Design Ideas for Your Garden - Informal Seating

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Design Ideas for Your Garden - Informal Seating

I really love a garden with informal places to sit, in addition to the main garden patio furniture. It is lovely to be able to wander around a garden with a cup of coffee or glass of wine and find a seat where the sun is or with a good view of the garden, a place just to sit and pause to enjoy the garden and fresh air.

So in our gardens we try and have informal seating built into the design, providing a choice of places to sit wherever the sun is at different times of the day.

An east facing spot for the morning sun, west for the evening sun and south for the sun most of the day, when it comes out that is!

In the photo below the walls around the upper terrace in Glasgow all double as comfortable 300mm wide places to sit and there’s an additional bench on the lower level as an alternative choice.

In the example below in Newlands in Glasgow, this garden has a wall retaining a raised bed which doubles as a seat around the patio. We used old brick (from Glasgow Brick Yard) to match the surrounding old brick walls and the patio paving (by Pavestone) as the wall copes, to give visual coherence to the garden. The client was in the process of planting the garden up themselves when this photo was taken. Raised beds are also more comfortable to look after and maintain.

Seats can include free standing walls as well as seating around a patio retaining raised beds. If they are designed at the right height and width that will make sure that they are comfortable to sit on.

So often we see walls around patios built at a width of 200mm which to me seems like a missed opportunity, as 200mm isn’t a very comfortable width to sit on for very long.

The height would ideally be around 500mm (no less than 250mm and no more than 600mm) and the width no less than 300mm, and a little wider for even more comfort if you want to put cushions on the wall or seat.

We often use paving as the copes of its a sandstone wall and these come in 600x300mm sizes which are ideal. If its a sleeper wall, then the 200mm wide sleepers can be doubled up to provide a width of 400mm.

An example of some built in sleeper seating combined with sandstone as a trim at the edges In Dumbreck, Glasgow.

Retaining walls are also an opportunity to provide informal places to sit. If you are levelling your garden and you need a wall higher than 500mm, then its a good idea to split it into 2 walls with a planting bed in between. The lower wall can then double up as a seat, and the planting softens the upper wall. The whole effect is less imposing than if it was one high wall.

Here’s an example below in Pollokshields in Glasgow.

Good quality garden benches are inexpensive and last for years. They can also give a focal point to a garden as well as an informal place to sit all year round. We often position them where they will catch the morning sun where you can enjoy a morning coffee. The photo below is of a Lutyens bench with a couple of pots to frame it.

Raised ponds are another opportunity to create a place to sit, and it is lovely to be near enough to the water to see it properly. Again the walls have to be wide enough to be comfortable to sit on, at least 300mm wide.

Here’s one we did in a Kirklee Courtyard, in Glasgow.

Steps too are another opportunity for informal seating, especially if they have wide treads and face the sun. Here is an example in Bothwell of steps that can be used to sit on as well as the raised beds.

Curved seating is very attractive and also creates a pleasant social space as people are facing towards each other. They also lend themselves well to having a fire-pit or table in the middle too. These can be made from natural stone or brick. Here’s one in a Glasgow garden.

This one is in a small Paisley garden.

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A Few Plants for Shady Areas

A Few Plants for Shady Areas

While the palette is definitely more limited for shaded areas in your garden, there is still a wide variety of shrubs and herbaceous perennials that can provide texture and colour all year round.

With any planting area we normally start with creating an evergreen ‘back bone’ so that the garden still has greenery during the long Scottish winters. Evergreen shrubs provide some structure to the planting in a garden and in shaded areas can include Rhododendrons, Camelias, Aucuba and Laurels as a ‘back drop’ with smaller shrubs, ground cover and herbaceous perennials in front. A layered look looks good if you have the space, with higher shrubs and trees to the rear of the bed and lower shrubs in front.

Camelia, Hosta and Vinca

Smaller plants for the front of borders include the evergreen Vinca minor ‘Variegata’ which we love as it has a bright creamy variegated leaf that can brighten up dark areas. That applies to Hosta choice too and there are several variegated varieties to choose from. Hostas are herbaceous perennials and disappear below ground in winter. Skimmia is a fantastic evergreen medium size shrub. They flower over winter and the females provide bright red berries.

Other shade tolerant species include Buxus (normally seen as balls or used in low hedging), Mahonia which flowers in winter, the herbaceous perennials Achillia Mollis and Pulmonaria.

Feel free to email for any enquiries info@terrafirmagardens.com

Garden Design for the Scottish Climate

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Garden Design for the Scottish Climate

In our harsh climate, gardens here in Scotland need to be built to be practically bomb-proof. Here are a few ideas and observations we have made over the years we have been designing and building gardens in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

It is worth mentioning that some materials that work in the south of England often don’t stand the test of our weather up here in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Read the small print in the catalogues and paving brochures which often mention this (usually in very small text!) Cotswold walling stone soon crumbles and shatters after the freezing and thawing action during a Scottish winter or two and this applies to some types of porous paving too. The materials used here need to be able to withstand harsh frosty winters and lots of rain all year round.

Materials also need to be planned for the effects of weather, and some materials age well and can look even better in time, while other materials start to look tatty after a few years.

So let’s go over some important elements of designing for the northern climate and a few commonly available and popular materials.

Porcelain has become popular over the last couple of years and is suited to both traditional styles (if it is laid to a random pattern) and contemporary gardens (laid to a linear pattern). For clients looking for an aged ‘been there for ever’ style, Porcelain doesnt work so well as it doesn’t develop an aged look, and remains fairly fresh and new in appearance.

The big advantage of porcelain is that it is not very porous, so it is highly moisture resistant. This means that is requires less cleaning and pressure washing to remove the algae that is often characteristic of more porous materials, especially if the paving is situated in north facing positions. It is more costly than the more commonly used Indian Sandstone.

Below is a photo of a porcelain patio in a garden in Bearsden.

Indian Sandstone is popular and inexpensive. It is now less expensive than many concrete paving types which are designed to look like real stone and we use it a lot. Real stone weathers a lot better than concrete. It is porous enough to require being pressure washed at least once a year, and more often if it is situated in a north facing position where it receives less sunlight and so takes longer to dry out and allowing algae time to grow. But once pressure washed it looks as good as new, though some clients prefer a natural ageing patina to develop.

Here’s a photo of a grey Indian sandstone patio with a granite setts spiral inlay in a garden in the process of being built in Glasgow.

Concrete paving comes in various colours, sizes and textures. Some are plain concrete for use under garden sheds or utility areas, and for those uses it is a practical affordable choice. Some of more expensive options are designed to imitate natural stone. Until affordable natural stone started arriving about 15 years ago, we used it a lot ourselves, particularly Marshall’s ‘Heritage’paving, before we turned to the now affordable natural stone coming in from India and China.

The big disadvantage of using the concrete paving is that after a few years the surface layer wears off, the concrete aggregate starts to show through and it looks scruffy. No matter how much it is cleaned it doesn’t look as good as the day it was laid, unlike natural stone. It also requires a lot of cleaning with a pressure washer as it is very porous and goes green with algae easily. And finally, rather ironically, the imitation stone brands are now a good bit more expensive than the natural real stone it is trying to imitate! So for many years now we only use real stone paving, other than for utility bin areas at the sides of a house or under sheds and summerhouses.

Granite paving is a very solid strong type of stone and the porosity lies somewhere between porcelain and sandstone. It doesn’t go green very easily as it is so hard, again unless it is in a very damp dark part of your garden. The cost is similar to porcelain. Below is a photo of a set of granite bullnose steps with granite paving in one of our gardens.

Decking I have written about before, and we are quickly coming to the conclusion that using timber decking is unwise in our climate unless you are willing to put some time into maintaining it, or have someone who can do this for you. We now use composite decking for most of our projects and we recommend Millboard, it looks great and has no maintenance. The only disadvantage is that is very expensive.

Below is a close -up photo of a Millboard deck we constructed in Glasgow to show the realistic wood grain appearance.

Drainage is something that is increasingly necessary, particularly in Glasgow where we are blessed with heavy clay soils. It is a challenge to drain heavy clay soils, and unless done properly can be a wasted expense.

Waterlogged lawns can be helped by ensuring that that all paving is laid with a fall away from the building, and where it runs off towards the lawn, a drain is put in to avoid exasperating drainage issues. This can be a slot drain or a linear grill drain, and even an underground waving coil in pea gravel just below the grass level along the patio edge can help to direct the water away from the grass.

The photo below is a slot drain in smooth sandstone paving. We prefer slot drains as they are less visually obtrusive than the linear grill drains and subtly blend with paving.

Artificial grass has improved greatly over the last years and is gaining rapidly in popularity. It can be a successful solution to waterlogged patchy lawns especially in north facing positions. It is laid on a Type 1 material and sand which allows it to drain freely, and if you have children or dogs it avoids muddy feet coming into the house. Below is a photo of an artificial lawn in a garden we did in Lenzie.

Pots need to be glazed to withstand frost, and unglazed clay pots will quickly disintegrate through the freeze and thaw action of the ice which expands and shatters the clay unless it is glazed and watertight.

Plants need to be carefully chosen to ensure they are hardy in our climate. It is best to buy use plants that have been grown in our climate or have been ‘hardened off’ to avoid the shock of the cold here and possible death. Many plants in our nurseries have been newly imported from countries such as Italy, and they often don’t survive the first winter due to the climate change shock, so it is best to ask the nursery or landscaper you are employing about the source of the plants.

Fencing timber needs to be pressure treated and preferably treated with a coat or two of preservative stain. This looks much better than raw timber which turns grey eventually due to the UV light exposure.

The photo below shows a white contemporary fence in a small garden in Glasgow which has been constructed using pressure treated timber with 2 coats of outdoor timber paint and will last for many years.

Driveways can be constructed using a permeable paver which allows the water to penetrate. This is actually the lawn in England now, and Scotland may follow. The increasing paving over of driveways is causing stress to the storm water drains which are struggling to cope and contributing to flooding. It is often not possible to put in a drain cross the drive along the pavement if there is no drain available for the grill drain to be connected to.

The photo below shows a Tegula permeable paving we did a few months ago.

I am a big fan of gravel driveways which drain beautifully of course. They are good for security too and are much less expensive to install than pavers driveways. They can be constructed to give a firm surface if the gravel isn’t too deep and the whole driveway is compacted after construction. However the convenience and ease of using pavers makes them popular and a permeable drive is a good compromise.

I hope this has been helpful ! There’s nothing more disheartening than paying money for a new garden and having it look tired after a couple of years or becoming a maintenance burden, when it can be avoided by good design and the right materials at the start.

Email us for a free initial consultation info@terrafirmagardens.com if you are considering getting some work done to your garden and we can help you avoid the pitfalls.

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Contemporary Fencing

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Contemporary Fencing

Our contemporary horizontal slatted fencing is very popular at the moment. We use both cedar and treated softwood. The softwood option is less expensive and is made with pressure treated timber which is smoother than the normal rough sawn fencing timber, and can be painted in a variety of colours.

The cedar fencing has beautiful varied shades through it, but it does require to be regularly oiled with a penetrative oil stain to prevent it from turning grey in UV light.

Here are a few recent examples of our painted pressure treated softwood contemporary fencing.

White contemporary slatted fence for a small courtyard garden in Glasgow’s West End

White contemporary slatted fence for a small courtyard garden in Glasgow’s West End

Gunmetal grey contemporary fence and seat facade for a courtyard garden in Eaglesham with smooth grey sandstone plank paving

Gunmetal grey contemporary fence and seat facade for a courtyard garden in Eaglesham with smooth grey sandstone plank paving

Long narrow contemporary garden in Glasgow’s West End with gunmetal grey contemporary fencing - this one has lighting behind it that shines out from the spaces at night

Long narrow contemporary garden in Glasgow’s West End with gunmetal grey contemporary fencing - this one has lighting behind it that shines out from the spaces at night

Here are a few examples of the cedar contemporary slatted fencing

Cedar fencing in a garden in Newlands, Glasgow

Cedar fencing in a garden in Newlands, Glasgow

Here the cedar has been used to disguise an unattractive garage in Giffnock, Glasgow

Here the cedar has been used to disguise an unattractive garage in Giffnock, Glasgow

Cedar fencing for a contemporary garden in Edinburgh. This one has fibre optic lighting through the paving.

Cedar fencing for a contemporary garden in Edinburgh. This one has fibre optic lighting through the paving.

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Decking Ideas

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Decking Ideas

Over the last 25 years we have used a variety of materials to build decks, and until recently used either treated softwood or hardwood, (often Yellow Balau) for our decking projects such as the photo above in Giffnock, Glasgow.

For the last couple of years we have been increasingly using a type of composite decking made by Millboard, which looks like real wood and doesn’t require maintenance.

Low maintenance has become a high priority for most clients in recent times, and is often at the top of the design brief we are given for garden design. What we have found is that most people don’t have the time to keep their timber decking in top condition due to the amount of upkeep and maintenance involved. This upkeep is especially necessary in our wet climate and doubly so if the position of your deck is in a North facing position, where it doesnt receive much sunlight. This means that the deck remains wet for longer. It then easily becomes slippy and very hazardous to walk on. In South facing positions where the deck receives more sun and gets a chance to dry out more, the effect is lessened. However it will still become slippy unless it is given regular attention. This applies to both softwood and hardwood decks. Here is a Yellow Balau deck that we did in Bishopton near Glasgow.

The other disadvantage of timber decking, and this applies to timber fencing too, is that timber when outdoors fades to grey eventually unless the UV from the sunlight is blocked by way of a coloured oil or stain. This is because UV light breaks down the lignin in the wood. Some people really like this look, and the grey can look quite contemporary in the right setting.

We have had clients who have kept their decks in top condition, and have been willing to put in the considerable time and money to maintain them. If you choose to go down the route of timber decking we would recommend regular cleaning and the application of a penetrating oil with a tint and we have had good results with Osmo Oil. Clear oils do not block the effect of the UV and the deck will go grey eventually. Many deck stains and paints just sit on the surface and eventually look scruffy as they wear off due to weathering and footfall.

A few years ago we used composite deck for the first time, it was a type that the client, an architect, chose. It looked good and it was a high quality one, but it had a bit of shiny surface which was a little slippy and it looked like plastic trying to be wood. I have found this to be the case with most of the composite decks on the market.

Then we discovered Millboard after I visited a client who had a Millboard Deck a few years ago. I was very impressed by the appearance, and could hardly believe that it wasn’t timber. We have been using Millboard decking ever since, if the client’s budget allows. It is very expensive, but it is beautiful, it is not slippy and comes in a matt finish, attractive colours and best of all, no maintenance.

We would be happy to advise you on the various options and costs, please email us on info@terrafirmagardens.com for a free initial consultation

Grey Millboard for a project in Bearsden, Glasgow

Grey Millboard for a project in Bearsden, Glasgow

Smoked Oak MillBoard Decking in Merrylee, Glasgow

Smoked Oak MillBoard Decking in Merrylee, Glasgow

Millboard Deck in Newton Mearns, Glasgow

Millboard Deck in Newton Mearns, Glasgow

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