A growing garden … from recommendation to realisation

We’re planting a small, pocket-sized garden at the moment for a lovely client in Surrey and I thought it might be useful to write a Journal Entry showing the development of the garden from concept to completion.

The garden is within a fairly new development of attractively designed houses on the site of the old Royal School of Church Music. The 4 acres of grounds have been tastefully landscaped with thought for the beautiful rural environment. However, as with many new builds – the gardens were left as fairly unimaginative spaces with lawns and tiny – quite unusable terraces! My client’s garden has Yew hedges both side and a very overgrown laurel hedge as a solid full-stop at the end of the space. It is on a slope and again – as is usual with new developments – very little topsoil left by the builders.

The house before the build Caroline Davy Studio

The garden before the transformation Caroline Davy Studio

The brief was to create a wonderful view from the back of the house – upstairs and down and to include seclusion, year-round interest but with a changing scene, no steps and no lawn. The client loves sculptural shapes with softer, seasonal perennials and particularly liked the Daily Telegraph Garden from last year’s Chelsea Flower Show. She was also keen to limit the colour palette to green and white with the occasional, subtle interjection of something contrasting.

Garden Concepts Caroline Davy Studio

The process starts with a scaled survey of the site with levels and photographs for reference. Onto this accurately drawn up base, I sketch ideas and see how the scale of the shapes and spaces work with the proportions in the building. Key grid lines are marked onto the drawing showing the centre of the space, the viewing lines from the windows and the central axis from the middle of the terrace doors. These then form the basis of the design and ensure that the garden works in its specific space.

Garden Plans Caroline Davy Studio

In a small garden, sight lines are very clear and – even with an organic shape or an asymmetrical design, using the geometry of the site is vital to ensure that everything ‘fits’ and feels comfortable to view. Elements that have no relation to the house or to each other create an uneasy tension that is sometimes hard to define yet all too easy to irritate and lead to an uncomfortable space.

Once a pleasing and workable design is established, this is drawn up and presented to the client for discussion and approval.

Contractors are sourced according to a number of criteria.  We consider what the build entails, the skills required and the unique contract requirements.  Choice often comes down to client preference, to personal recommendation and good relationships. Construction drawings are then produced showing any tricky or bespoke detailing for the contractors and a full setting out plan is put together so that the design is accurately translated from paper to site.

The garden transformation begins Caroline Davy Studio

Garden Build Caroline Davy Studio

Garden Build Caroline Davy Studio

Once the garden build has started, a planting plan is developed to maximise the effect. I find this easier and more successful once I’ve seen the design actually realised in the garden. The scale, height, volume and mass of the planting requirements becomes more apparent once the hard landscaping has started and nuances in materials and finishes sometime dictate the species chosen and the desired effects.


The planting is in progress as we speak and the final parts of the hard landscaping will be completed over the next couple of weeks. Cotswold chippings will be added to the circular terrace space, lighting installed and a water feature from Pots and Pithoi www.potsandpithoi.com will be added.

Setting out plants ready for planting Caroline Davy Studio

Setting out plants ready for planting Caroline Davy Studio

Setting out plants ready for planting Caroline Davy Studio

When finished it will be photographed in detail and posted on my site. Long may the lovely spring-like weather continue to coax all the tiny plants out of hibernation and into growth ready for the photos!