Sam Hansard is a interior design consultant, stylist and coach with an absolutely fantastic eye for vintage. Her home, which she shares regularly on Instagram (@vintagecuratorinteriors) is gorgeous - very stylish and filled with her delicious finds - but she’d got a bit stuck on her garden which is sloping away from the house.
When we met, Sam was already loving the fab pergola she had attached to the back of the house and the extended deck which links to the inside but was lost with regard to the rest of the garden. And it’s easy to see why - it was all a bit under-whelming - essentially a disproportionately large lawn sloping towards an unattractive side-on view of the studio that she used to store her vintage offerings with narrow raised beds each side.
“a wasteland that thoroughly depresses and annoys me, and that I’ve been studiously ignoring for years”
the first session
I love a good garden transformation project - obviously - so was delighted to help!
We started by discussing Sam’s dreams and wishes for the garden and I invited her to relax and visualise how she’d like to feel out there. I usually start my sessions like this as it really gets the creative juices going and I’m always wanting to help the garden owner to feel the possibilities for the garden and get excited. This is exactly what happened - in fact we both did.
We decided that the garden needed to pull its weight better - after all it is the largest space in the property - and life is busy - Sam and Mr VC have three teenagers. The dream was to create a realxing atmosphre with spots to catch the sun at both ends of the day and relax as well as plenty of space to entertain friends and accommodate the odd modest game of football. Oh, and to offer lots of opportumity for Sam to extend her styling prowess outside - which she has done to great effect.
When I first visit a garden my first train of thought is usually about making sense of what is already there, and I could immediately see that the studio needed turning around so that it could be a focal point for the garden and that we should move it forwards so that space would be freed up behind for compost and other storage. This alone would make a huge difference as it would look deliberate and much more attractive but meant the deck needed enlarging as Sam already knew where the best place is to catch the evening sun, with a nice glass of wine of course, and wanted to accommodate some comfy seats there.
what we did..
It was really a case of clear, clarify and consolidate. We cleared anything that didn’t need to be there, clarified the layout by re-establishing the edges of beds that had got lost, for instance, and consolidated it all by creating a planting scheme the pulled the space together.
We started by capturing a list of all the jobs that needed to be done, dividing it into tasks and deciding how the jobs would be accomplished. Heavy or skilled jobs were passed to a skilled landscaper I recommended. Having broken things down so the way forward was clear was a great relief, and it was lovely to see Cynthia and Max relax.
We replaced a misshapen plum tree which was producing very little fruit such an important feature in a garden of this size, should be gorgeous in at least three seasons not ugly in four! A new, healthy tree would offer them much more pleasure and so together we chose a Snowy Mespilus (the latin name is Amelanchier lamarkii) as a replacement.
This small tree has pretty pink edged new foliage, flowers in spring, berries in summer and then autumn colour - so much value in such a small space, and so pretty in itself, that Max and Cynthia were delighted as soon as it was planted.
I often find myself giving permission somehow for clients to remove a tree or other plant they don’t love but are tolerating and, for me, it was really a no-brainer.
So many of us agonise over getting rid of plants and yet I am so clear it’s easy for me to help them decide - it’s the Marie Kondo principle in action - if it doesn’t spark joy in you, thank it for its contribution and let it go.
The planting scheme I created has a mix of strong long-lasting elements to offer interest year round, as well as lots of seasonal perennial choices to give a regularly changing picture.
Cynthia and Max asked me to supply the plants which I was happy to do as it enables me to ensure that the varieties I have chosen for their particular characteristics are the ones that are supplied and I was happy to be there when the 300 or so perennials, shrubs and yew balls arrived and I counted them in.
There is always a wonderful change in atmosphere once the plants are in the garden, even before they are in the ground,, and this was no exception. We couldn’t wait to get them settled in their new homes.
Planting took place on a sunny day in late April 2018 and, Sarah, a gardener colleague, came to help Max and Cynthia plant whilst I ‘laid out’, starting with the larger shrubs, yew balls and perennials, moving onto ground cover and filling in with lots of lovelies that add the interest change throughout the year.
Since developing the garden Cynthia, Max and I have met seaonsally to discuss general care, the addition of bulbs to extend the planting and more, and I am delighted to witness bow Cynthia and Max’s enjoyment and ownership of the garden has grown through the process.
On my most recent visit our discussion was all about how best to move forward with their front garden (which they had been busy clearing) and I’m off there again later this month (July 2019) to sit with them both at the kitchen table and plan the planting - I can’t wait to see what more they have achieved since my last visit. They’ve definitely got a sense of ownership and pleasure in their new garden!
the planting design
Once the bones of the garden were sorted we discussed the planting and the first thing to do was to find some common ground for Cynthia and Max. He likes a tidy garden and she likes lots of loose planting. It was tricky but the promise of topiaried balls balancing softer planting, and the inclusion of Verbena bonariensis - a plant Max loves, solved the dilemma.
The garden measures 10 metres square, give or take, and the criteria was that the new plants should be reasonably easy to maintain, offer interest throughout the year and not be ‘too messy.’ Good structure was crucial as the house is accessed year round through this garden.
There’s plenty to think about when choosing plants. Obviously the style of garden and taste of the owners needs to be taken into consideration but it’s much more than that. We need to also consider the local climate, aspect of the garden - is it shady or sunny, hot or cold and what type of soil we’re working with.
Starting with a to-scale plan of the borders I gradually choose plants to create a community, and represent each one on the plan by drawing a circle sized to to the space it can be expected to occupy at three years old.
A metre circle represents a shrub for instance and a 30cm one defines a small perennial. The design is built up gradually and in layers, starting with the plants which will offer the key structure.
I didn’t focus on the flowers in the first instance. Although flowers are what we often associate with gardens it is actually the foliage texture and form that has longevity of interest and gives a space its character and structure, much like a skeleton. If we focus on the flowers then impact is short lived.
I positioned yew balls regularly along the main path and at the corners of the beds to create structure and offer repetition and create a sense of calm. In the past I’d have used box but the current box moth and blight issues preclude this. Yew is slow growing and expensive so we chose small ones that will bulk up over time.
The lovely mediterranean Spurge (Euphorbia charachias ‘Wulfenii’ offers impact while the delicate Golden Oats grass (Stipa gigantea) adds movement and texture. The hardy blue-flowered Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) offers late season interest with its sweet red-edged leaves and vivid blue flowers and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ covers the ground well.
Crazy purple daisy Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Rubenstein’) is a delicious addition and the little central cone seedheads, that come after flowering, associate so well with the grasses. It’s always useful to consider seed-heads in a scheme too as they extend the season of interest and birds love them.
Oh, and Verbena bonariensis stands tall and is see-through adding lovely interest. In fact, it was the mention of verbena that sealed the deal when we were discussing the planting - Max loves it and it is unstructured enough to satisfy Cynthia too - a real win win.