The Country Retreat

I designed this garden for a couple as a weekend retreat.

The existing garden was on quite a slope leading down to a natural stream, with a steep wooded bank beyond it. In front of the stream was a large pond, with a gentle cascade running into it, from a smaller pond further up the garden. There was an area of grass in front of the pond, flanked by large mature trees.

The garden was divided into ‘rooms’, including, a parterre separated from the rest of the garden by espalier pear trees; a stepping stone path set into gravel charmingly planted with thymes and heathers; patios; and a smallish lawn surrounded by high conifer hedges. Tall conifer hedges also ran along the boundaries either side of the garden.

Though the existing garden was charming, it had a number of problems. The grass area by the pond was very wet and muddy and consequently, hard to mow and full of buttercups which outcompeted the grass.

Country Retreat Outline Plan

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The number and size of the mature trees surrounding the pond meant it didn’t get enough light for a variety of plants to thrive and the quantity of leaves which fell into it during autumn made it an inhospitable environment for wildlife. It was therefore less attractive and successful than it had the potential to be. The tall conifer hedges were in a poor condition and blocked the view of the pond from the house and a number of the trees were also in a poor condition.

The clients asked me to open the garden up to allow more light in to the pond, to expand and improve the pond area to include a bog garden to replace the grass. They wanted to be able to see and appreciate the pond from the house. They were keen to maintain the character of the garden and ensure that it was in keeping with the rather old, rural cottage. They also wanted a garden that was beneficial to wildlife, was informal and colourful but relied on foliage and structural forms for its interest as much as flowers. The brief was not to redesign the whole garden, but to concentrate on the lower part of the garden where the larger pond was.

As the garden was in a conservation area planning permission was required for any tree work that needed to be done. We were granted planning permission to fell the trees that were in poor condition and cut back others. We were also granted permission to replace the hedges along the sides of the garden and take down the tall hedges that divided it. This has allowed a lot more light in and opened the view from the house to the pond.

Sketch of main pond area Country Retreat

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In my redesign I expanded and reshaped the pond and moved it from under the canopy of the trees. I gave the rill running down from the smaller pond a more natural shape and I reshaped the lawn. I designed in a bog garden and a shrubby border for wildlife to shelter in. The sides of the pond are designed to slope gently so that wildlife can access the water easily. The variety of bog garden and water plants, including many natives, were chosen to attract and aid wildlife and keep the pond healthy and looking attractive.

The clients wanted to relax and enjoy the pond and its wildlife at close quarters so I put in a deck, a rustic gazebo in keeping with the architecture of the house, a raised wooden walkway around the pond and a small attractive bridge to add structural interest and allow them to look down at the water and plants from another viewpoint.

The hard landscaping materials were chosen to be practical (non slip decking in marine quality wood), but natural, in keeping with the house and area (local stone), and as environmentally friendly as possible (no wood preserver that might leach into the pond and adversely effect the wildlife).

The atmosphere I wished to create was relaxed, informal and attractive in a fairly natural and uncontrived way, that gives my clients pleasure and benefits wildlife.

Sketch of summer house and planting Country Retreat

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You can see from the ‘before’ photographs, that the pond area was less successful than it had the potential to be. It was overshadowed with trees, and consequently the water quality was poor because of the amount of leaves that fell into it.
Also, the variety of plants that would grow in its margins was restricted due to the shade created. It was choked with duckweed, the large grasses growing on its banks were weeds. Not only was it not functioning as a healthy living pond should, but it didn’t look interesting – the shapes of the plants along its banks were all the same, and one of the beautiful qualities of water – its reflective capacity, was not being utilised.
You can also see the poor quality of the hedges in the garden, which will be replaced with native Yew.


The first step in implementing the design for this garden was to have the tree work carried out by a local tree surgeon. This was started in the winter of 2014/2015, and has opened up the garden considerably and allowed more light in.
Once the treework is complete, the tree surgeon will replant the hedges along the sides of the garden, using native species.
Then, the contractor can begin work on the pond, re-landscape the levels to fit in with the new design, carry out the hardlandscaping work, build the gazebo, and lastly plant new plants.
It is going to take some time to complete, but is an exiting project and will improve the garden immensely for it’s owners.
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This page will be updated as work progresses.

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