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Gardener's notebook: designer Harry Holding creates an award-winning garden for barbecues in the sunshine

 (Harry Holding)
(Harry Holding)

If you are Australian, there is a good chance two things are important to you: sunshine and barbecues.

This was certainly true for garden designer Harry Holding’s Earls Court client, Tara and her family.

After moving to the UK 16 years ago, they found themselves with a garden that didn’t really cut it when it came to the Australian essentials.

“When we moved in, the garden had two very traditional flower beds running along either side of the garden with a shed at the back,” Tara explains

“When we used the garden in summer, the only part of the garden that got any direct sun was the place where the shed was. We found ourselves shuffling closer and closer until we were almost sitting on top of it.”

The decking area at the back sits in the sunniest spot (Harry Holding)
The decking area at the back sits in the sunniest spot (Harry Holding)

Busy family life had also left the garden looking a bit tired.

“The combination of children with a football and owning a dog meant we also had a dust bowl of a lawn between the two beds,” she says.

“Several people came to look at the space before we found Harry, all suggesting plastic grass, which we really didn't want.”

This was a challenging project for a number of reasons, Holding explained.

“Logistically it was one of the most complex gardens to make,” he says.

“Parking was very difficult outside the house, so everything had to be carried to site by hand from a couple of streets away.”

Everything had to be carried by hand to the site (Harry Holding)
Everything had to be carried by hand to the site (Harry Holding)

Holding told me that the garden already contained some wonderful mature trees and climbers, such as the heavily scented, evergreen star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), which he really didn’t want to lose.

The designer also took advantage of a maple and cherry tree that leaned into the space.

Holding’s contemporary design retains the existing ground levels in the garden.

“We used steel edging to create a journey through the spaces, making the journey to the end of the garden slightly more intriguing and mysterious as you cant see all the special plants and features all at once,” he says.

A series of contemporary stepping stones snakes its way to the back of the garden, the gravel between each stone providing a place to pack extra planting into the garden.

Flashes of purple flowers sprout from between the greenery (Harry Holding)
Flashes of purple flowers sprout from between the greenery (Harry Holding)

Holding used mind-your-own-business (Soleirolia soleirolii), Hart’s tongue ferns (Asplenium scolopendrium) between the stones and in front of the planters, giving the planting a sense of generosity as it spills from the beds above.

At the rear of the garden, Holding removed the shed and created a decking area, blending it into the garden using dark painted wood.

This area is now the sunniest part of the garden and gives Tara and her family the space they need to entertain in.

Also part of Tara’s brief to Holding, was a request to reduce the feeling of being overlooked in the garden. A challenge that almost all inner London gardens are faced with.

Holding chose to use a planting palette with a tropical twist.

Gravel between the paving stones allows for more planting (Harry Holding)
Gravel between the paving stones allows for more planting (Harry Holding)

Tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) and banana plants (Musa basjoo) provide the bones of the space, and their broad tropical foliage filters the view to the flats above in summer.

“What Holding has done with plants means we don’t feel overlooked at all. That is fantastic.” Tara told me excitedly.

Amongst the green, there are flashes of purple from Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and Eurybia × herveyi, and white from Cornus kousa and Astrantia major.

The garden material choices, Holding says, “reflect the contemporary interior of Tara’s house. The rusty steel edging, dark painted timber frame and deck, and natural stone, don’t detract from the planting, allowing the flowers to really pop.”

The garden was recently awarded the ‘Big Ideas, Small Budget’ award at the 2023 Society of Garden Design Awards.