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Case Study - Cool, Calm & Collected

Project Summary

Urban garden with lighting

Tasked with designing a contemporary urban courtyard garden with maximum entertaining space, we created this cool contemporary garden.
With a stunning full-width living wall and slick grey paving, the garden was the perfect solution to complement the high spec interior of the client's swanky basement conversion

The brief

The clients contacted us in a bit of a fluster; they had started a sizeable project on their house which included a basement conversion. The plans had been drawn up, planning permission granted and the builders were well underway… and asking various questions about the (non-existent) garden design.


We were taken on with the brief of coming up with a design that maximised entertaining space in the small space (5mx8m), would be cohesive with the new basement kitchen and would pack a real punch when viewing through the full-width bi-fold doors. Oh, and the design was needed yesterday. Loving a good challenge, we jumped at the opportunity.

Basement conversion dig out

The messy basement dig-out

The Design Solution

Being a basement conversion there was a level change from the new kitchen doors up to the existing garden level – so steps needed to be designed along with a retaining wall that was nearly 1m high. To avoid looking out at this wall, we designed planting beds either side of the steps to green up the space close to the house and lead the eye up to the higher level.


Tasked with maximising usable space, we were mindful that too much paving and not enough planting would result in a stark space which would look unbalanced. Enter the living wall… a wonderful solution to green up a small area without taking up valuable space. The living wall we designed for this project spanned the full width of the garden and was a whopping 3m high, offering a show-stopping vista from inside the house.

In terms of hard landscaping materials the client had decided to go for a light coloured floor tile and white rendered walls, but we were concerned that this would give off too much glare, look a bit ‘shouty’ (to use a technical term) and be high maintenance (think of those white walls next to the planting beds after a big downpour with soil splashback…). We presented an alternative look, using uber-contemporary black basalt paving and dark grey walls with contrasting western red cedar slatted fences. The clients were delighted (and so were we).


We originally presented 2 designs – one symmetrical and one asymmetrical, and both included a specimen tree and water feature. However, in the end we agreed with the client to go for a cleaner design with fewer elements, relying on the living wall to be the star of the show.

Courtyard garden design sketch
Courtyard garden design with tree

Initial design sketches presented to the client with two different garden design solutions


In a small minimalist space, planting design needs to be meticulous as it is a key element of the design and will be viewed close up. It also needed to look great all year round. In the planting beds we used box balls to give evergreen structure, which was softened by perennials, including the wonderful Hakonechloa macra grass with it’s cascading graceful leaves.


We also added two stunning cloud-pruned Ilex crenata in large Urbis planters, flanking either sides of the steps. Also known as ‘Niwaki’ (the Japanese word for ‘garden trees’) these sculpted hollies associate well with the grasses as well as the ferns in the living wall. 

Living wall planting plan

Living walls require a different approach to planting design with careful consideration of the types of plants that will be happy growing on a vertical face. Each plant had it's own planting pocket so the planting scheme was produced in grid format

Courtyard garden with large living wall
Cloud-pruned topiary in large planter

View from inside the modern basement conversion looking out onto the courtyard garden

Cloud-pruned "Niwaki' Ilex crenata in a

contemporary concrete planter

What the client said

"Can’t recommend Simon highly enough. Professional, creative and communicated throughout the project at any time of day! Our ground floor and basement development had been really well thought through during planning and in hindsight the Garden was somewhat of an afterthought so it was with some panic that I contacted Simon having liked the style of his work I’d seen on Houzz. Simon quickly came to the rescue and gave us lots of ideas about what we could achieve in a relatively small space.


He was spot on when he said that there was little room for error in a smaller garden as nothing can be hidden! I’d like to thank Simon for his patience, calm and guidance during what was a pretty fully on few weeks. Simon helped source plants, pots and colour samples as well as recommend lighting. He also provided recommendations for suppliers of our living wall and the Botanical Gardener who we continue to use for garden maintenance (also recommended).


We couldn't be happier with the result and our little oasis! Everybody who visits tells us our garden really does have the wow factor. We’re looking forward to the coming weeks and months as the plants really start to bloom. Thank you Simon!"      - MR, Feb 2018

See more of our customer reviews

You can see the full album for this and other garden design projects on our portfolio page

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