A Contemporary English Garden Offers a Reflection of the PastTraditional influences and materials create a garden in harmony with its history
Looking out the expansive bi-fold doors of their new kitchen — an extension of an old game keeper’s cottage built on a former country estate in Hertfordshire, England, in the 1700s — owners Jacky and Gary O’Leary can envision the history of this bucolic spot, surrounded by fields and gardens and traditional influences, such as a cockerel weather vane, a rustic pergola smothered in wisteria, and dog-toothed brick walls lining the southern perimeter.
A traditional herbaceous border in full bloom beckons visitors to take a trip to the past, through the old brick arch and gate in the background. Photo by: Elliot Hook.
“The design is sympathetic to both the contemporary tastes of the owners and its ethos,” says London-based garden designer Daniel Shea. “The landscape plays with this juxtaposition of old and new complementing each other and creating an atmosphere that sits well in its surroundings.”
An oak pergola, weathered to an attractive silver gray, marks the entrance to the house, ushering visitors down a York stone pathway. Traditional herbs of lavender, purple sage, and bronze fennel line the beds, heralding back to the site’s agricultural roots. At the end, a glazed ceramic urn provides a focal point. Photo by: Elliot Hook.
The owners wanted to create panoramic views they could enjoy from the indoors year-round and add paths leading out to the garden and to other areas of the property. The paths are a mix of York stone and reclaimed red brick locally sourced from within a 10-mile radius. “For all the hardscaping, the use of local materials was at the forefront of our minds,” says Shea.
Open bi-fold doors create a seamless transition between the garden and the new kitchen extension. A subtle color palette of gray and white was used to reflect the contemporary tastes of the owners. Photo by: Elliot Hook.
Just outside the bi-fold doors, Shea installed a deck of sun-bleached balau wood and a full-length reflection pool. “This feature really helps accentuate the grand scale of the kitchen and its relationship with the garden. The two areas are almost symmetrical in dimensions, and with the bi-flold doors, the garden and kitchen integrate seamlessly,” Shea explains.
A bronze heron overlooks the brick-edged reflection pool, with the tall grasses of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ in the background. Photo by: Elliot Hook.
A bronze heron overlooks the brick-edged pool and a long herbaceous border spanning the length of the kitchen, which is planted with herbs and late-summer perennials that tie in with agricultural surroundings of the property. Shea chose the plants for their robustness and architectural qualities, ensuring that they would be in scale with the new extension.
A rustic steel water tank is nestled between Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra) and Alpine wood fern (Dryopteris wallichiana), with tussock grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) in the foreground and smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) in the background. Hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium) and European wild ginger (Asarum europeaum) serve as ground cover. Photo by: Elliot Hook.
“I always focus on scale and love well-proportioned strong lines. I try to limit the palette of plants and colors so I can repeat them throughout the site and create a unified design. I spend a lot of time connecting with the site and creating a space that is harmonious to its surroundings,” Shea says.
An old gate remains, symbolic of a doorway to the properties past. Photo by: Elliot Hook.
The gentle foliage of Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) spills onto a path of reclaimed red brick leading to the greenhouse. Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine), purple sage, and bronze fennel make up the rest of the plant palette. Photo by: Elliot Hook.
The plants were carefully selected for their robustness and architectural qualities, such as this combination of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass), Veronicastrum virginicum 'Album', and common fennel. Photo by: Elliot Hook.
The reflection pool spans the entire length of the kitchen, reflecting the passing clouds. An herbaceous border of grasses and perennials provides year-round interest. Photo by: Elliot Hook.
To see more of Shea’s work, read this GardenDesign.com story: London Garden Calls Day and Night.
See more English gardens.