GARDEN, Randle Siddeley’s first book, draws on his long career in landscape design, taking the reader through gardens he has himself created both large and small, town and country, British and international. What unites the 26 case studies included is a desire to make gardens that suit both the landscape that surrounds them and the people who use them. Randle shows how achieving a strong core design is essential in order to then make valid and effective choices of materials, plants, trees, furniture, lighting and artworks. As well as showcasing many of Randle’s superb gardens, GARDEN includes additional advice for those wishing to design their own spectacular garden. Randle recognises that gardens are for many people a chance to engage with nature and create an outdoors space that is both pleasing and personal. For all those that love gardens, this book is intended to be both a guide and a friend.
We had the pleasure of working on a traditional white-boarded house in New England, which despite appearances was a new-build. The American owners had lived in England for some time and wanted to recreate an English-style garden in the US. They were introduced to Randle through designer Paolo Moschino of Nicholas Haslam Ltd.
Situated deep in a valley and surrounded by protected woodland, it is in an idyllic spot. However, the house did not sit well within its location originally because the developers had spent only the minimal money required on landscaping.
Access to the house is via a driveway, entered from a road high above the house. Originally, the first view of the house was of its roof – not its most attractive feature. The driveway approaches the house from the rear, so it was not clear to visitors where to stop and park. Because the land slopes, drainage was also an issue. Every time there was heavy rainfall, water would collect in big pockets on the driveway and in the garden. The woodland is habitat to deer, which are not friendly to young plants, as they love to eat green shoots. Planting was also a challenge, as the weather in New Jersey rotates from very hot summers to extremely cold winters, unlike the more moderate climate of England
Randle decided to replace the slope with a series of connecting terraces and garden rooms, each with its own character. These would include an herbaceous avenue, an area of lawn with a petanque court and an avenue of clipped hornbeam. He also saw the necessity of re-landscaping the swimming-pool area to include a more attractive pool house that would reflect the architecture of the house and conceal unsightly pool equipment. The entrance to the house needed a total rethink, as originally it had been designed around an old-fashioned island, which detracted from the house’s handsome architecture.
Randle produced the design for the new garden, but a local contractor was employed to implement the designs. The client became project manager, which was a crucial role in such an ambitious project. Drainage was the biggest problem, but under Randle’s guidance this was solved by digging deep trenches, about 1-metre/39 inches in depth, at the side of the driveway and filling them with shingle – French drains, in effect. Land drainage was also installed at 50-centimetre/20-inch distances to feed excess water into these trenches.
The client already had an interesting collection of antique garden artefacts and contemporary garden art, and Randle made sure these were integrated into the terrace garden rooms. For example, an eighteenth-century Swedish urn stands at the end of the herbaceous avenue. A bronze horse’s head by the sculptor Nic Fiddian-Green takes pride of place on a plinth positioned within a semicircle of conifers, while an antique lead trough has been placed against an ornamental wall at the far end of the petanque court.
Tall conifers were planted along the driveway, making an effective screen. Now there are intriguing glimpses of the house, but no complete view of it until you arrive at its door. Deer fencing and a cattle grid were installed to prevent deer from entering the garden area. The pool area, garaging and entranceway were all re-landscaped, using moss-lined brick and stone, to achieve a more harmonious and attractive effect.
‘In a garden with drainage problems on the scale of this one, it is crucial to employ the right contractor. Ideally look for someone with experience of building golf courses. If you don’t get it right, the site will become too waterlogged to allow new plants to grow, and grass will turn yellow. The right project management is also essential. At RSA, we usually project manage our own schemes, but in this case, the client had experience of working in interior design and decided to take the job on herself. She really did have to put a great deal of time and effort into doing so and without that commitment, the outcome could have been very different.’
In addition, a new family terrace was designed for comfortable outdoor eating, complete with outside kitchen and barbecue. Lavender, wisteria, roses and clematis strike a romantic note elsewhere in the garden.
This is a house that looked uncomfortable within its setting but now appears to have been there for ever. It is a pleasure to see it so transformed, especially as the client herself worked so hard to make it happen. The whole family are delighted with the garden and love everything it offers in terms of relaxation, entertaining and amusement. In a recent letter to Randle, the lady of the house wrote: ‘We cannot tell you how much we love the garden and quite frankly, we spend more time out of doors, than in, even when it’s blisteringly hot . . . We cannot thank you enough for all that you’ve done to transform our ridiculous house into something sublime. I never thought I would feel this way, but I would be sad to leave the garden anytime soon.’
Randle sourced the plants from local New England nurseries and from Canada to ensure that all plants would be accustomed to the climate here. Lavender, for example, was sourced from a specialist local nursery and planted only against warm, south-facing walls. Hornbeams and yew came from a nursery in Ontario. Many of the trees and herbaceous plants were grown especially to order, including the hornbeam trees and box hedging. The hornbeam avenue is bordered with beds of lilies, alliums, hellebores, bergenias, geraniums and foxgloves. The rich herbaceous border is a masterful blend of species such as oriental poppies, lilies, campanula, acanthus, salvias, delphinium, aquilegia, alliums, hosta, geranium, hellebore and sedum.