Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A front garden with not much promise...?

When a contractor I work with regularly asked if I'd be interested in doing a design for a front garden in Edinburgh that he'd been to see, my heart sank when I heard that the client's priority was parking for his cars and originally wanted to just re-tarmac the whole thing. The contractor mentioned to him that talking to a garden designer about it could give him a space that would not only fulfil his parking needs but make it feel like a proper garden, and potentially save him money. Gathering the brief from the client I realised there was much more potential for this front garden that just a glorified huge place to park. It was large, not overlooked (it was surrounded by beautiful stone walls & electric gates) and got sun until late in the afternoon. When I documented in my design proposal that I could include 3 parking spaces but also add a place to enjoy breakfast, store wheelie & recycle bins, room for the kids to play safely as well as include lots of planting, they didn't seem too convinced. This was it before:
Not very pretty or inspiring, so I could understand their scepticism. I drew up the survey and an informal bubble diagram emerged in the process:
Trying to park 2 cars at the north end of the garden, whilst leaving space for a 3rd car and/or access to the garage seemed like quite a tall order. I had to accept that there would be more hard landscaping than planting areas, and we'd agreed that a majority of this would be pale creamy coloured paviors to tie in with the house fa├žade.But how to not make it look like a supermarket car park...? Hmm.
The above concept was created, and using the simple device of using curves, circles and a 2nd colour of pavior really helps break the large parking space up. The area to the side of the house was very private and got lots of sunshine, so there is included a good sized circular patio, surrounded by planting, which separates it from the more utilitarian parking areas & rest of the garden. A small step from it leads to another circle which allows the clients to reverse their cars and get out of the gate easily. A 3rd contrasting circle provides an attractive welcome for visitors at the top of the stairs and helps link these to the front door. 
I'm often written blog posts about the value of Sketchup (and no I'm not on commission!), especially for tricky sites on slopes and the like. But sometimes it's just really good at convincing clients that something that looks nice, but pretty ordinary, from above can look great when you're actually in it. I always prepare 3D models to clients now, it really never fails to get them to see your vision. I took these along at our first design meeting.
The not only look good from a distance, but the view at person height in the garden shows them how well the accentuated curved planting beds can make it feel like an attractive garden and not just a place to park. The plants especially on either side of the front door really help anchor the house with the landscape without taking up too much room. The kids too can zip up and down the whole garden on their scooters and roller skates in safety.
And this view showed them that the breakfast patio is tucked away and could be a nice place to be.
The clients were delighted with the design and wanted to go ahead without changing a thing. So the final design drawing was produced. As usual the clients get a copy which is done in Photoshop. 
But as I've mentioned on other blog posts, the Sketchup drawing is the one that allows me to provide the contractors with the dimensions & areas for them to provide a quote. And once the build commences a great tool for marking out. I also use Sketchup to create my planting plans (more of that in another post), so the design outline can be re-used for that too. This garden had virtually no straight lines, so the measurements for triangulating centres of circles and well as line to create quite precise curves was easy to document. Marking out was a doddle!
We have started the garden now, it took quite a bit of clearing (tarmac over a foot deep in places). The weather has been against us, very wet and the guys have done a really good job so far considering how many paviors they are having to lay. We started with building the circles:
And the rest is following on quite nicely. Some bare root pleached trees are going in over the winter with the majority of the planting being done in the spring, which will hugely help in softening off all the hard landscaping that exists there at the moment.