Secret Garden

Secret Garden

For this landscape project for a house in St John’s Wood, the brief was to create an entirely separate enclave within the confines of an existing back garden. Paul McAneary Architects subtle and inventive use of planting creates architectural layers and depth to engender a sense of seclusion and tranquility that tactfully blocks out the distracting urban milieu.

An evergreen screen of planting heralds the entrance to the garden and also conceals it from view. A winding path leads to a sunken seating area formed from rough, chisel-faced sandstone. As you descend to the lower level, you become fully submerged within within a luxuriant bower and the house and its wider surroundings disappear.

The trajectory is delineated by a narrow winding path made from reclaimed railway sleepers. Laid in an offset yet orthogonal pattern, the sleepers impart a calm, ordering spirit typical of traditional Japanese Zen gardens. Ground covering of Soleirolia (baby’s tears) and Dicranoweisia cirrata (moss) flourish between the timbers. Their jewel-like, bright green tones form an animated carpet of vegetation spreading out over the ground in unexpected configurations.

At every turn, planting beds are visible from ground to eye level. Forming an immersive, green space, these layers of planting are synonymous with an English country garden. Rosy purple Verbena bonariensis and Fragaria vesca (alpine strawberries) line the edges of paths, while Stipa tenuissima (fronded grass) provides texture and movement behind. Rising high above eye level, larger shrubs and trees such as Prunis Iusitanica and Philadelphus ‘Virginal’ form the central structure of the beds, demarcating different parts of the garden. The intermediate level is alive with vibrant colours and textures. Pink Fuschia riccartonii and purple Allium giganteum add contrast and provide food for insects to flourish.

A solid, rough-faced bench acts as a focal point along the path. Employing just four elements, its minimal design complements the architectural language of the garden. At night the landscape is transformed by subtle, integrated lighting. Uplighters follow the path casting a gentle glow on the undersides of leaves and stems. Highlighting plants from new angles creates an intriguing interplay of textures and shadows, while separate lights illuminate the surrounding edges of the garden. Framing and highlighting the inner layer of planting in this way focuses attention on the heart of the garden evoking a sense of intimacy and seclusion.

The unpredictable nature of working with living, growing materials provided new challenges for Paul McAneary Architects. Over time, Secret Garden will evolve, changing in form and composition, yet remaining an oasis of calm, providing therapeutic respite from the hectic nature of urban life. [By Catherine Slessor*]

Contract Value Private
Location St Johns Wood, London
Client Private
Date 2011
Area 57m²
Design Team Paul McAneary Architects
Design Service From design concept to detailed design through to end of construction,landscape design
Supplier The London Gardening Company