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Project: A Modern Home in East Sussex

The owners of a modern house in a small Sussex village asked Cornus Garden Design for advice on how to deal with the steeply terraced site they had acquired with their new home. Built into the side of a hill, the upper flower bed, topped by a protected ash tree and backed by a high fence, filled the view from the windows and provided little visual interest. The soil is heavy clay and the site receives run-off from the properties behind. The owners used very little of the space other than the terrace below the existing pergola.

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The developer had created retaining structures partly with brick walls and partly with timber palings. On surveying the property it was discovered that the palings were now starting to decay at the base with the risk that if ignored they could eventually give way.

The starting point in the redesign of this garden was to look at it from all the windows in the house. From inside, the garden felt dark and overpowering with the vertical lines of the mossy palings creating visual barriers. Secondly, we looked at ways to open up the space for more comprehensive use by all the family, ranging from a small grandson to an elderly parent.

Our recommendations were to remove the palings completely and build new brick retaining walls to match the house, with weep holes to prevent water from building up behind. At the same time we suggested a reduction in the height of the corner bed, building a second sun terrace with shallow steps up the sloping lawn and to widen and replant all the borders. The changes would create a sense of flow and journey round the garden and make the most of the space available.

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Our clients wisely went on holiday to Florida and the landscapers moved in to dig out the old palings and concrete bases and to build the new brick walls and sandstone terrace and steps. At the same time we rescued as many of the existing plants for reuse as possible. Once the landscaping was complete we brought in new topsoil and soil conditioner to top up the existing beds. Because the garden receives a lot of shade from surrounding trees the planting was varied. The raised corner bed now has a mix of perennials and grasses in drifts; roses and catnip are planted around the timber pergola, and shade lovers are grouped beneath the large Oak tree. Sunnier borders host gaura, roses, lavenders, penstemon, thalictrum and pinks. New box hedges surround the rose beds and the border of espaliered apple trees.

One final design detail was to build shallow steps from the lawn up to the raised corner bed to allow access for maintenance. These steps also hold pots of brightly coloured geraniums, linking the two levels visually. The view from inside the house is now one of colour and texture, and the owners have added more seating so that they can enjoy all of their garden.