Redesigning the Backyard (Part 3)

Water gardens are a focal point in this formal garden

We designed this garden to extend our clients’ usable living space and to create a place for them to indulge their developing fascination with water plants. We also wanted the garden to echo some of the formal elements of their home’s architecture. The backyard is divided into three spaces linked by a gently curved stone pathway. To keep the design from being too formal, we used mossy stone to give the water garden and its surroundings a more naturalistic look. We linked the formal style of the house directly to the garden by adding a trellis, a hedge-enclosed herb garden, a patio for entertaining, and more formal plantings, including a pairing of false cypress.

Directly off the patio lie two ponds, which can be seen from inside the house. Here, the path leads between the ponds and over a small bridge, which spans a dry streambed. To construct the ponds, we chose a more durable hard-shell system, as opposed to a flexible liner. We could cover the pond’s unsightly edge with a coping of cobblestones laid right around the lip.
The most formal plantings are adjacent to the structures. Further away from the built elements, the plants become progressively wilder in form.
Beyond the bridge, the path threads a small area of trees and shrubs, then passes under a trellis before ending at a formal grid of timber-edged raised beds that serves as a showcase for the clients’ perennial collection. The beds are laid out for ease of maintenance, with plenty of pathway for maneuvering wheelbarrows and such. The height of the beds means that the clients won’t have to kneel down so far to tend their plantings, and it also brings a strong sense of form and structure to the garden when the beds are bare in winter.

Plants for a formal garden

1: Japanese snowbell ( Styrax japonicus )
2: Sourwood ( Oxydendrum arboreum )
3: Doublefile viburnum ( Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum )
4: Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’
5: ‘Olympic Fire’ mountain laurel ( Kalmia latifolia ‘Olympic Fire’)
6: ‘Mountain Flame’ Japanese pieris ( Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Flame’)
7: Box blueberry ( Vaccinium ovatum )
8: Portugal laurel ( Prunus lusitanica )
9: Sweet woodruff ( Galium odoratum )
10: ‘Bluecrop’ highbush blueberry ( Vaccinium corymbosum ‘Bluecrop’)
11: Sweet box ( Sarcococca ruscifolia )
12: Rhododendron ‘Taurus’
13: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’
14: ‘Royal Purple’ smoke tree ( Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’)
15: ‘Blue Mist’ dwarf fothergilla ( Fothergilla gardenii ‘Blue Mist’)
16: Viburnum davidii
17: ‘Munstead’ lavender ( Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’)
18: ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ bee balm ( Monarda didyma ‘Cambridge Scarlet’)
19: ‘Green Island’ Japanese holly ( Ilex crenata ‘Green Island’)
20: Astilbe ‘Purplelanze’
21: Japanese iris ( Iris ensata )
22: Stella D’Oro daylily ( Hemerocallis ‘Stella D’Oro’)
23: Coral bells ( Heuchera sanguinea )
24: ‘Nana Gracilus’ false cypress ( Chamaecypris obtusa ‘Nana Gracilus’)
25: ‘Compliment Scarlet’ cardinal flower ( Lobelia cardinalis ‘Compliment Scarlet’)
26: Beach strawberry ( Fragaria chiloensis )
27: Water iris ( Iris pseudacorus )
28: Skunk cabbage ( Lysichiton americanus )
29: ‘Mr. Lincoln’ hybrid tea rose ( Rosa ‘Mr. Lincoln’)
30: ‘Hidcote’ lavender ( Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’)

To add privacy and enclosure, we used a mixture of lath screens, fencing, and trellises. Using a variety of materials makes the yard seem larger. To subtly separate the ponds from the raised beds in the back, we used large screening plantings of smoke bush and Portuguese laurel. The other plantings in this area are layered to hide the bottoms of the plants just behind them. The tiered effect makes it seems as if the planting bed is much deeper than it really is.
Adding vertical elements was crucial to the success of the pond area, and the upright foliage provided by irises and ornamental grasses prevents the backyard from seeming far too flat.
To bring a bright, “cottagey” feel to the garden, we included floriferous shrubs such as the double-file viburnum and hydrangea and colourful perennials like bee balm, astilbe, cardinal flower, daylilies, and lavenders. The borders are edged with coral bells, sweet woodruff, and Japanese holly. To us, an important element of a garden is fragrance, which we tried to introduce with the Japanese snowbell, lavender, cardinal flower, fothergilla, and pieris.

We envision building this garden in stages. First will be grading the site and excavating soil for the ponds. Then the hardscape and structures — raised beds, trellises, the shed, paths, drainage, and irrigation — can be installed. Most of this phase is too difficult for most homeowners, so hiring a crew will be a necessity. But there are plenty of able, handy clients skilled enough to lay the paver patio and stone walks and to do the necessary carpentry. Obviously, that would mean significant savings.
Assuming the hardscape and ponds are built by professionals, constructing the patio and pergola will cost £3000 to £3500. The fencing and trellis work at the edge of the property should cost about £1200. The two ponds could be built, lined, and coped with stones for about £4500; the bridge will add another £600. The stone walkways, built of concrete cast in place, will cost £900. In the far back part of the yard, building the tool shed and raised beds should run about £2300–more if the shed is to be beyond a basic storage area.
To save money, we’ve planned for the clients to do the soil preparation, plant buying, and planting. They can expect to spend about £2300 to finish the garden.
We planned for the garden to fill in within three years and be knit tightly together in five. It should last, without major modifications, for about 25 years.

Though the clients are avid gardeners, their time constraints made low maintenance a crucial element for this garden (see Plants for a formal garden). The plants selected were chosen for their suitability to the existing conditions and for their ability to create a harmonious community. Ongoing maintenance will simply be a matter of deadheading flowers, occasional watering, minor pruning and putting down a layer of mulch each fall. The pond should require minimal maintenance, as the hard-shell types don’t need attention and plants can be grown in submerged containers. We did not design it to be a fish pond; having koi would add a lot of work and in our experience, the fish really tend to chew up pond plants. The installation of an automatic irrigation system with pond fillers to top off the water gardens would help further reduce maintenance. That would add another £2600 to the overall cost.

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