WHEN Karen Rutherford bought her beach-front property in the seaside town of Elie in Fife, the first priority was renovating the semi-detached Victorian house overlooking the L-shaped garden. While the work was ongoing, she began to think about the garden, with its sea views and Bass Rock in the distance.
Commissioning landscape designer, James Hutchison of James Hutchison Garden Design, after he was recommended to her, Karen asked for a low-maintenance garden, an extension of the clean lines of the newly-renovated interior.
James, who specialises in spaces that sit happily in their surroundings and focuses on hard landscaping and planting that will improve with age, immediately understood what Karen wanted. “The brief was to extend the garden down to the beach front by building a random rubble wall and raising the path to garden level,” he says. This wall was to complement the existing framework of surrounding walls that give the garden its unique character.
The garden was also to have space for entertaining. “Karen, whose family is very sociable and enjoy entertaining, wanted to create two spaces,” James says. “There was a seating area overlooking the sea, while the second, which consisted of a pergola and dining area, was sited to the rear where it offers a sheltered contrast to the exposed sea front.”
A set of stone steps, through a small, wrought-iron gate, leads to the white-painted front door. The departure point for the design and the feature that attracts your attention immediately is the raised terrace that runs the length of the house. Built of grey stone with warm tones, the terrace blends seamlessly with the façade, while serving as a backdrop for the planting scheme and frame for the lawn. To the side, the terrace merges into a bed of gravel set with paving stones: a small touch that introduces a variety of texture and a contemporary feel.
Use of different textures continues to the rear, where this sheltered entertaining space was laid with a wood floor assembled from wide planks and furnished with a mosaic table. Comfortable, rustic willow chairs complete the look and set the scene for a party.
In the front garden, the dividing wall is laid out with a succession of angles and corners that create sheltered planting spaces. As these are mostly seen from the house, the choice of plants was crucial and dictated by their suitability for the sea front. Repeat plantings of mounds of silvery-grey santolina, artemisia and lavender are brightened by a touch of maroon from Cotinus coggygria – the latter is especially lovely when lit from behind by the low, westerly rays of the winter sun. Height and change of texture comes from the varied, spikey phormium that contribute to the soft relaxing palate and work well into late autumn. While the agapanthus in many gardens struggled to survive the last two winters, the ones planted here thrive in the free-draining conditions. Their seed heads last until late in the year and are an additional attraction for wildlife.
“It was great for us to do a maritime garden as the plant selection was entirely different from most of Scotland, with little risk of frost, but exposure to sea air,” James explains, adding that another hazard was the risk of the garden being buried in sand after storms. “The planting had to be considered carefully. The scheme is one that would work equally well in coastal gardens throughout much of Europe.”
Although Karen was keen to focus on a predominantly Mediterranean palate, a surprisingly varied range of flowering and foliage plants, suitable for windswept seafront gardens, thrive in Scotland. This is illustrated on the sea front at Joppa, Edinburgh, where a row of compact front gardens include pink flowering echinacea, bright red poppies, orange crocosmia, pink and white cosmos, anemones and tall yellow rudbeckia.
Despite the challenge of creating a seafront garden that looks good all year round, the focus on such gardens will naturally be in the warmer months. “We built the garden in May and June, when Elie was sunny and delightfully peaceful before tourist season kicked in,” James says. “The weather was hot during the building work, so the guys worked in the heat, and finished the day’s landscaping with a swim in the sea.”
•James Hutchison Garden Design (07967 581 318,