Defining spaces - GARDEN GALLERY - Garden Design (2015)

Garden Design (2015)

Garden Gallery

Defining spaces


Slatted screens in western red cedarwood provide an elegant boundary screen for a garden with an awkward change in level. Affording privacy and filtering wind, it is practical yet beautiful.


WHATEVER YOUR GARDEN’S size or shape, it will be defined by boundaries and open spaces, such as patios and terraces, that confine and shape the design, while the materials and styles used convey character and mood.

Beautiful boundaries

All gardens are determined by boundaries that govern the size and shape of the space. Walls, fences, and hedges are used to denote the extent of the legal ownership of land, but boundaries also offer exciting opportunities for innovative design. They influence how the garden interacts with the surrounding landscape, and can be used to control views in and out of the space. You may want to block unsightly structures, for example, or create privacy with screens or hedges, while leaving other boundaries open to capture attractive panoramas or landmarks. Barriers also help to control climate, with rows of trees and shrubs or perforated screens providing shelter from prevailing wind. In addition, you can use screens to subdivide your space, creating rooms or apportioning areas for various functions. Boundaries are often the first elements we see when entering a garden, so consider them carefully in relation to the design as a whole. Boundaries are either imposed or self-determined, a distinction that may influence your approach. Legal boundaries require permanent installations, such as walls or durable fences, for security, but even here opportunities for creative design abound, such as the use of materials that reflect the local or historical character of the site, anchoring the garden into its landscape. If boundaries are on show, it pays to invest in good quality materials that will create a visual asset and can stand alone, rather than structures that require camouflaging with planting or paint.

“The design of boundaries in small gardens is crucial as they are permanently on show. Natural materials, such as western red cedarwood or old bricks, look beautiful in traditional and modern gardens, or try smooth rendered brick with a dark finish, which recedes into the background and contrasts well with green foliage.”


In urban or densely populated areas, privacy may be a key requirement, with elevated boundaries providing refuge. Where space is at a premium, ‘pleached’ hedges or trellis screens clad with climbers can be accommodated in a small area to provide shelter or block out unsightly views.

The garden’s prevailing climate and geographical location may also determine the nature of the boundary treatment. Exposed sites battered by winds may need stronger structures than elsewhere, or the development of a shelterbelt of trees and shrubs to help dissipate the wind and provide a comfortable space for seating and more sensitive plants.

You can also direct attention onto a ‘borrowed’ landscape or distant feature, such as a church steeple, by leaving gaps in a boundary structure and thereby leading the eye to the focal point. Alternatively, panoramic views can be left open by employing historical tricks such as the ‘ha ha’ - a ‘v’ shaped ditch that runs along the perimeter, popular in the 18th century, or the use of simple stock-proof fencing. Architectural railings can be used to create a similar effect in urban gardens that look out onto a cityscape. If space allows, boundaries may dissipate into the surrounding landscape through trees or hedgerows.

Dividing spaces

Internal boundaries need not be as substantial as external barriers, becoming more notional, and indicating change rather than imposing it. Barriers can be low or see-through, using trellises, coloured Perspex or toughened glass panels to break up the space. Formally or irregular clipped hedges also provide structural barriers that can effectively separate garden spaces. Or you can have fun playing with barriers that selectively open and close views into spaces as you move around the garden, thereby increasing the element of surprise and intrigue, and helping to draw the visitor through the landscape.

Designing patios and terraces

Patios and terraces form the social hub of the garden, and are an essential ingredient of any design. The terms patio and terrace are often used interchangeably, but a terrace is generally considered to be an area of hard standing attached to a building and traditionally raised above ground level, although it can also be a paved roof garden. A patio is any hard-paved social space located anywhere in the garden. When considering their design, decide what activities and functions you want your socialising areas to embrace, particularly if space is at a premium.

Location of any type of patio is key. Most are outdoor extensions of indoor spaces, such as the kitchen, and located next to the house, affording a direct connection with the facilities inside. Aspect is another important consideration, with protection from wind just as important as access to sunlight. Make use of the protection buildings provide, or create shelter with planting or perforated screens that will slow down the wind without causing turbulence, and cool sunny spaces with canopies, pergolas or trees, such as maples or birches that cast dappled shade. If your house is north facing and in permanent shade, try a patio at the end of your plot where it will be sunnier, or design a series of areas around the garden to catch the sun as it tracks through the sky. Also apportion sufficient hard standing for seating and dining sets, allowing at least twice the area of the table to enable chairs to be moved out easily. Permanent cooking areas will also need a paved space around them, while a builtin canopy will shelter them from rain and snow in winter.

Ensure the materials used for a patio or terrace are durable and non-slip, particularly if the site is shaded. Flat, even surfaces are needed for alfresco dining areas; paving or decking, rather than gravel or grass, are good choices for these spaces, but remember that wood can be slippery when wet, unless it has a grooved surface or other textured finish.


An increasing number of gardens now include green wall technology as part of the design. When properly considered and carefully installed they are a real asset, creating visually attractive solutions for disguising and softening unsightly surfaces and structures.

Fuelling these features is concern for the environment, particularly in urban areas. Greening walls helps to reduce the ‘heat-island’ effect by lowering ambient temperatures and moderating energy gains and losses from buildings. It also helps to reconnect us with nature and create new habitats for wildlife.

Greening walls is more than growing climbers over the surface, and it is always wise to seek advice from experts before installing a green wall to ensure the best results. The drive is to establish self-contained communities of plants in modular growing systems that can be attached to any vertical surface. Systems vary in sophistication, from the simplest synthetic fabric or plastic mesh bags to professional systems with computer-controlled water and feeding mechanisms. The fabric or plastic mesh bags are filled with compost, and then either directly attached to the wall surface or fixed to a framework. They are watered manually or irrigated using reservoir or automated drip-watering systems, gravity-fed by collected rainwater or the mains supply. Professional systems use moulded plastic hoppers with capillary matting and substrates to support plant growth. Automatic watering and feeding mechanisms enable water to percolate evenly to all the plants, with water residues either going to drainage or being recycled. Rainwater is also harvested to supplement mains water.

Plants for long-term displays need to be tolerant to drought, intense sunlight or shade, depending on the location of the wall, and possess a clumping or slowly creeping habit that won’t swamp neighbours. Evergreen leaves will also maintain the display. Many green wall plants, such as ferns, Heuchera and Euonymus, come from woodlands, while others, including Bergenia, Erigeron and Festuca, are from rockier open habitats.

“When selecting plants for a green wall, it’s essential to remember the adage, ‘right plant right place’. Check the light and wind conditions carefully and seek advice from green wall experts on the plants you have chosen, since some can grow very differently in a wall compared to a traditional bed.”



Evergreen heuchera, ferns, sedges and bergenia create interest year round.



A selection of foliage plants creates a tapestry of colour and texture in this small urban garden.



Luxuriant leaves in the green wall blend with the groundcover planting below.



Raw concrete screens stencilled with a potent script provide an uncompromising contemporary barrier.



Mellow dry stone walls afford a timeless solution for a boundary or internal screen, and blend seamlessly into country settings.



A gallery of rusted corten steel panels, softened by foliage spilling through them, form screens to divide up the garden space.



The bold patterning of this tiny courtyard plays with perspective as metallic strips continue the patio design up a boundary wall.



Elevated or stilt hedging provides privacy and shelter.


Interposed panels of decorated marble allow access while providing both a focal point and visual barrier.



A circular lawn draws the eye to the captured view of the landscape.



The various orientations and natural grain of the timber slats on the seating and decking create a striking, elegant ambience on this city roof garden.