For the People’s Garden theme of the Greenfingers.com stand at Chelsea Flower Show in May we ran a hugely popular competition with the Mail on Sunday newspaper. Over 22,000 people entered the competition. The first prize was a garden makeover with a street value of £20,000 and the lucky winner was Tina Mantle of Kidderminster. Ruth Chivers, who will design the garden makeover with advice from our Dream Team, writes the first of a series of monthly articles that will chart the progress of the garden
Several things set Greenfingers’ first competition winner Mrs Tina Mantle apart from the majority of entrants in our People's Garden survey. Her Kidderminster garden has no lawn, putting her amongst the 30% of respondents who don’t think a lawn is an essential garden feature. Tina likes both decking and gravel as hard landscaping materials. She is keen to replace her existing concrete slab patio with timber decking, and the Japanese-style area in her back garden is gravel surfaced. Survey respondents ranked decking second behind stone or concrete slabs, 37% to 43%. Surprisingly, gravel got a big thumbs down, despite being widely used in TV garden makeovers. Only 3% of respondents favoured using it on a patio.
Armed with this knowledge about my new client, I set off to Kidderminster to meet Tina Mantle along with three of the Greenfingers Dream Team – Stephen Anderton, George Plumptre and Rosemary Verey. Our job was to survey the garden, sound out her response to our suggestions and take a brief from Tina herself.
My garden designs arise out of discussions with clients and reflect their preferences. I’m a firm believer that gardens are for people.
It’s the first time I’ve made a team visit to a client and suggestions for the new design flowed thick and fast. Stephen set the ball rolling. Tina’s garden is immaculately maintained – she admits to moonlight gardening sessions – but he identified the need to create separate areas. This is possible even in the smallest gardens, and is achieved by using vertical surfaces – trees, large shrubs, trellis and pergolas – to divide up the space. It adds a sense of mystery, keeping areas of the garden hidden, waiting to be revealed.
Rosemary chipped in with a characteristically pithy observation that Tina’s garden lacked articulation. A circular route around a garden is a good design ideal, and being able to take a stroll around your plot adds to your pleasure.
George saw a golden opportunity to create a private space enjoying the evening sun at the side of the house. Developing this into an attractive courtyard would help link front and back gardens. His suggestion delighted Tina, who already has plans to make a new door from the house into this area.
My thoughts included notes that the garden needed something to pull it together, and that the terraced slope needs to be minimized. It foreshortens the view into the garden from the back of the house. Upstairs views are important, too, and included this on my list of photographs required.
Measuring up, taking levels and photographs are the nuts and bolts of a garden survey. As designer, my job is to draw up the results and arrive at a new design for this section of Tina’s garden. Discussing ideas with both Mr and Mrs Mantle about their preferences, what they wanted to keep and what could be swept away in our proposals for their garden makeover completed my brief.
Over the following months, I’ll be writing about the design, choice of materials and plants and our progress in getting it built.