Dealing with Level Changes

Contemporary

Creating flow in an uneven space

This large garden (6000m2) has a significant level change with a difference of 3200mm from the house to the rear boundary and the ground was heavy clay.

The property is in Roydon, Essex, which is a Green Belt area, meaning the garden proposal had to be submitted with the planning application for the new house. The plan for the home was contemporary and luxurious with some traditional twists and the clients wanted a garden to match for their young family to enjoy. With this in mind, the overall design is geometric in nature with some curves in a nod to the house's architectural nuances. A series of paths then connects the different areas. 

Breaking up the space into multiple rooms has a twofold effect. Firstly it makes the space more interesting (and fun for the children to explore) but also it means working with the different levels makes more sense.

To keep the build as cost effective as possible, the design works on the approximate existing levels as much as is practical. When working with a series of levels in this way, it's important to bear in mind how user friendly the end result will be. For example, regarding the specifics for the steps; the treads are always deeper and risers are smaller than for internally. This is because the garden has to prioritise comfort over practicality but also there are more safety concerns externally where the surfaces are harder and may also be wet. Furthermore, no one wants to have to navigate too many steps at once (more than 5 or 6) without a rest. You can see there is an exception to this rule around the pool which was at the client's request.

Despite being in a Green Belt area, it may appear that there is a high proportion of hard landscaping but in fact it accounts for less than 25% of the whole garden.

The pool frame was already present from the previous owners and the client was keen to keep this, but they were open to all other design ideas. The pool is relatively small and there was an opportunity to develop a water feature to improve the aesthetics out from the house. 

To the South (right) and West (bottom) was a busy road but beyond this is a rolling landscape. The challenge was to reduce the impact of the noise whilst not completely blocking views of the fields. In response to this, it was decided that all relaxing areas should be away from these boundaries and there are deep borders to allow for trees and large shrubs. The trees would be small to mid sized so as not to block the views from the house or upper levels of the garden. 

To the Northern (top left) boundary, the inclination of the land continued, meaning that the property felt overlooked - hence the inclusion of a series of large trees (Carpinus betulus) for privacy and to reduce noise. 

In terms of the overall flow, the lower lawn leads out from the kitchen, meaning children can play while the adults keep an eye on them whilst indoors. The eating area is on the upper terrace. Due to this being quite far from the house in terms of carrying items for meal times, it was important to make this area as self sufficient as possible, hence the inclusion of an outdoor kitchen. It was decided to locate the eating/entertainment area here as the lower terraces by the house would be in the shade in the late afternoon and evening when this space is most likely to be used. Furthermore, being a young family, having an eating area near a lawn was important for children and adults to relax in harmony. 

The greenhouse is a statement feature which will be clearly visible from the house while the fire pit area is positioned to capture evening sun through the summer, as well as enabling the clients to take advantage of those views. 

Overall the clients, who were not experienced gardeners, were delighted with the design and plan to start the work as soon as the house has been completed.

Key Features:

  • Level Changes
  • Feature hedging
  • Pool
  • Water cascade feature
  • Greenhouse
  • Fire pit
  • Outdoor Kitchen