-round colour, this couple transformed their completely bare front garden into a flower-packed oasis of calm

a house with garden in the foreground with a winding pathway, two seating areas and lots of flowers in purple and white
(Image credit: David Barbour)

When they returned to the UK after living in Hong Kong for nearly 30 years, the owners of this coastal home in North Berwick set up renovating their newly-bought two-bedroomed home.

The property came with a small south-facing front garden measuring 9m x 14m. It was mostly grass with a straight path leading from the front gate to the house. There was little colour and no place to sit and enjoy the sunshine. After engaging Somner Macdonald Architects to renovate the house, they turned their attention to the front garden.

'We wanted the space to complement our new home,' explains the owner, 'and were keen to have two patio areas to take advantage of the sunshine, plus have lots of colour throughout the year.'

The garden before works began

small house with garden, lawn and shed in foreground

They hired garden designer Tracy McQue to take on the design of their garden. 'We had one or two specifications,' he continues, 'such as roses, geraniums and dogwood, but we left it mostly for Tracy to make the selections as she knows the garden conditions and what would work on the coast.’

Tracy’s idea was to create a garden that would feel like stepping out of the house into another outdoor living room surrounded by scent and colour.

The garden now

a house with garden in the foreground with a winding pathway, two seating areas and lots of flowers in purple and white

(Image credit: David Barbour)

The garden is arranged around a central curving limestone path with five large Corten steel ring planters adding some height and structural interest from the path. The Corten planters were chosen as they stand out in their boldness and scale, but still feel organic and work in harmony with the garden colours and path. The Amelanchier (Serviceberry) trees in the planters were chosen in large part for their coppery bronze foliage that blends in with the Corten.

There is cohesion and harmony to the colours and plantings, with all-year-round interest created by spring bulbs, summer blossoms, autumn flowers like Michaelmas daisies and plants like hydrangea that keep their form in winter. Tracy also added some effervescent colours such as hot pinks and lime greens. ‘There are surprises that pop up all the time, new colours and plants appearing every month,’ says the owner.

‘It is as close to perfect for us as we can imagine,' he adds. 'Comfortable, enjoyable, the odd surprise in the garden and, most important, a feeling of calm and comfort after the frenetic years in Asia.’

a dining table, chairs and parasol in front of a house with a winding pathway and plenty of purple flowers

(Image credit: David Barbour)

‘Curves are good Feng Shui!' explains the owner. 'The idea is that the path would be a bit of a stroll through the garden - not that it is a big garden in any way!'

'We didn’t want it to be straight and use the usual concrete slabs,' he continues. 'Tracy and the landscaper - Lewis Carey at Ampersand Landscape Contractors - came up with the design.'

‘We sit out a lot, on the main patio mostly in the morning. We also have occasional lunches with our extended family round the big table outside the French windows,' he adds.

a large planter made from corten steel filled with a tree and shrubbery against a horizontal slatted fence

(Image credit: David Barbour)

‘People often make the mistake of putting small things in a small garden,' explains garden designer Tracy McQue. 'I like to introduce bold larger things to give this garden impact.'

'I didn’t want to put in a structure, like a pergola, that would dominate, so the five large-scale Corten steel planters elevate parts of the garden to create layers, not just relying on plants in the ground, as well as adding drama to what is a flat garden.’

a garden with a winding pathway to a fence door, with a mini shed, and seated area

(Image credit: David Barbour)

Privacy has been achieved with the boundary screens. A small bin store has been built at one end near the front gate, with a green living roof as an extension of the garden.

a garden with two armchairs and fencing in the sunshine beside planters with plenty of flowers and plants

(Image credit: David Barbour)

'On a nice summer’s evening we very often at the sitooterie, the smaller patio area with the two armchairs and coffee table,' says the owner.

The tiny back garden

the exterior side return of a house with a seating area and plenty of planting

(Image credit: David Barbour)

Originally a space where the previous owners stored their bins, the couple's tiny back garden has also been shown some love and is now a cosy seating area with a south-facing living wall. The bottom half of the wall features shade-loving plants, while the top half features evergreens and sun-loving plants. Compact and sheltered, it has a completely different look and feel to the front garden.

Get the look

Focus on... Limestone paving

a garden with two armchairs in the sunshine beside paths with plenty of flowers and plants

(Image credit: David Barbour)

Garden Designer Tracy McQue explains why she chose limestone for this project

  • WHY LIMESTONE? 'Limestone has a seamless, smooth finish that looks like poured concrete,' explains Tracy, 'you’re not distracted by all the laying lines of it. It’s also a more child-friendly surface for the owner's grandchildren.'
  • IT'S EXPENSIVE BUT LONG-LASTING 'More conventional ideas would have been cheaper as this path is around 20% of the overall cost,' continues Tracy. 'Every piece had to be cut precisely by cutting machines to my design. It’s more complicated to install as each piece of limestone was heavy and not moveable by hand so we had to build a special ramp to get the digger in and bring the pieces over the low garden wall into the garden. However this path is low maintenance, easy to clean, and will not require to be replaced in the foreseeable future. It’s worth the short-term expense and installation for a more durable, and beautiful, long-term solution.'

close up of Michaelmas daisies with house in the background

(Image credit: David Barbour)
Caroline Ednie

Caroline is a Glasgow-based freelance journalist, writer and consultant specialising in architecture and design.  For the past 24 years she has contributed to a range of books (including Phaidon Design Classics), magazines, newspapers (including the New York Times and The Guardian) and online publications.  When she’s not working she can be found pottering about in her garden ('I’m like a one-woman Springwatch at the moment, with five different birds nesting in my garden, which is very exciting but also means I’m a prisoner in my own home. Every time I step foot outside the back door, I’m scared to disturb them.')  She also likes walking and (r)ambling in the Scottish countryside.