Designer outlet: Kirsty McLean advises we give our exteriors some TLC

In the last 18 months there has been more focus on gardens than ever before, with Covid-19 regulations finding us variously confined to our homes or only able to entertain outdoors.
Garden designer, Kirsty McLean, who will be writing about revamping your garden. Picture by Jim IrvineGarden designer, Kirsty McLean, who will be writing about revamping your garden. Picture by Jim Irvine
Garden designer, Kirsty McLean, who will be writing about revamping your garden. Picture by Jim Irvine

With limits on holidays abroad, there is the budget and the impetus to spend more on our outside space.

But, designer Kirsty McLean believes there has been a perfect storm of challenges for anyone considering a garden makeover.

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She explains: “From the ship stuck in the Suez Canal, to Brexit, Covid and over-demand, the dynamics are huge in terms of the supply chain.

A sensitive renovation of a town gardenA sensitive renovation of a town garden
A sensitive renovation of a town garden

“And many commercial growers lost plants through the cold spring, or because workers were furloughed.”

Kirsty started her business 20 years ago after training as a garden designer via a long-distance course with the Royal Horticultural Society from her home in Aberdeenshire.

She recalls: “It was an excellent course, but the horticultural aspects were geared to southern gardens, so I had to adjust that to be applicable to the conditions here.

“Through that, I found that there was a market out there for a local approach, and by the end of my first year of studies I had a full order book.”

Garden by Kirsty McLeanGarden by Kirsty McLean
Garden by Kirsty McLean

Just over a year later, Kirsty got a call from BBC Scotland’s Beechgrove Garden production team. She appeared as a guest designer on the programme from 2001 until 2016.

Kirsty’s business is in residential, commercial and community projects, but she maintains that the main change in Covid times has been the firm’s volume of work. She says: “There has been an awakening to the value of outside space. Entertaining is a large part of it, and outdoor cover and shelter, heat and light are at the top of the list.”

There are also more enquiries from younger clients who don’t just want a low-maintenance garden. Kirsty says: “Most projects now will include veg beds and a greenhouse.

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“An area which will support wildflowers and wildlife is another recent request – people seem much more connected to the Earth.”

For those considering a project, the first step is a consultation with Kirsty, who will look at orientation, soil conditions, weather, and the ergonomics of the garden.

She says: “At the end of that, you will have a concept to scale sketched out, and for many people that is all they need – advice on planting and an idea of what is possible.

“Clients either have no idea what to do, or too many ideas, so having me there consolidates what can be done. It is about pulling out their influences – colour, texture, shape – to define their style. It is also logical, you put seating where the sun is for most of the day, you screen or distract from parts you don’t like, and you keep in mind practicalities.”

Clients can take the project forward themselves from there, or they can ask Kirsty to complete all or part of the project, from cost analysis to hiring local contractors for landscaping and planting.

Despite the current challenges presented by the pandemic, she insists: “A garden project is always about adding value. While it is true that it will add to the value of your home when you come to sell, it is also about adding value to your life.”

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