AT A newbuild in Colinton, Edinburgh, an ecologically sound garden has taken root in a plot that was once used for parking cars. It has a meadow at the front and the back is geared for produce. The garden is productive, yet low-maintenance, built with recycled materials and utility areas to complement an ecological home.
The owner, Liam Young, had spent 20 years in a second-storey home and wanted nature on his doorstep. “I wanted a low-maintenance relaxing garden,” he says. “Cutting grass was the last thing I wanted to do and I’m also not interested in flowers cultivated to simply look nice. I like the idea of an edible garden, more fruit than vegetables, with other vegetation that attracts pollinators.”
He sought a designer to help him achieve this vision, and found Dug Macleod of Stone Wood Water Light. “When I searched for a garden designer, I liked that Dug had done ecological design. Doing the ‘right thing’ is important to me, whatever terminology is used – ecological, environmental, sustainable.”
The house was built to be eco-friendly, with heat-capture technology. It was designed for as much passive solar gain as possible, with features including solar thermal panels on the roof. The garden had to have a purpose too. So, with a brief not to grow flowers for flowers’ sake, the idea was on not having too formal a plan, but on retaining distinct areas. “It was laid out less like an orchard and more like a garden,” says Dug. “The whole area should integrate.” He drew on the concept of forest gardening, to develop a canopy then underplanted with shrubs and herbaceous plants, with an emphasis on culinary uses. The low-maintenance method becomes self-sustaining and makes use of companion planting to emulate a woodland setting.
Liam says: “Just as for the house, my brief was a mind map of words. Dug was then free to design and I was happy with how the design met the requirements. There were no changes, just adaptation to materials left over from the house build or from Dug’s work in other gardens.”
Three curved slate-covered paths lead to and from one another. They roughly separate four areas: patio; log store and work area; decking; shrubs. Leftover decking and other offcuts were used to make fencing, log stores and the shed. Hawthorn hedge cuttings have been reused as a partition. Outside the garden, the trees of Craiglockhart Dell, bordering the Water of Leith, lend a taller canopy for the garden to mature against. A wide range of plants with culinary and aromatic value includes bay, lavender, juniper, sage, apples, pears, gooseberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and a raspberry hedge. Making the best of some of the parts of the garden where fruit might struggle, wild strawberries have been used where the earth was very claggy and full of nettles and docks. Plants with textural value include stipa grasses, spirea and the winter interest plant viburnum. A eucalyptus tree, whose oils can be collected, offers a use outwith the culinary. Autumn colour comes from the witchhazel.
Tree fruits chosen were Fiesta, Discovery and Jupiter apples, Conference and Louise Bonne pears, and for cherries, Amber Heart and Summer Sun. There are also Victoria plums and a hazel tree for nuts. Dug says: “The lavender has not suffered despite the rain so the garden must be free-draining, probably thanks to all the former carpark rubble.”
A patio of Indian sandstone forms the floor of an integrated “green” shelter. This has a living roof, where plants like sedum are starting to take hold. Leftover bricks formed the walls of the shelter, and they were lime-rendered to be light-reflecting.
The whole design has functionality built in. The developing tree canopy will block neighbouring buildings, but not the sun, plenty of which is needed for power generation. Drainage connections resulted in ugly manhole covers and, while these had to remain accessible, they were camouflaged as a pond and surrounded by large stones. This is complemented by long pieces of driftwood salvaged from beaches. These and hawthorn hedge cuttings laid sideways soften the edges of the paths where they meet the functional areas. Canes from bamboo can be used as stakes.
The front garden has made strides to becoming a meadow in just a few months. The soil in this area had a high nitrate content, which works against wildflowers and helps weeds like dock to take over. To tackle this, a 4in layer of sand and composted soil was laid, to keep the nutrients down. The mix creates a low-fertility layer on which to establish wildflowers while also acting as a mulch to suppress existing meadow grass. The thuggish docks were removed and most of the thistles. In early summer a seed mix of annual and perennial was then sown. Unlike traditional meadows, this mix, from a specialist in urban meadows, contains no grass. It included tickseed, fairy toadflax, field poppy, cornflower, Californian poppy, corn marigold and purple tansy.
Liam adds: “After 20 years in a second-storey flat my favourite thing about the garden is sliding open a glass door to be outdoors. For maximum solar gain the house is orientated to the southern sky so the garden gets that sun too. I can quickly enjoy the bouts of sunshine we get. And none of it is spent pushing a lawn mower.
“I also like bordering the nature corridor of the Water of Leith. It’s great to see bees in the garden and know that that corridor has been extended a few yards at least.” k