IT IS a rare occasion when a garden designer has the opportunity to redesign and plant the same garden twice in seven years. But this is exactly what happened to Carolyn Grohmann of Secret Gardens who was first commissioned to design a steeply sloping, south-facing garden on the south side of Edinburgh in 2002.
It all happened by chance, Carolyn recalls, standing on the top of three stone terraces linked by neat stone steps. Ten years ago the garden consisted of just one dark terrace leading out from the ground floor with, above it, a steep, grassy bank. “The whole garden from basement to back wall rises a total of 10 metres,” she explains.
Rising to the challenge of a three-month deadline Carolyn designed the garden, supervised the construction and worked out a planting scheme. “The deadline was a garden party,” she remembers, adding modestly that the goal was “miraculously” achieved due to excellent project management by her colleague Chris Aitken.
The chief aim of the layout, which remains in place today was “structured informality using hard landscaping for structure and frothy, overflowing planting for the informality.” The clients also requested a theme that would appeal to both adults and children.
This was achieved by adding two terraces, a central, sunny one for eating and entertaining and a top, equally sunny terrace, used as a family area equipped with rowing boat-cum-sandpit, hammock and fruit trees. Rich layers of compost were imported to feed the sloping beds that take as their backdrop the established garden walls.
The planting was planned for structure and height although, looking down over the terraces, it is clear that texture is a strong additional component.
Carolyn explains: “I wanted each of the different compartments of the garden to feel enclosed and private.” Trees, such as scarlet leaved acers, yellow cercidiphyllum and white barked birch combined with flowering shrubs such as blue ceanothus and kolkwitzia amabilis.
Fast forward seven years and the garden the current owners came to was sadly overgrown. Shortly after moving in, the couple noticed a picture of a terraced garden in a magazine and thought this was exactly the way they would like their garden to be. Despite the lack of details they traced the garden to Carolyn, discovering to their amazement that the garden was their own.
“Because of the steep slope this is a very difficult garden to keep looking good,” they say. “We really liked the way Carolyn had created lots of different spaces that utilise the light at different times of the day. She has a good understanding as to how people want to use their garden and knows how to keep it contained and private.”
For Carolyn this vote of confidence coupled with knowledge of the site and the chance to replant the garden came as an exciting surprise.
Working in conjunction with Billy Caruthers of Binny Plants, a plan was hatched to retain the successful, surviving plants, such as Japanese acer, kolkwitzia and hydrangea petiolaris, while introducing some unusual varieties. “You can push the boundaries in a sheltered town garden,” she says. Varieties introduced include tender Nandina domestica ‘Flower Power’, like all Carolyn’s plants chosen because it is “hard working, in this case with creamy flowers, evergreen leaves that turn reddish in autumn followed by berries”.
Trachycarpus, replacing a cordyline that succumbed to the two cold winters, brings an exotic air to the scheme as do the silver leaved olive trees that define the middle terrace.
Everything was underplanted with bulbs especially the lilies whose fragrance fills the air on a summer evening. Geranium ‘Rosanne’ covers the ground in hard-to-weed places and flowers until autumn as do hydrangeas such as white flowering ‘Annabelle’ and ‘Etoile de Violette’ in pots on the lower, shady terrace, where curtains of Persicaria ‘Darjeeling Red’ soften and frame the stonework.
The circular table and high backed benches on the central terrace were made by Edinburgh firm Laurence McIntosh. A pair of chocolate brown woven willow seats add to the enclosed feeling so key to this space.
The lack of water was resolved in an elegant and practical manner by the introduction of a generous, 2m wide copper vat. Designed by Carolyn and made by Ratho Byres Forge, this was later planted with water lilies and water soldiers by Nick Benge of Water Gems.
The owners particularly enjoy the different feeling evoked on each terrace, linked by a continuity of successional planting. “There is a rhythm of colour all year. The plants work hard and there is different interest all year.”
Key to the family’s enjoyment of the garden, they add, is the importance of the view from the house. “The garden is looked at from the house a lot and there is a lot of interest, which makes it a pleasure to be in and look out at.” k
Carolyn Grohmann, Secret Garden Design (07796 457 537, www.secretgardensdesign.co.uk)