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A flat dwelling couple doubled their living space with this low-maintenance garden designed for relaxing, dining and gathering with friends
The now owners knew that flat-hunting in London usually involves compromise, but, for them, a garden was a priority. ‘We’d been living in Canada and really enjoyed entertaining and relaxing in our garden there,’ they explain. ‘We wanted outdoor space here, even if it was tiny.’
Eventually, the couple found a raised ground floor flat, which has this garden accessed by steps from a balcony off the living room. It didn’t look promising – a mossy lawn edged with shrubs and overshadowed by trees.
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But the couple were prepared to strip it all out and start again to turn it into a multifunctional extra living space. ‘We needed it to be low maintenance and were keen to have a water feature for the lovely sound.’
A local landscaping company, Belsize Gardens, cleared the space and removed most of the trees to let in light. Its designer also helped them to plan a paved garden, broken up with clusters of plants that would add height and texture but require little attention.
Most of the work was done over a couple of months and, since then, everything has matured to turn the space into a sheltered oasis.
The paved garden includes a lounging area with a fire pit, a kitchen-dining space and a studio to retreat to in bad weather. Planting is contained in randomly positioned circular beds, while climbers soften the hard surfaces and boost privacy.
A rusted metal gives the garden a lived-in look, while the planted roof makes the studio blend into its surroundings.
The seating area has comfy teak loungers and a rustic bench that doubles as log storage for the fire pit. ‘We wanted to sit outdoors for as long as possible on summer evenings,’ says the owner.
Big planters visually enclose the seating area of the open-plan ‘outdoor room’. Ivy will quickly cover the surrounding fences, turning this into a calm, green retreat.
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Weathered brick walls and an old cherry tree were integrated into the design, instantly lending the garden an established feel. The garden studio extends the couple’s living area, as it’s furnished with comfortable seating and a wine fridge.
Wall toppers add height for privacy and update the old brick for a more modern look.
Planting wise, they kept things simple, focusing on interesting foliage and white flowers, but with mixed success. The hydrangeas were a hit and now form the backbone of the planting scheme, but the hostas fell victim to slugs.
‘It was a learning curve,’ says the owner. ‘We wanted white flowers only, but some turned out to be pink, and I didn’t realise that slugs would flock to eat the hostas! Luckily, the hydrangeas proved to be tough, low-maintenance and look right in both urban and rural gardens. Gorgeous blooms, too!’
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A living wall makes a soft, green backdrop for the dining area. ‘We saw the idea online and thought it looked really attractive, lively and fabulous for creating privacy,’ says the owner. ‘Ferns, grasses and periwinkles flourish there, and any gaps that appear are easy to fill with annuals, too.’
‘We’re serious foodies, so building a great barbecue area was important,’ says the owner. The metal furniture is w eatherproof and suitable for leaving outside all year round.
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Buy now: Similar Big Green Egg MiniMax barbecue, £625, John Lewis
Enjoy another makeover: Before and after: we turned our garden into an outdoor living room
In a mostly green garden, low-maintenance grasses make a contrast with leafier plants. They bring height, texture and movement and their pretty seedheads add extra softness to hard landscaping.
‘We felt lucky getting this flat,’ says the owner, ‘because finding green space in this area is difficult and the garden is peaceful, private and so easy to keep tidy. We spend as much time out here as we can.’