Bowles & Wyer

Inside the Garden of a Designer

Written by Rosa Hinton

Intrigued to see inside the garden of our design director, James Smith? Then look no further. He gives us an insight into his small-but-perfect garden with a virtual tour…

He confessed that this has been a bit harder to do of late as it’s being constantly used by his family at the moment – whether it’s kids playing or washing being dried! However he managed to catch a short film of the space for us on a rainy morning, which as he said ‘really freshens the whole space up’. He then goes onto give us more details about his favourite parts of the garden…

My garden is a small pocket-sized patch attached to our townhouse. There was only the shed, a rough and ready lawn and basic concrete slabs when we moved in. Over the course of a few months, I slowly re-modelled the space during the weekends, laying a new patio in granite and black basalt planks, and installing an oak sleeper retaining wall and steps to level the upper section. As we have a large family, it was important that the space allowed room for sitting and lounging in the finer weather, and we quickly decided a small patch of real lawn wasn’t practical, so we plumped for a faux lawn. Yes that’s right, faux lawn! I know that might seem strange to many, however it has been the perfect choice to suit our needs, meaning the space is used much more frequently at the slightest hint of good weather, plus it looks great all the time and never gets the same brown patches that my neighbours have. Given half a chance though, I would plant the whole garden!

The design of the garden is very simple and over the years I’ve edited the plants, mainly because I have experimented with different species, to see how they grow and establish in my incredibly dry soil. I sometimes look back on old photos and wonder to myself why I didn’t keep certain plants as they look great. There have of course been losses along the way too, the most significant was a small pruned up Euonymus alatus (Winged spindle bush).  It looked stunning in Autumn with its flame red leaves and my wife Becky always said it was her favourite plant in the garden. I might have to get another one day and try again! 

A key feature in the garden is a large Prunus avium tree at the back of the space. I’m quite proud of this tree as we’re the only garden in the area to have a tree of this size. It was planted by the developer as part of the scheme and I decided to stick with it and see how it would do. This year we’ve had the most amazing blossom and the autumn colour is amazing, neighbours always comment on how beautiful it is. The only downside is that it does cast shadow for part of the day and does tend to dry out the ground quite a lot.

There are a lot of herbaceous plants in the narrow borders, and many are only just starting to wake up. So some areas look quite bare at the moment – that soon changes! My favourite plants in our garden are Libertia grandiflora (for its lovely fresh spring flowers), Melica uniflora albida (for its delicate graceful seedheads) and a Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura tree) that I got from my Uncle John’s nursery.

Other features include a small reflective corTen steel water dish, my grandfather’s old concrete bird bath, and a fun and friendly gnome called Gordon. Gordon made me smile, and in my eyes that’s a good enough reason to find a place for him in the garden.

I don’t think I’ll ever be happy with the layout of the space and I’m always looking out for new ideas to improve the garden. My latest wishlist item is a new set of garden furniture or a sofa to complement our modern grey chairs we purchased last year. During this Covid-19 period, the garden has been a gem and made a real difference to our mental health and wellbeing as a family – we love it!

April 30, 2020