General Landscaping – Esher Surrey KT10
Designer: Julian Sandell
P & A Ashbourne
Esher, Surrey, KT10
“Having created our stunning contemporary back garden from scratch, Julian’s next project was to rework our front garden and drive – a different challenge altogether: This time our brief, in essence, was to improve its appearance while retaining its existing layout and any plants, trees and bushes still in good order.
In particular, we asked for the uneven gravel areas to be replaced by sandstone flooring and the poor quality grass replaced by high quality artificial lawn. In short: No drastic changes to the overall look, just a more attractive yet easy-care, low maintenance front garden and drive with added curb appeal.
The result: Unsurprisingly to us, Julian again surpassed our expectations, delivering a stylish mix of tradition and modernity still in keeping with our genteel neighbourhood and which has elicited compliments all around; enquiries from passers-by and in one case, even utter disbelief caused by the before-and-after effect. Needless to say that Julian’s complex tiling was again of the highest quality, thanks to his precision planning, meticulous preparation and immaculate execution.
One problem though: From inside our house, we ourselves don’t see nearly enough of our beautiful new front garden, whereas our neighbours opposite can view it from theirs in all its glory. Should we move in with them or perhaps persuade Julian to upgrade their front gardens, too …?”
- 210m2 of Sandstone Paving
- Drainage Channel
- 60m2 of Artificial Lawn
- 20m of Laurel Hedging
- Low Voltage Stainless Steel Lighting System
General Landscaping – The Front Garden Project
Following the contemporary redesign of the back garden at this property in Esher (see “Bespoke Garden Design” in the portfolio drop down menu), the clients asked us to give the front garden a makeover as well. However, unlike the interior and the rear elevation of the property, the façade and front gardens were fairly conservative; a large shingle “In” and “Out” driveway surrounding a central D-shaped lawn with Box hedged borders and herbaceous beds up against the house with two small lawns on the far left and right hand sides. Overgrown privet hedging formed the boundary between the interior lawns and the road, where three narrow lawns were positioned in front of the hedges.
The main thrust of the brief was to replace the shingle with dark grey riven sandstone paving, replace the lawns with a high quality artificial product and the old privet for new laurel hedging. An identical low voltage lighting system to that used in the back garden would finally be added to illuminate the new planting and permanent features, as well as an irrigation system for the borders and new planting.
The biggest challenge was the paving for this substantial driveway. Firstly, the brick curbs that dictate the levels and form the edging for the lawns and internal beds were all over the place, with no real effort paid to form a unified drainage slope or meet the house at similar height. Admittedly with a shingle driveway which just drains through the sub-base and into the ground this is not so important, but once covered with paving and taking into account the fact that the road was approximately 40cm higher than the threshold to the garage, it was essential to work out exactly how the area was draining and take adequate measures to remove ground water effectively.
We set out levelling pegs across the width and breadth of the driveway so that we could see exactly which direction we could drain the water and to find the maximum height we could take the paving against the brick curbs. It proved to be extremely tight; on one side of the driveway we had to take the new paving up to within about 10mm of the top of the brick curb to gain a sufficient drainage fall, whereas on the other side we were easily 50mm below the top of the brick. Luckily we were able to drain 90% of the driveway into drainage channel positioned in front of the garage and left hand side of the building, connecting into the main drainage system, with only the small remaining area running into a soak away.
The second obstacle was to overcome the problem of using traditional paving across a very large area, which would encounter fairly heavy traffic use from a large modern vehicle weighing the best part of a couple of tons. Standard paving slabs of around 25-30mm thickness, laid on a similar depth of mortar over say 50mm of hardcore, something that would be more than adequate for the majority of terraces, would inevitably begin cracking and moving in a very short space of time. Therefore it was necessary for us to find sandstone paving 50mm in thickness and to lay it on 100mm of mortar with a 150mm compacted sub-base. Over engineered in many respects, but guaranteed not to fail; a vital factor when laying such a large area. This does of course have obvious ramifications for the excavation, waste volumes and timescales, but essential nonetheless for the integrity of the project.
The paving was laid in three sizes with a 600mm width, to a linear pattern, alternating from small, medium to large (600mm, 750mm and 900mm respectively) and then back down through medium to small where the cycle begins again. This gives a different pattern through the opposing diagonal views whist at the same time broadening the apparent width of the driveway and whilst simultaneously referencing the brickwork
The dark grey sandstone paving also extends along the side return providing an asymmetric pathway to the modern contemporary space at the rear. Whilst the sandstone at the front of the house has a traditional riven surface and hand cut edges, the limestone at the back is almost white, has a perfectly flat, honed surface and sawn sharp edges that befit a modern garden. Therefore we had to find a way to unite these two very different materials both tonally and in terms of form.
The solution was to use our wet saw to cut the dark sandstone into perfectly precise squares from the smoothest piece we could find. These were then laid as a line of stepping stones across the width of the path, precisely spaced out to mimic the geometry of the modern garden, with the slate chippings used in the back garden laid between them and along the edges of the pathway to provide a buffer. The outside piece was then cut in situ to continue the asymmetric edge to the pathway. In this way the stepping-stones and slate provide a direct link simultaneously to both gardens even though the two stone paving products could not be more naturally opposed.
With the paving being the lion’s share of the work, the rest of the components were fairly straight forward; the old hedging being taken out and new hedging installed, new herbaceous plants to revitalise the borders and a selection of Acers (Japanese maples) providing centrepieces for the new artificial lawns.
The new lawns were particularly successful. Artificial lawns have become increasingly popular in recent years, primarily because at a glance the better quality ones are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Of course some people will naturally baulk at the idea, simply because they are “artificial”. Yet where natural light is insufficient to adequately feed a natural lawn, wear and tear by pets and children constantly plough up the genuine article, or for those who just don’t want the hassle and demands of keeping a natural lawn in mint condition, the artificial route provides an excellent alternative.
There are many companies out there offering a range of different products, so it’s well worth getting lots of samples until you find one that you are happy with. After much deliberation, my clients selected the “Luxury” product from Trulawn, which I have to say, is one of the best examples I have seen available here in the UK. Preparation is fairly similar to new paving, in that the soil is excavated, crushed hardcore is compacted to provide a sub-base before the surface is laid on a geo-tex membrane after the sub-base has been blanked off with sharp sand. We did all of the preparation, with Trulawn coming in just to install the lawn, but they do offer the full service should you so desire.
Finally, with the addition of the irrigation and lighting systems our work in the garden was complete. The transformation has been really quite spectacular, particularly with the addition of the bespoke gates to the driveway and side return. The gravel drive, which constantly attracted weeds and deposited grit and dirt into the house, has been replaced with beautiful natural stone and the lawns between the paving and hedging will always be perfectly manicured. And whilst on first inspection it has a fairly traditional feel, the stainless steel lamps and elegant gates provide taste of modernity that hints at the surprise that awaits on the other side of the house.