City gardens – whether a sky-high rooftop hideaway or a traditional lawned plot – have specific needs, not least because they usually have to work very hard in a relatively small amount of space. Barry Burrows, managing director of Bartholomew Landscaping, which has been designing and maintaining gardens at London’s best addresses for 25 years, explains how to get the most from an urban garden.
How do you tease out what people actually want from a garden?
Nine times out of ten, people say they’re not sure what they want. Once we’ve established that they are serious about working with us, I tend to say, let’s meet, I can show you some schemes, and we go from there. A low-maintenance garden that’s going to be used once a month is going to be different to a garden where the owners have children, or one for a couple without children who want something purely for entertaining.
Are there any broad trends you’re seeing? What do clients ask for?
Nearly everyone ask for an ‘outdoor room’ that acts an extension of the house. Nowadays, that really does mean a room – fully integrated with music and heating, with an outdoor TV, a fridge, even a kitchen, with perhaps an electric overhead canopy. A lot of people are also still loving firepits – they give that feeling of extending the season, and create a warm cosy environment outside. All these features are something we’ve been doing for quite a while, and we’re always trying to come up with new ideas on that theme.
The ‘outdoor room’ sounds quite hard and not very garden-like. How do you make it softer?
It’s all down to how it’s dressed. We use a lot of timber in our schemes to try and soften them, and of course we always use a lot of planting.
If you’re creating an ‘outdoor room’, what attention do you pay to how it works with the interior?
When we conduct the initial survey, we take internal photos of all the possible views to the garden, just to ensure we pick up on what people will see when they move around the house. Sometimes the same material can be used for the flooring inside and out, but if not then we might use the same-sized units, so that they follow the same lines.
Do certain plants suit city gardens better?
There’s certainly a bit of a microclimate in London, so there’s more of a choice in terms of flowering species, but it’s also quite polluted as well. Lots of grasses are pollution tolerant and plants such as bamboo and Trachelospermum are known for working well in cities. But we’re trying to do more interesting things that that – at our Chelsea garden in 2014 we had yew balls interspersed with lots of roses to soften the whole thing. We’re constantly trying new ideas, not just falling back on the standard structured box and yew that everybody else seems to be using.
Roof gardens are a common feature in the city, especially with the growth of luxury high-rise developments in London. Do they have their own set of rules?
We’re doing a lot of roof gardens at the moment. There’s the classic challenge of wind damage to plants – we solve that by creating breaks within a large space to slow the wind down a bit. Drainage is also crucial: even though it’s usually incorporated into the space, it’s a case of making sure that the falls are correct, the drains are kept clear, and that maintenance is carried out regularly. Irrigation is also absolutely vital in these spaces, because the wind dries things out very quickly, but nowadays it’s all computerised – clients don’t have to think about it.
Does anyone go for a lawn any more?
Only in the bigger gardens. But – and I hate myself for saying this – artificial lawns have moved on so much. They’re so realistic these days that a lot of people are opting for them, especially people who don’t want the maintenance or who have children who might be playing football and making a turf lawn muddy. People want to be aesthetically pleased as well as functionally pleased.