by Sarah Naybour
19th February 2016

The definition of a garden is an interesting one a bit like ‘What is Art?’ Does ‘Garden’ immediately conjure up the image of plants? Are they an imperative in a garden?

Monty Don in his book and TV series ‘Around the World in 80 Gardens’ also wrestled with this dilemma, coming to the conclusion that a garden ‘…is about culture and people as much as it’s about plants.’ I would add one more element and that is Context. When I am designing it is very much about my clients and who will be using the garden, but it is also about where the garden space is, what surrounds it.

Two years ago I was asked to design a ‘garden’ in the well space of a basement apartment in the centre of Marylebone, London. Surrounded on all sides by a four storey block of flats, overlooked by all of them and currently a slimy mess of old decking and a large wall water feature.


The client had employed Laura Hammett as her interior designer. Someone I had worked with before on my first two Chiswick projects.

So I was familiar with her style and level of detail in the design and finishing. The clients are both geologists; fanatical about stone but not gardeners by any stretch of the imagination. For me the people and the context of this ‘garden’ did not shout plants, it shouted ROCK !

So I began looking at Japanese gardens, not only Zen gardens but some of the more contemporary designs, which have their roots in the tradition. They capture the harmonies and balance of nature without being cluttered by nature, and in this way they are full of spirituality.

These three images became my focus for the design. I loved the use of the same material in different finishes, the simple raised block, the loose stones and one or two architectural trees. The client was very keen on using granite, and we went through a lot of samples before settling on three colours and finishes.

Choosing trees for this very shaded space was not easy, but after consulting The Plantation nursery www.gavinjonesdreamgardens.co.uk, we decided that Quercus ilex would be quite happy in this dingy well. Structurally they would make a big statement, which they needed to do given the height of the building around. They would also provide a bit of privacy for the clients, in screening some of their windows.

The layout was tricky as the ‘garden’ is accessible on three sides by doors from the lounge, hall and master bedroom. Drainage would also be an issue, the Grade II listed status of the building and the interior designer’s request to have a recessed fireplace!

The floor of the existing space was a step down from the interior floor, so I decided to use this as a drainage channel which ran all the way around three sides, with a central terrace raised up to the indoor floor level and seamless walkways from each of the doors. The central terrace overhangs and is under lit with lighting which highlights the lower level dressed with Scottish sea pebbles.


This is the most architectural garden I have ever been asked to design, but l loved the detailing of it. It needed to be perfect in such a small space nothing could be hidden. By using the same stone in different finishes I was able to divide the space up into four seating zones without it looking fussy.

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