Gravel surfaces and wooden slats meet lush greenery, and an asymmetrical layout enhances the modern look
When the owners moved into their terraced house in London’s Hyde Vale neighborhood, the garden was pretty overgrown. “There were a few pretty plants and a water feature at the back of the garden, but otherwise the outdoor space wasn’t very presentable,” recalls John Davies, who oversaw the garden’s redesign. Working with the construction team at Hortus in Blackheath, the landscape architect transformed the dreary backyard into a pretty yet practical backyard oasis ideas that perfectly suited the needs of the family of four.
First, Davies divided the relatively small garden into distinct areas, which he subtly separated from one another to visually enhance the outdoor space and make it feel larger. “To me, a garden is like a journey – each area has a different atmosphere. In a small backyard oasis ideas like this, of course, it’s much more difficult to implement and requires more tact,” he explains.
In the front of the garden, he created a pond adjacent to a gravel-covered area. At the end of the garden is a raised terrace.
The pond, populated with water lilies and goldfish, is the first thing you see when you enter the backyard. It stretches across the entire width of the property. Pavers lead across the water and on into the garden.
“I wanted to make a strong statement right at the beginning without it taking up too much space,” Davies says. So while the pond is wide, it doesn’t extend very far into the garden.
For families with young children, a garden pond may not be the right choice. In any case, they need to talk to the landscape designer about securing options on time.
“On a small property like this, the nearest fence is never far away. Choosing the right boundary is even more important,” Davies says.
The horizontal slats visually stretch the property by drawing the eye to the back of the garden. With their modern look, they also create a perfect backdrop for plantings. To create an overall asymmetrical look, Davies installed the fence freestanding on the right side, while placing it on an existing brick wall on the left (next photo).
The gravel-covered area creates a transitional platform of sorts where residents can cozy up with chairs by the water.
“Gravel is a great material. It’s versatile, permeable, and less expensive than concrete,” explains the landscape designer. “Plus, it looks good. To make the area look permanently maintained, we installed a gravel grid underneath.”
At the back of the garden, Davies placed a patio and seating area in the setting of lush greenery.
The back wall was already in place. Behind it is a wooded hillside. “Because it would have been too expensive to raise a new wall on the sloping ground, we simply placed two freestanding masonry units in front of it,” Davies explains.
The new block walls were plastered and painted a neutral, dark color against which the light birch trunks look wonderfully vibrant.
The dark wall elements blend with the background, making the garden seem to extend further back. “In small gardens, I like to use dark colors,” Davies says. “It may sound absurd at first, but because the dark hues visually fade into the background, they make the outdoor area look larger overall.”
Backyard Oasis Ideas
The tree on the left in the photo is fan maple (Acer palmatum), which was grown in a rooftop shape so it looks wonderfully light and its crown framework remains visible. When the branches and twigs are illuminated in the evening, the result is a particularly beautiful sight.
Davies brought three more specimens of the evergreen Chinese sticky seed (Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’) to the garden. These are dwarf shrubs that naturally have a compact, dome-like habit. “They play an important role in the overall design by accenting and grounding the garden,” Davies says. “We planted them on a diagonal so the view is drawn across the entire property.”
Grasses are another design element. Davies placed sculptural, semi-evergreen Japanese woodland grass (Hakonechloa macra) under the maple, as well as waving soft lawn sedge (Deschampsia cespitosa) in the back of the garden. “Texture is at least as important as color in garden design,” explains the landscape designer. “I tried to combine compact domes, fluffy grasses, and open foliage to create a naturalistic, lush ensemble that softens some of the hard edges of the geometric shapes.”
Deschampsia cespitosa is a woodland grass, so it does well in shade. With its brown, feathery flower spikes, it makes a nice background for the large, imposing flowers of switchgrass (Lythrum virgatum ‘Dropmore Purple) and the white blooms of panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’).
“In its natural habitat, Lythrum virgatum likes to be near water. So next to the pond, it feels at home,” Davies concludes.
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