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Landscaping a dark area - what would you do?

(18 Posts)
shovetheholly Thu 18-Feb-16 10:23:25

My garden is on a fairly steep but gradual slope downwards - there's nothing I can do about it!

I'm having an extension done and trying to think about ways to deal with this level change in terms of the transition between indoors and outdoors. One of the ideas I like is to have a kind of floating area outside the house (like in this picture) with steps down. However, while I think the 'terrace' in this picture is lovely, the garden is woeful!! I want much more of a feeling of the outside/inside transition being blurred than this - my extension is going to be modern, but in a softer way than this (green roof, cedar shingles).

Landscaping-wise, what should I put underneath a terrace like that? I think you can see that grass does not look very good. I am wondering about having a pool of very dark water over which the steps would pass but I'm worried whether it would just be too dark for this?

Kr1stina Thu 18-Feb-16 11:57:13

I'm sorry I'm not very good at imagining things without photos/ drawings .

So I think you are asking what do do plant wise with a dark area - Is that right ?

I'm assuming it will be dark and damp , giving your general garden conditions, as it's just sheltered by the deck, not under it.

Ferns ,grasses and hosts would work. Not much maintenance, variety of textures .could get some colours from variegated and golden grasses, although might revert if too dark .

Water - sounds nice but might not be very practical as high maintenance to keep it looking good. You could have it very shallow and dye the water black, but you'd need a good pump system to keep the water clear. Need to fish out leaves etc every day to keep it looking like those at Chelsea. You notice every little bit in a small pond .

I think a minimalist water feature probably needs a minimalist style garden to go with it .

You might find its more trouble than it's worth and resent the work it takes when it's not even a plant, if that makes sense.

We have a medium sized pond but we have a few fish ( who eat algae ) and plants ( which keep the water clean and disguise random fallen Leaves ) and a pump that runs for more than half the year. It's half in semi shade . It's a bit of work but worth it as

plants and fish are pretty
Kids love the fish
the kids play in it in the summer
it reflects the sky
It's the main feature of the garden for much of the year
We can see it While sitting on the sofa drinking wine or mumsnetting working from home

don't know if I CBA if it was just water And I couldn't see it while sitting in the house .

Random thoughts, hope some make sense

Kr1stina Thu 18-Feb-16 12:11:48

If it were my garden , I wouldn't do decking at all, I'd have a raised bed . Of course it would level be with the house floor level and patio.on one side but a raised bed at the other .

We had to do this but for the opposite reason - The ground sloped down towards the house . This was not good as we live in a very wet place and our house is old so has no damp proof course .

It was just mono block, so the water would shed straight off it, run towards the house and into our basement. Not good .

Also I wanted to plant up against the house, to make the house and the garden relate to each other better and to soften the rather harsh lines of the house . So we build a raised bed which looks like it's next to the house but it's not. There's a small gap covered with loose slabs , to keep the air vents free .

so it's a breeze block box, painted inside with black waterproofing , faced on the side we can see with the same stone the house is build with .

You will be pleased to know we ripped up the hideous mono block and replaced with gravel .

Kr1stina Thu 18-Feb-16 12:27:47

I do think that a garden that slopes away from the house is very challenging to design well. Because for most of the year in the UK we are looking at the garden from inside the house.

If you plant tiny things, you won't see them unless you go outside . If you plant huge trees and shrubs near the house , you will create too much shade and block the view / light which might well be the very reason you bought the house in the first place .

Not easy

shovetheholly Thu 18-Feb-16 12:39:19

Thanks Kristina! Loads of ideas there for me to think about.

It is difficult to plant a slope that falls away, not least because the view to the garden from the house is foreshortened. So the feeling you get in the garden and the feeling you get looking at the garden from the house are very different. I am still very much learning how to handle this. However, I think the problem will be reduced when the extension is done because the steepest slope is near the house. Lower down, the garden is flatter.

Because of the level change and the need to get around corners, I have to have some kind of terrace/decking. Otherwise the house will float way above the garden and be disconnected from it IYSWIM - you'll have to go around the side of the house to get out. That's absolutely one of the problems I have right now - there is no vantage point from which I can feel connected to the outdoors in the house. So I'm keen to solve that in the new plans.

I think you are right about it being too dark for a still area of water (and too much hassle!)

Will try to post a plan (still in the earliest stages) when I have a camera on me!

Kr1stina Thu 18-Feb-16 12:50:15

We have plants ( in raised beds ) and then a patio ( ours is gravel but it doesn't matter if it's slabs or wood ) .

Do you want patio and then plants ?

Kr1stina Thu 18-Feb-16 12:59:03

So does your new extension have a door to the garden - patio doors, French doors? Is it a kitchen or a living room ? Can you organise the sight lines so you can see the garden while you are siting on the sofa or at the kitchen table having a coffee ?

Obviously you need pathway if you have a door , to get into the garden and around the house .

But do you want the patio / terrace / decking right next to the house at this new door or would it be better elsewhere in the garden , because of where the sun is ?

Kr1stina Thu 18-Feb-16 13:08:48

Sorry, I realise my photo is confusing, because of the green bench. It doesn't actually live there, it's just been moved temporarily as I'm doing work elsewhere . Hence all the pots beside it and the plants growing under it .

We don't sit there because it's north facing , so only gets the sun from the west in the evening . The gravel area is for access , it's a really a wide path.

We sit at the other end of the garden, which is south facing . On all three days a year that we get good weather wink

shovetheholly Thu 18-Feb-16 13:33:25

Bloody hell, your house and garden look sensational!! shock I do like your raised beds. Mine is much less gorgeous stately home, and much more 1920s semi!!

Yes, the new extension will be split-level. Half of it (raised) will be a kitchen area, the other a living area with a big, big, big window with doors into the garden. This is a clever way my architect friend has found of dealing with the change in level: to put part of it in the house but to preserve the ceiling height so it's the same throughout. This means you should get a line of sight right from the front of the house through to the back as it is knocked through at present.

However, the doors will still be above the ground level, so a strategy to connect the living area and garden will be needed! Hence the terrace. I like the idea of being able to open the doors and see the garden/listen to the rain grin. My garden, as you know, is north-facing so the area close to the house is very shaded- not the best place for a patio.

It'll all be clearer when I can post a picture!

Kr1stina Thu 18-Feb-16 14:02:28

< snort > at the stately home , it's far from it . We just have a bit more space as we live in the country .

We had the same problem with our conservatory , which we put in 2.5 years ago ( you can just see the corner in the photo ) . The floor level is now 0.6 m above the ground next to it . It was about a meter Higher but we moved around a lot of dirt to make it more level.

Out extension is at the same floor level as the rest of the house, but I think your plan to drop yours down is excellent . So you'll need to think what to do with where these two different levels join the garden .

As it's North facing, you won't sit there anyway, so why not go for planting beds next to the house, with a retaining wall ? if it's a 1920s house, your windows will be reasonably high so you can grow lovely plants there without blocking your view .

If you are going to have big machinery in your garden anyway, you might as well go the whole hog and do some levelling at the same time . You will be in tears and your whole garden will be a sea of mud , whatever happens .

It's better to spend a few grand extra on ground works now, and save the money elsewhere by putting a scabby old sofa in the lovely new extension . It's easy enough to buy a new sofa in a few years time , when you have the extra cash . But you will never have the chance again to sort out the levels in the garden .

We access the garden by a terrace / set of steps across the whole width of the conservatory . The top " step " had to be quite deep and at the same level as the floor as the doors are folding and they go out the way ( don't know how to describe this better ) . So if the steps went straight down, when the doors are open they would be left ( visually ) hanging in mid air .

We also thought about just having the steps only as wide as the doors, and raised beds with plants all the rest of the way around . But we had enough space to make the steps wider to balance the building visually . If I had a smaller garden , I wouldn't want to waste valuable planting space on boring hard landscaping .

TheFogsGettingThicker Fri 11-Mar-16 22:52:57

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

TheFogsGettingThicker Fri 11-Mar-16 22:54:09

Oh no, that went BADLY wrong! blush should have stuck to what I know

funnyperson Sat 12-Mar-16 19:51:04

They put black dye in the water at chelsea to make it look darker

My brain isnt really working properly atm but will come back.

There are 2 issues
1)Looking outside from in the new extension and getting that inside-outside feel. This is the priority.
2)Northfacing downward slope and the planting/design thereof. This is not as urgent and can evolve.

shovetheholly Mon 14-Mar-16 09:03:34

OK, so have spoken to the architects again, and we've decided that a simple flat area followed by a flight of steps would work better than a cantilevered terrace.

However, I now have to persuade them that the terraced area shouldn't take up the entire garden sad. I don't think they get the whole inside-outside connection you mention funny and kristina, or the need for the plants to be quite close to the windows to create that feel. I don't want to sit in my big-windowed room looking out onto masonry. What is the point?!

funnyperson Mon 14-Mar-16 16:59:02

I remember in a garden book years ago, there was a photo of picture windows looked out onto a Japanese garden with water, acers, a cherry, gravel with round markings and the whole thing was very restful and inside/outside and the changes of the seasons were taken into account. it was as if he flooe to ceiling windos framed the garden . In short, even if you have a terrace, that doesn't have to be all of wood decking: there can be gravelled areas

Japanese gardens can work well in north facing areas.

funnyperson Mon 14-Mar-16 17:19:37

also there can be water on your terrace

shovetheholly Mon 14-Mar-16 17:40:35

I love your thinking here funny - bringing the garden up to the house sounds like a plan!

Thanks, you've put the heart back in me. smile

funnyperson Sun 20-Mar-16 07:13:12

smile I hope you have a lovely time planning it!

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