When designer Emily Crowley-Wroe was brought in to create a garden at a Cotswold cottage near Chipping Norton, she was faced with linking it to both a modern extension and rural surroundings.

Her solution was to divide the one-acre plot into three zones: contemporary formality near the house and controlled wildness on the outer reaches, with a smaller area that bridges the two styles.

The project, which is still ongoing, began back in 2021 while the cottage was being renovated. Aside from a crumbling stone wall and many mature trees, there was little garden.

‘It was just a building site,’ recalls Emily, who runs April House Garden Design.

Great British Life: The meadow area is used by the family to relax and has a sauna, hot tub and sunken trampolineThe meadow area is used by the family to relax and has a sauna, hot tub and sunken trampoline (Image: Mandy Bradshaw)

Her first step was to call in a tree surgeon to gauge which trees were safe to keep and which would have to be felled.

‘There are a lot of mature trees here and obviously, I wanted to keep as many as possible because they’re part of the story of the garden.’

Ash dieback and canker in a prunus meant some had to be felled, while some overgrown poplars were lowered in height. The remaining trees now add a mature feel to what is a very new garden and provide an important buffer between the cottage, neighbouring properties and adjoining fields.

Great British Life: Billowing plants soften the geometric layout of the formal areaBillowing plants soften the geometric layout of the formal area (Image: Mandy Bradshaw)

Emily, whose designs have won silver gilt and best show garden at the RHS Malvern Spring Garden Festival, was given an open brief.

‘They wanted a designer, because they just they didn’t know where to start and what to do,’ she says. ‘It can be quite daunting when you walk into a space like this because it looks quite large.’

Some of the layout near the house was already decided with the footprint for the terrace and the pergola that runs down one side installed by the builders.

Using these elements as a starting point, she’s created a formal linear layout with square beds overlaid with billowing planting and the hard landscaping softened by plants.

The terrace has been extended to wrap around the house but clever mixing of materials breaks it up and prevents it dominating the space. Limestone is the main component, chosen to create a seamless transition from inside to outdoors and this is combined with rectangular cobbles, echoing the geometric theme, and gravel. These materials are repeated throughout this part of the garden, giving a pleasing cohesion to the design.

Great British Life: A pergola planted with climbers runs down one boundaryA pergola planted with climbers runs down one boundary (Image: Mandy Bradshaw)

Deep Corten steel planters, set into the gravel, are currently being used for herbs although the fact they are bottomless means Emily was also able to plant a feature tree, an amalanchier, that can be enjoyed from the house.

‘There’s also some freedom for the clients to experiment with growing vegetables and easy to grow things like courgettes.’

A gravel-topped bed separates the terrace from lawn and is filled with sun-lovers including rosemary and perovskia that not only provide a good contrast of leaf form but also work well with the pale grey-blue stone alongside.

Domes of Ilex crenata provide year-round structure and this feature is repeated on the corners of the main flower beds and in planting that runs down the outside of the pergola, along with Verbena officinalis var. grandiflora ‘Bampton’ and Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’. Carefully ‘tapering’ this planting has enabled Emily to disguise the fact that the pergola, which is lined up with the boundary, isn’t square to the house.

The six flower beds, edged in cobbles to allow easy mowing of the lawn, have a colour palette of purple, white and soft pink.

Great British Life: Perovskia 'Blue Spire' contrasts well with the pale grey-blue pavingPerovskia 'Blue Spire' contrasts well with the pale grey-blue paving (Image: Mandy Bradshaw)

There are several types of salvia, including S. nemerosa ‘Caradonna’, S. ‘Amistad’ and S. x jamensis ‘Nachtvlinder’. Grasses such as Stipa tenuissima and Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’ add movement, there are alliums for structure, geraniums and roses, some with a literary theme – the clients are writers – including Rosa ‘Emily Bronte’. Meanwhile, the frothy white heads of Cenolophium denudatum (Baltic parsley) add a soft, romantic feel to the display.

Ferns are used to add more interest year-round and there are plenty of bulbs – narcissi, snowdrops, scilla and tulips.

Specimen trees, a multi-stemmed Magnolia ‘Susan’ and Cornus mas, bring an added level of interest and important height, helping to balance out this area with the pergola, which is planted with white clematis and roses, and pale mauve wisteria,

The stone wall has been repositioned and rebuilt and now divides this formal area not only with the rest of the garden but also the main drive.

A pleached hornbeam hedge runs alongside the wall, giving another layer of privacy to the house and formal garden.

What is quite a large expanse of gravel drive has been softened by raised bed, the sleepers it’s made from helping to disguise a slight change in levels.

Great British Life: Multi-stemmed limes are underplanted with grasses and hylotelephium alongside the gravel driveMulti-stemmed limes are underplanted with grasses and hylotelephium alongside the gravel drive (Image: Mandy Bradshaw)

The planting has been chosen to look good in all seasons with alliums linking to the formal area, hylotelephium (sedum), and grasses that give a hint of what’s to come in the final section.

Beautiful semi-mature Tilia cordata ‘Winter Orange’ give structure and height: ‘The orange bark is just gorgeous and through the winter it's lovely and picks up the orange tones in the walls.’

Great British Life: The Corton steel moon gate gives an elegant entrance to the meadowThe Corton steel moon gate gives an elegant entrance to the meadow (Image: Mandy Bradshaw)

This drive area provides a transition from the formal layout near the house to the final part of the garden, a softer design of flowing shapes and curves.

Originally, a natural swimming pool was planned for this area but neighbours’ concerns and the arrival of a new puppy meant Emily had to redesign.

The pool space is now lawn that’s enclosed by a perennial meadow. Nearby are a hot tub and sauna, while the meadow hides a sunken trampoline for the children.

‘The family come here and relax,’ says Emily. ‘It’s almost like a mini festival area.’

Great British Life: Meadow clary adds a purple haze to the meadowMeadow clary adds a purple haze to the meadow (Image: Mandy Bradshaw)

Circular shapes are a repeated motif with a Corten steel moon gate at the entrance to the meadow, the rusty tones echoed in a nearby circular planter housing a multistem Elaeagnus umbellata, and domes of hornbeam linking not only to the flowing shapes of this area but also to the pleached hedge.

Mown paths encourage you to explore and the meadow has an ever-changing cast of stars from meadow clary, Salvia pratensis in early summer through to scabious and ox-eye daisies. Old fruit trees inherited with the site give blossom in spring and russet tones in autumn.

‘We haven't been able to identify the varieties at all yet,’ said Emily.

Great British Life: Anthriscus sylvestris or cow parsley surrounds the woodland clearingAnthriscus sylvestris or cow parsley surrounds the woodland clearing (Image: Mandy Bradshaw)

The meadow, created from two different types of meadow turf, is left standing until late winter to provide wildlife habitat before being cut down.

One path leads to a clearing in woodland where log seats and a firepit have created an area for the family to sit out. Around it, nettles are allowed, there’s cow parsley and long grass, giving a natural feel. Long term, there are plans to create hazel arches and to tame some of the more thuggish wildflowers.

It’s a complete contrast to the formal area by the house and clearly shows how with a little clever design, it is possible to create a garden of different moods that can cope with both modern and rural.

More information about April House Garden Design is available at april-house.co.uk

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