A bit of the hard stuff works wonders

Travel writer Pat Richardson shares the pleasure of her own little corner of heaven to come home to

As leaves fall and winter closes in, much of the garden goes into hibernation. Although the lawn still spreads a carpet, ivy cloaks fences, and some trees and shrubs stay green, its framework is suddenly into sharp focus. So, too, is the importance of hard landscaping.

Like all lessons our gardens teach us, it took me time to learn this. The first few winters turned my outdoor space into a dull and uninspiring place, and I can’t claim to have added the mix of textures that now shape its ground patterns for any reason other than convenience – or whim. The ugly concrete patio had to go; I replaced it with traditional setts in faded-terracotta with a grey, rope-edge border. A few weathered millstones add interest, and the all-in-pots ‘cottage garden’ stands in a bed of pebbles and cobbles, in colours that blend with the paving.

Another hard-landscaped area, a raised terrace at the wilder, far end, featured crazy paving. It wouldn’t have been my choice, but I’ve re-arranged it to allow tussocks of thrift and wild thyme, mounds of arabis and aubretia, saxifrage cushions and wild violet nosegays to gain a foothold. A scattering of pebbles and cobbles fills the more slender gaps – and, being the same colours as those in the patio’s inset bed, forges a pleasing link between the two. When the garden is bare, such links and themes and repetitions become more apparent, and have greater impact.

A 35-foot stretch of lawn – shaped like an artist’s palette snaking around the staghorn sumac – lies between these two stone surfaces. It has a hard edge, too, of fanned-out bricks in shades of pink granite and a deep grey-purple. These have been laid in piano-key sequence – two pink, one purple, three pink, one purple, recurring – a testament to my inability to choose between the two, and my elder son’s inspired solution! Every lawn needs a path, of course, to prevent wear and tear: mine’s a meander of ‘log-slice’ stepping stones – which counters the patio’s straight lines, hints at the lawn’s gentle curves and, with each roughly circular stone, echoes the mounded roundness into which I prune most of my shrubs and flower clumps.   

Each of these very different forms and textures is an important part of the garden’s structure; together, they accentuate its form and add visual interest at a time when there’s little else to see.

Pat Richardson has many years experience as a travel writer including 16 years as Travel Editor on Best Magazine. She has since turned freelance and writes mainly for the Daily Telegraph’s Escorted Travel and Cruise Supplements. As well as tending her own delightful Kew garden, she runs www.perfectlyworded.co.uk, a writing and editing service and consultancy, and www.HotelsThatWereNot.com, a website showcasing properties with a past.