Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Victorian Front Garden Design

I get a lot of hits on my Web site from people searching for information on Victorian front gardens. So here are some thoughts on designing a Victorian front garden.

At first sight it looks simple. The spaces are mostly small and so the formula is the same every time isn’t it? Well, on the surface, yes, but each garden is different. No matter how small the garden there’s always room for error and in small spaces precision is particularly important. Even the smallest garden can have strange quirks that don’t become apparent until you’ve carefully measured and drawn them up. It doesn’t matter if the garden is only a few square metres I always do a plan.

The front garden gives a vital first impression of the rest of the house; the detail and quality of the finishes are exposed to extra scrutiny because the garden is on constant public display. Particular attention is needed to get the important features, such as the tiled pathway, railings and gate absolutely right.

Laying a Victorian tiled pathway is not the same as laying normal paving slabs. You must source the tiles from a good quality supplier and get a specialist to lay them – there are contractors who specialize in laying Victorian mosaic tiles. The pathway is an important part of recreating the authentic Victorian look, so choose your pattern with care. Don’t copy exactly other gardens in your street; a little individuality will differentiate your house from its neighbours. Choose a different colour scheme or pattern and your house will stand out from the rest whilst still adhering to the Victorian aesthetic.

The railings are usually the most expensive part of the garden. If you can’t afford cast iron you can compromise and have the railings (bars) made up in mild steel, but source a really unusual finial (head) from the extensive catalogue at James Hoyle - they also have a massive range of urns which can be used on intermediate posts or gate posts. There are loads of companies who will weld and assemble and install the railings once you’ve chosen your bars, heads and urns.

Most Victorian houses only have enough space in their front gardens for a couple of pots and a standard tree. If you have a larger front garden and are going to include a bit more planting then keep it simple, for example, clipped topiary, box edging, standard evergreen trees, Lavender and Santolina for an easily maintained classic look. Don’t confuse the smart Victorian town house front garden with the Victorian cottage garden.

If you are re-building perimeter walls remember they are supporting your gorgeous new bespoke railings and shoddy brickwork and cheap bricks will ruin the finished garden. So, get a good contractor who can show you a portfolio of projects including brick walls and choose a good quality brick that matches the house brick. It is not necessary to go to the expense of using re-claimed bricks, although they do look fabulous, there are some really good copies – get a sample and look at it next to the house brick in daylight. The ratio of walls to railings that I think works best is around one third wall to two thirds railings – so, if your wall is 45cm high the railings should be 90cm high. Just scale this up or down if you want a higher finished height, although be careful not to make the walls and railings too high in a small garden or it will look out of scale with the house.

If the York stone threshold is being replaced it’s worth the extra expense of sourcing a piece of reclaimed York stone – it’s the small details like this that will really make the finished garden. The paving used for the rest of the garden is a matter of personal choice, but I’ve found that a dark slab such a black Slate, black Limestone, or black Basalt works best.

I will be completing the construction of another Victorian front garden in Chiswick, London early next year, so keep an eye on my Web site for the pictures.

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