Garden Design – Brixton London SW2
Designer: Julian Sandell
J & F Guedes
Brixton, London, SW2
“We found Abstract through a web search and along with a couple of other landscape companies got them over to give us a quote. At the end of a full refurbishment process, the budget was tight but we still wanted a beautiful outside space, somewhere we could really relax in, somewhere that reminded us of tropical Brazil where we have friends and family. First off, Julian was quick at coming up with a design and offered us the most complete solution for the best price. That’s a good start. But that’s not really it, the important bit as far as we were concerned was that he instinctively got what we were aiming for and knew how to create it. So, after a few emails back and forth, a trip to the nursery to bring the planting scheme to life, the final design was nailed down and Julian and his team got to work. That’s when you see how well organised Julian is. Of course the weather messed with the schedule but no worries, the guys put in the hours to get the job back on track. You also see the pride Julian takes in his work and how genuinely happy he is when you are happy with the result. Oh, and he even has a good tidy up at the end of the day to minimise disruption to your life. Fantastic! So, now we have the beautiful garden we were after, delivered on time and on budget, with creative verve and great friendliness and consideration. We don’t know how things could have gone any better”.
- 40m2 of Kebony decking
- 5m of bespoke Venetian fencing
- 12 lamp 240V lighting system
- Sub-tropical planting scheme
The Brixton Garden Design
The design brief for this garden was to provide a modern contemporary space that would complement and extend the recently renovated interior, but also to provide a taste of Sao Paulo and south east Brazil for this Anglo-Brazilian couple’s new home.
Having lived in Sao Paulo myself for a number of years, where I was totally absorbed with the Brazilian love of modernist architecture set within its seemingly juxtaposed sub-tropical surroundings, I knew exactly what the clients were looking for and also knew this was going to be a really fun project to be involved with.
The garden was already tiered into two levels, with a large lower L shaped area along the side return and in front of the kitchen extension, whilst the main terraced space was raised by approximately 45cm above the lower area.
The clients and myself both considered hardwood decking as the obvious choice of construction material, so normally it would have just been a matter of deciding which type of wood should be employed. Brazilian hardwoods such as Balau and Ipe (ee-pay}, are the standard hardwood options commercially available in the UK, but they are not inexpensive and even with certification, for some people, enough rainforest has already been destroyed for them not to wish to buy into the trade and this was in fact the clients particular position.
I suggested that they should visit my supplier to look at all of the options available, to see if we could come up with an alternative material that could achieve both the look and durability of imported hardwoods.
Standard environmentally sustainable softwood decking could not really provide the look the clients were after, as it is predominantly harvested from Redwood pine. Although softwoods can be stained to mimic hardwoods, invariably that’s exactly what they look like and with wear and tear the stain gets scuffed and it becomes quite obvious that it’s just faking it.
However, a third product called Kebony has now become readily available. Kebony is an alternative to tropical hardwoods, based on a process where sustainable wood is made more durable, harder and more stable using liquids from bio-waste material. The treatment process gives the wood a rich dark colour so it resembles Teak, Ipe and Mahogony making it a perfect substitute for the genuine article.
Kebony decking also comes with a grooved rebate along the edges so that it can be secured to the framework using a clip system. This means there are no screws directly into the decking boards giving a perfectly clean and clear surface, which ultimately looks especially stylish and modern.
We had removed the raised brick planters and benches from the original garden in the late winter when the garden was nice and clear and cut out and excavated the paving and the sub-base of the upper terrace to create an island on which to construct the main decking area. This left a planting border around four sides of the deck, which ranged from around 90cm wide at the back, decreasing in stages round to the front edge where it was only 30cm wide. This was to allow us to create a rich lush tropical planting area to completely surround the deck: high and dense at the back, gradually lowering and getting narrower round at the front edge to allow access from the L shaped lower level.
A Venetian style fence was constructed across the rear boundary of the garden from prepared and treated 2×1 batons. This gave the garden some much needed privacy from the garden behind, but also helped to frame the planting against the old brick wall (which were cleaned up and sealed with PVA) and give the appearance of a much wider garden due to the horizontal lines of the fence.
The decking boards also ran across the garden on the upper island deck as well as in front of the kitchen on the lower deck to repeat the effect of a wider garden, whilst the boards were switched around by 90 degrees to run along the side return, which stepped up to provide a second entrance to the garden from the lounge.
Two steps connect the lower deck to the upper level and were constructed clear across the whole width of the garden. In this instance it allows access to the upper island deck from any point of the lower garden, as it is as easy to just step over the low level planting as it is use the central gap. Secondly, a very comfortable bench seat has been created across the whole garden, which further helps to give the appearance of extra width to the space. But thirdly, the full width steps really do add a level of elegance and sophistication to the design, which cannot be achieved with a normal set of steps. If the garden length allows, you can optimize this effect even more so by making the steps twice as deep as their height.
In terms of planting we took two different approaches to the two different areas. Along the side return it was definitely a case of less is more, with five big bamboos punctuating the right hand boundary of the side return through precisely positioned square cut outs in the decking. This creates both a lush tropical screen from the neighboring garden, which greets you equally from either inside of the kitchen or the glass doors from the lounge alike, whilst at the same time it subtly reinforces the geometry and proportion of both the design and construction materials.
In contrast the planting around the island deck of the upper terrace was a case of “more is more”. Large Phormiums, dwarf Fan Palms and thick tall grasses and two types of large Agapanthus, two types of Hostas and Zantedeschias lilys form the main evergreen structure at the back and sides of the garden respectively. Three types of Crocosmia and two types of Iris combine to provide a lush flowering interest throughout the growing season, in conjunction with two Birds of Paradise planted in their pots so they can easily be brought in, in the winter. Two tree ferns were planted in the front corners of the planting space so that by the end of the summer they will shoot vast fronds across the decking.
Whilst not all of these species hail directly from the tropics, they certainly create that lush vibrant feeling with the many shades of green radiating from their large leafed structures and bold flowers. The planting bed across the entrance to the decking is the only exception to the theme. Here lavenders have been used to provide the low level planting required, kicking up their lovely pungent scent every time they are brushed over when entering the upper level. However, they do not look out of place with the other planting, proving that you do not have to follow a theme to the letter and that you can make up the rules as you go along as long as you are happy with the outcome.
In terms of lighting, walkover stainless steel decking lights recessed centrally between the bamboos both illuminate the plants and reiterate the order along the side return, whilst stainless steel spike spots up-light and backlight the main planting area, brick walls and fence to create drama and movement with contrasting areas of colour, shadow and light.
Al in all this was a very successful design where we achieved all of our aims exactly as we had hoped and the clients were particularly thrilled with the outcome. The icing on the cake for this garden, which helps to achieve that modernist stamp authentic to south east Brazil and interestingly through its curves rather than straight lines, is given by the clients own chair designed by the late famous Danish interior designer Verner Panton. Somewhat ironically, we were perpetually being chased around the garden by this chair as storage space became more and more of a premium as the construction went on, continually having to move it to ever more obscure positions to allow us the room to finish. This was the last piece to be designed by Verner and is called the Phantom!