Garden makeover for spring: rewind for a seventies revival act

There are no instant fixes with gardens – but patience and dedication can eventually pay dividends as this urban upgrade demonstrates

Friday 24 July 2020 09:26
The focal point of the garden, the statement wall in red.
The focal point of the garden, the statement wall in red.

Revamping a garden takes time and dedication – but it needn’t break the bank. I’m certainly no Charlie Dimmock and, unlike my mother’s generation, I don’t even know how to prune a rose bush (or when). Any small success in my garden has always been more luck than judgement. But my outdoor space needed work, or more precisely, major surgery.

I have a seventies-built detached house with garden on three sides. How lucky, you might think. Not quite: yellow and pink crazy paving, a veritable forest of lime trees (the ones that ooze that oily goo), a rectangle of lacklustre lawn, space for the trampoline and tired and diseased rose bushes.

Like the interior of the property (originally but bizarrely fashioned in a mid-Victorian style), the garden needed a modern overhaul: crying out for clean lines, geometric shapes, bold and architectural planting.

The raised planters in a soft white from Farrow&Ball

I began by creating mood boards for colour. I assembled a scrap book of ideas, made some sketches, and armed with a half-decent builder I pressed on. My plan to create three distinct areas was ambitious. I started by lifting the red block-paving from the front of the house and recycling it to replace the hideous crazy yellow and pink slabs at the back of the house – a big saving. I etched out circles for planting and used sleepers to edge them. I then splashed out £80 on a Tasmanian tree fern (I’m told it’s now worth about £350 – who’d have thought a plant could appreciate in value?) Alongside the fern, I planted bamboo, fatsia and palms (trachycarpus). A liberal sprinkling of bark chips and zone three, stark and architectural, had been created.

My next task was to create an entertainment area. This needed to be bold, sassy and fun. The obvious choice was the south-facing section of the garden. I decided to use decking to cover two-thirds of the space, and invested in black limestone for the eating area, which nestles beneath a beautiful magnolia tree. The biggest challenge here was raising the level of the decking to meet the interior wood flooring, thereby creating a seamless transition from inside to out.

The limestone is rugged and chunky and looks beautiful when wet. It was purchased directly from the quarry, thus saving more money. I needed to give the area more focus and took the brave move of painting the garage wall bright red: Terre d’Egypt from Farrow&Ball. My builder erected a pergola, one of three now dotted about the garden, to soften the look. We then sunk sleepers into the two raised planters to create an additional seating area. I admit that using Farrow&Ball paint might seem a little excessive but it’s beautiful paint and, according to Craig, my painter, it was like painting with custard or whipped cream.

A statue of Neptune, sculpted by a friend, now adorns the wall. The old steel sliding doors, which opened on to the back garden, had to go. I replaced these with wooden bifolding doors. Again, I shopped around and found a perfectly acceptable set at B&Q. The decking and the doors instantly transform the space, and while for some it might seem a little retro, it’s totally in keeping with the period of the house.

So far, so good, but now for the bit I was dreading: planting, laying the lawn, and establishing a relaxation area. For this I was using the south-west portion of the garden, taking advantage of the late setting sun. I decided to enlist the help of an expert. Mark Reeve, aka the plant doctor, is the face of Coolings, a local garden centre.

Coolings is a family-run business widely acknowledged to be one of the best garden centres in the country. It’s a paradise for garden lovers with expert staff on hand to advise. I arranged for Mark to visit and talk me through my options. He recommended that we stay with the tropical theme. More bamboo, fatsia, and palms of different varieties would, according to Mark, ‘‘tie the three distinctive areas together while still retaining their individual identities’’.

We arranged for delivery of the plants and three burly chaps appeared and began the process of stripping out the wild geraniums and buttercups (weeds) and planting the magnificent new plants. A top dressing of bark chips completed the look. According to Mark it is really important to have a good-looking garden: ‘‘A well-planned, well-stocked garden, can add up to 15 per cent of the house’s value.’’ I’ve since spoken to a couple of local estate agents who agree that my efforts and my financial investment have paid off.

Trachycarpus palms and the tree fern in the background

More importantly, perhaps, I have the most amazing outdoor space in which to relax and entertain. It is a natural and pleasing extension to the house. And while it may have taken a couple of years to get it right, it’s been worth every penny. And I’ve used the leftover paint to update my old terracota pots to complete the picture.

In all I’ve spent just £15,000 in three years but according to one agent I’ve probably added £40,000 to the property. So, far from breaking the bank I have been handsomely repaid for my efforts, not least on the coming lighter evenings.

Get the look:

Splash of colour

For a truly contemporary look, be bold and paint external walls. Farrow&Ball’s Terre d’Egypt provided the focal point, with a soft white, F&B’s Dimity, for the planters.

For more details go to

Plants and planting expertise

Coolings at Knockholt, in Kent, is validated and approved by the Royal Horticultural Society to teach and examine principles in horticulture. It also teaches Garden Design, beginners courses in horticulture and some Garden Horizons courses, which are purely leisure learning experiences. It has a farmers market once a month, craft fares and you can take a behind-the scenes tour to see the nursery in full production.

For more details got to

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