Gardens: Gavin and Mary Bain’s ‘little pizza paradise’ near Dundee

The Bains' pizza oven and garden
The Bains' pizza oven and garden
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One of the key design features of Gavin and Mary Bain’s brief was somewhere they could indulge their passion for Italian cuisine

WHEN a designer enthuses about his client’s cooking skills with mouth-watering descriptions of crisp potato and blue cheese pizzas, a soup and a lemon tart enjoyed in a finished garden, it is safe to assume the garden design project was a success.

Lavender and ornamental grasses planted in strips between paving

Lavender and ornamental grasses planted in strips between paving

And when the client, who “didn’t know anything about plants”, and had at the outset no intention of gardening tells you he recently planted 150 tulips and enjoys weeding on a Saturday morning because “it’s good for the hangover”, you know all is well.

At the heart of it is the medium-size garden designed by Sam Walker from Red Oxide for Gavin and Mary Bain to the rear of their recently-built house in a semi-rural landscape between Kellas and Redbank near Dundee. The sunny, south-east-facing plot in a raised, open position was windy and the couple had done little beyond identify a west-facing area to build a patio. Just a low drystane wall separated the front of the house from the road outside, a feature Gavin was keen to retain as he enjoys chatting to passing neighbours.

Gavin explains: “I am a keen cook and wanted to grow some herbs, but we didn’t know how to set about improving the garden.” He also wanted a pizza oven and had thought of using a kit to build one.

An internet search for a designer yielded one or two ideas but what really caught the couple’s attention was an advert describing Thornhill-based Red Oxide’s services. “We talked to one or two people,” Gavin says, “but when Sam came to see the garden he blew us away with his ideas.”

Before Sam had time to identify that his clients “wanted something quietly elegant and modern,” the deal was clinched when Sam, also a keen cook, suggested building a pizza oven, rather than assembling one from a kit. Shortly thereafter he established a need for privacy for the couple and their baby, Harris, shelter from the wind and a low-maintenance planting scheme that would suit non-gardeners.

Privacy and shelter around the patio area were addressed by the design and construction of a highly original, crisp and stylish fence. Sam explains: “We used smooth-finished timbers in six different widths, which were pressure treated. The result makes a fantastic statement at night with uplighters washing light up it.”

Herbs were cleverly incorporated into the seating area. Here, a rendered concrete bench topped with paving was designed to double as seating whilst retaining the planting area behind. “The aim was to provide a herb garden and scented seating area with a splendid backdrop,” Sam says. As a contrast to the wooden verticals, he added soft, textured grasses with height and movement coming from fennel combined with tall, delicate purple sprays of Verbena bonariensis. Splashes of pink Lychnis coronaria add a touch of drama with more scent coming from Rosemary and lemon verbena.

The wider garden was enclosed by a second, more substantial, fence which gives shelter and privacy. Constructed using 300x300mm section posts cut and treated to order, this fence, Sam says, “is elephant proof”. And yet it retains an elegant quality inkeeping with the contemporary style and feel of the overall design. Sam says: “The posts are large but they have great rhythm and presence and, like the patio fence, have the benefit of looking dramatic uplit 
at night.”

While a large area west of the house was returfed and laid down to lawn, the patio was paved with blue slate laid in bands for a contemporary feel. “For detail we used sawn grey granite setts for a number of the bands giving a contrast in colour and texture. The four planting beds break up the paving space a little and create a softer silhouette,” explains Sam, who carries out the majority of the work using his own team.

By the time the mixed perimeter border planted for year-round interest had been in place for a couple of weeks, Gavin was hooked. Here, cardoons, hostas, anemonies, peonies, honeysuckle and clematis jostle for position, adding a note of old-fashioned romance. “Sam encouraged us,” Gavin says “and got us enthused.”

By this stage the team had reached the point everyone was waiting for: the construction of the pizza oven. Gavin, who had had dough-making lessons at Visocchi’s café and ice cream shop in Broughty Ferry, understood the system and knew what he wanted.

Siting the oven, Sam explains, was key, as enough room needs to be allowed to manoeuvre the pizza peel, or shovel, away from the sitting area. “It was situated so that you can see how the fire is doing from the kitchen.” As a result, the oven now forms a functional focal point of the garden and has even been used to cook Christmas lunch.

The igloo-shaped oven was installed above a raised cooking floor. Sam explains: “The fire is pushed to the sides when it’s time to cook. For pizza you get it ridiculously hot, cook it in three minutes, and it tastes amazing. Then as the oven cools you cook meat or roast vegetables with great smoky and caramelised crispy bits.”

Sam Walker, Red Oxide Contemporary Landscape Design (01786 850 210,