Sometimes, when we’re invited to work in large gardens, the client is happy for us to create set-piece features or stylised areas. In this garden, in Hilton, Derbyshire, we’ve created a number of different sections over the last three years – a rose garden; a croquet lawn and knot garden; and a Mediterranean garden. But the feature we’re going to describe in some detail here is a pair of symmetrical herbaceous borders.
The brief was a simple one – “change the view of the main lawn from the front of the house”.
With a brief as open as that, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. The view from the house down the main lawn was interrupted by a couple of old flower beds (pictured below).
We decided to remove these old beds to allow an unhindered view down to a large lake and a pine tree, 90 metres from the house at the end of the lawn. To frame this view and to provide a relaxing seating area we designed a pair of deep, herbaceous planting beds which took the form of two crescents facing each other. The view to the pond goes straight through the gap in the middle, making the pine tree the focal point (pictured below during construction).
To ensure these two beds didn’t end up looking like two curved walls dropped in the middle of the lawn, we designed them to start off very low and gradually get taller as they curved around, then get shorter again as they curved back. This design gives the beds the appearance of rising gently out of the lawn, and also gives the viewer situated between the two beds unrestricted views around the rest of the garden.
To increase these views further, we interspersed staggered timber uprights along the rear edge of the beds (below, during construction), and we filled in the remaining rear edges with Prunus lusitanica hedging.
We planted the beds in the summer of 2013, and two years later the hedge plants have almost reached the correct height to match the timber uprights. Once the hedge is the correct height, the timber uprights will be cut to match and we will have achieved a smooth, seamless curve.
Our clients expressed a preference for mixed planting with plenty of flowers and colour all year round. To accomplish this, our planting scheme included some large structural shrubs, including Cornus alba ‘Midwinter Fire’, Philadelphus coronaria ‘Aurea’, Wiegela florida ‘Variegata’, Fatsia japonica and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’.
These were accompanied by a whole host of smaller herbaceous plants, including Monarda ‘Cambridge Scarlet’, Achillea ‘Cerise Queen’, Peony ‘Festiva maxima’, Salvia nemorosa ‘East Friesland’ and Heuchera ‘Blackberry Jam’. Further structure and winter interest came from Buxus sempervirens spheres, Helleborus orientalis and Lavandula ‘Hidcote’.
This planting was interspersed with spring bulbs: Allium, Narcissus, Glanthus and four varieties of Tulip. In total, 70 different plant species were used, filling two beds of 25 metres in length and a maximum width of 3.5 metres.
Small businesses like us have miniscule marketing budgets. If you can increase your exposure, or your media presence, without spending any money, then generally that’s a good thing.
One way to achieve this is by entering into Theo Paphitis’ Small Business Sunday competition on Twitter. Theo Paphitis is chairman of Rymans, Robert Dyas, and a former star of Dragons Den on BBC TV. Each Sunday, Theo invites small businesses to tweet him a description of their business, using the hashtag #SBS, and each week he chooses 6 winners. He re-tweets those winners to his 450,000 Twitter followers, and the winners also spend a week on the home page of the #SBS site. Winning businesses benefit from the extra exposure, publicity and networking opportunities. There are in the region of 1,800 entries each week, so 1,800/6 = a 300-1 chance of winning.
After trying on and off for over 2 years, on 6th July 2015 we were selected as a winner. After the winners were announced on Monday evening our Twitter feed @lushgardens went crazy. We received congratulations and messages from dozens of other small businesses, some previous winners, others not.
It says on the #SBS site:
Now, 7 days later, when all the fuss has died down a bit, I thought I’d take a look at the results of the extra exposure, to see in real terms what the numbers were like. Using Twitter Analytics and Google Analytics, it’s possible to look at exposure and clicks through to our site. Just bear in mind that I’m no statistician.
Starting with tweet impressions (how many times our tweets appeared on peoples’ feeds). Over the last 7 days our tweets (or re-tweets of our tweets) were seen 31,200 times. The previous week this figure was 946. That’s a 3,198% increase. The majority of that increase was seen on the Monday (the day the winners were announced) and the Tuesday.
Our Small Business Sunday winning tweet is below:
The top right figure shows that this one tweet (the one re-tweeted by Theo) accounted for over 23,000 of those impressions.
Our Twitter follower count also rose dramatically during our #SBS winning week, up 94 to 2,650, a rise of 3.67%
As all our marketing is aimed at bringing people to the website, the real interest to me is seeing what the extra exposure meant in terms of actual clicks through to our site.
As #SBS is a Twitter phenomenon, the first area to look at should be Twitter hits on the site, taken from Google Analytics. During the year July 2014 to July 2015 we received 42 hits via Twitter (not very good at all, must do better). During the 48 hours after we were announced as #SBS winners we received 36 hits – almost our entire annual amount, although admittedly 36 hits isn’t a massive amount either. But if you compare this week to the previous week our Twitter hits rose by 740%.
The knock-on effect can also be seen on other social media – we publicised the win on Facebook and on Linkedin, and comparing to the previous week’s figures Linkedin referrals were up 450% and Facebook referrals up 52%.
If you compare page views week to week, they were up a modest 4.69% – presumably because the vast majority of our page views come from search results, not social media. Unique page views were up 8.6% and time spent on site up by 62%.
Taking ‘sessions’ coming from social media as a measure, our week as #SBS winners saw a 153% increase over the week before, rising to 119 from 47.
It’s too soon to measure the effect of appearing on the #SBS site homepage, as the listing only went live on Thursday evening.
So what is the Small Business Sunday effect?
Well, as I said at the start, any increase in exposure is a good thing. If you pay nothing to achieve it then even better. Our rise in exposure was very short-lived, but the rise in our Twitter followers will I think last a lot longer. We saw a modest rise in website visitors, but given most of our web traffic comes from areas other than social media, we’re quite happy with that.
I think the key thing to do if you win #SBS is to build on it – there are press release templates on the #SBS winners site which you can use to gain local media coverage. We didn’t do this – if your business is as small as ours, there aren’t enough hours in the day as it is! But we are very grateful to Theo and the team around #SBS for choosing our tweet and for the boost it’s given us.
What I haven’t mentioned is the fact that the #SBS winners’ community, which we’ve hardly experienced, seem to be very supportive and will, I’m sure, prove to be a useful network. This is the one aspect of Small Business Sunday which I think will have lasting benefits for us.
If you are a small business and you’re on Twitter, it costs nothing to enter #SBS, so why not give it a try? Full details are here on the #SBS site.
An empty canvas is a living wonder… far lovelier than certain pictures.
In 2012 we were contacted by architects David Granger Associates. They asked us to design a large family garden to accompany a school house conversion project they’d been working on.
The site was large. Nearly 3,500 square meters of overgrown scrub and meadow, with a six metre change of level from one end to the other. Sitting within it was a derelict, arrow-shaped, brick-built school house. You could see it had once been a beautiful building, with semicircular windows and a quaint little bell tower. After its life as a school, the building had been home to a light engineering firm. Remnants of dilapidated out-buildings and sheds were dotted about the site.
The task at hand was to bring this building and the grounds back to life in the form of a stylish, modern home with a large family garden. The architect has already designed his scheme for the interior and the renovation of the building. We were asked to design a sympathetic landscaping scheme for the grounds, to include all hard landscaping, planting and outdoor features. An empty canvas if there ever was one.
Before we go further, here is that canvas:
After meeting and talking directly to the clients and looking at the architect’s proposals, we drew up a list of required features for the garden. As well as the practical items like a gravel driveway, and working out the retaining walls and steps around the property, the clients wanted two lawns, several raised feature planting beds, an outdoor kitchen, decked areas, two water features, privacy screening and lots of attractive planting. We also proposed a summer house to sit alongside an existing pond.
Working closely with the client, the architect and the contractor, Lychgate Homes, our designs were approved. We drew up several detailed plans for the contractor, including paving layout plans and decking and kitchen construction drawings, and we produced our own detailed planting plans. The final specification document ran to 15 pages, and construction of the hard landscaping began in November 2012.
Anyway, enough chat, what does the garden look like?
Large family garden
Around the perimeter of the lawns we have planted deep herbaceous borders featuring LED up-lighters to highlight the existing trees, and around one large ash tree we have designed a hexagonal timber seat.
Closer to the house we designed solid block raised planters. These were clad with Stonemarket Haus split-face slate tiles – cream for the planters and gray for the water feature. Each planter has its own themed planting scheme. One contained Heuchera ‘Blackberry Jam’ and Tellima Grandiflora; another featured Lavender ‘Hidcote’ and Rosa ‘Aphrodite’, underplanted with Allium Hollandicum and Lilium regale and a feature Stipa gigantea grass. The paving throughout was Bradstone Smooth Natural Sandstone in Dune and Silver Grey.
At the front of the property we added a large, gravel driveway from a gated entrance. Outside the front door we included a large granite circle, flanked with containers and more shrub and herbaceous planting.
Outdoor kitchen – al fresco dining
In the rear garden we designed a decked, outdoor kitchen area with barbecue, sink and granite worktops. This was complimented by a large summer house with storage, soft seating and a flat-screen TV. The decking was made from Ecodek, a low maintenance recycled composite material.
We left it eighteen months before going back to photograph, in order to give the plants time to mature and fill out. As it turned out, we went back exactly three years after our first visit. We’re very pleased with the results.
Our client gave us this lovely testimonial:
Anna spent the time and effort upfront to understand what we liked, wanted and didn’t want in our new garden and came up with some fabulous, creative designs which we worked with her to finalise.
Once the designs were finalised, Anna created a detailed specification of the hard landscaping work required and helped us to appoint a suitable contractor to perform the work to our satisfaction. Anna’s time, energy and commitment to ensure the contractor carried out the work to the required standard was impressive and undoubtedly added enormous value to the project.
Anna personally planted all of the soft landscaping which was no mean feat, sometimes in appalling weather conditions! She carried out the overall project to plan; both on time and on budget and without doubt to the standards promised and agreed.
The end result is a credit to Anna and her team and we are delighted. The garden speaks for itself and every time we go into it we see another new colour or flower emerging. This is a large garden and Anna had to start from scratch with both the design and planting. There was very little to start with and her vision and ability to create a wonderful, outdoor space for us is a rare skill.
She has been excellent to work with, always willing to give her time and opinion and has stayed in touch to ensure that we remain satisfied with our new garden.”
Photography © Dan Barker 2015
Three years ago I went to visit the site of a building conversion with a view to landscaping the grounds. I took my usual array of photos and went off to draw up some design proposals. Happily the designs were approved and over the next 18 months the building was completely converted into a family home and the landscaping scheme was built and planted.
After giving the garden a year to mature and settle in, we went back today with our cameras. We’ll be posting a full write up later, but for now, here are 9 sets of before and after shots, taken exactly 3 years apart, showing the complete transformation.
The project was undertaken by:
David Granger – Architect
Lychgate Homes – Building conversion and hard landscaping installation
Lush Garden Design – Landscaping design; planting design and installation