Archive for the ‘town garden’ Category

Before and after – Somerset

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

I don’t usually post before and after pictures however some clients sent me some pictures of their garden a couple of years on from initial planting.  They also had just opened their garden for the first time as part of the village open gardens event and sent me an email full of enthusiasm:

…”Having not had any previous experience, we were a little apprehensive as to whether people would be interested.  As it turned out our fears were unfounded and we received very favourable comments from most of the 280+ visitors.
In order to explain the story of this comparatively recent garden, we produced a manual with “before and after” pictures. It also contained photocopies of your planting plans and the alphabetic plant note pages. We also had a copy of your letterhead to show that we had had professional help….”

The garden is full of texture, colour, movement and interest now.  There is less grass to mow creating more time and space for a bit of vegetable growing.

Working against a slope

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

Steps, retaining walls and levelled lawn optimising space in this garden where there is an overall 10 metre drop.

Circles – Poundbury

Monday, July 4th, 2016

A new garden on the Poundbury estate just outside Dorchester.  This garden is a slightly awkward shape, dominated by a lovely high curved wall, beyond the wall is another high brick wall with a circle embellishment that the clients were keen to reflect in this garden.

The new garden will be lushly planted around gravel circular areas for year round interest and enjoyment.

Tudor Square, Sheffield

Monday, September 17th, 2012

I find city breaks to be inspirational and this was once again true on a recent trip to Sheffield for a friend’s wedding.   As the bus approached the city centre I was struck by the harsh sky-scape, I could see some interesting architecture but noted the absence of mature trees.  However when I got off the bus and walked around the corner into Tudor Square I found myself in the middle of some very beautiful of public landscaping.

Giant pebble shaped raised beds carved from Yorkshire stone and huge cast bronze pebble sculptures.  The stone beds are reminiscent of giant bonsai containers, they are planted with specimen conifers, multi-stem birch, turf to picnic on or mixed plantings of Stipa tenuissima, and herbaceous perennials; a permanent sculptural installation, a fine example of art, design and horticulture.  The pebbles nestled around the edge of the square, grounding the surrounding buildings, tactile and organic.

Sheffield city centre is a fascinating place if you enjoy architecture and civic landscaping, check out the ‘Cheesegrater’, the ‘Soundhouse’, West Street for some interesting examples.

On the way home I stopped off at Chatsworth house to see Laura Ellen Bacon’s ‘Forms of Growth’ breathtaking examples of organic sculpture .

A carbon zero garden

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

A show garden is one of those totally unrealistic and exhausting projects that must be built in a week in all weathers only to be dismantled 3 days later! It is the sort of thing that I usually try to avoid however this time the show was very local to me, I used all recycled materials and the garden brought together design, horticulture, willow and willow weaving.   It was a garden commissioned by the Royal Bath and West  Society.

The garden was designed as an inspiring work space for willow weaving workshops as well showing off some well designed raised beds using locally reclaimed timber.  It was a carbon zero garden on account of its recycled materials, its locality, the fact that I grew the plants myself (these were mostly coppiced willows) and that everything would be reused again.

The garden was well received with a silver medal and it was a great show!

The Grove Hotel – Watford

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Three crafts – art, design and fine horticulture

I consider it part of my job to occasionally venture out from my Somerset garden design practice so last weekend I visited The Grove Hotel in Watford.   I first visited the garden soon after it opened about 10 years ago but what exciting changes have taken place since then!  Set in a leafy corner of Hertfordshire, this young garden has taken on an impressive air of maturity.

The original specimen trees with their gnarled bark and the old kitchen garden walls with their fan trained fruit are an important backdrop to the garden however the site has been completely redesigned to create a luxury hotel with 227 rooms complete with an 18 hole golf course.  This means 100’s of users on a daily basis, structure is everything in a garden of this sort. 

Car parks are screened at eye level with hedges and from upstairs windows with topiary and pleached hornbeam. 

Downstairs bedrooms rooms and outdoor seating areas are offered a suggestion of privacy using crisply clipped yew where the play of light and shadow add further interest.  Formal and relatively low maintenance these living walls soften the harsher architecture.

Box, hornbeam, yew and Magnolia are all used to create shelter, backdrops, illusions of seclusion, frame views, sub division of space, they direct your eye, hide surprises, edge paths…  Herbaceous perennials are used boldly in blocks, possibly more for their foliage than for their flowers, fresh shades of green against dark structural yew.  Splashes of colour enliven borders as flower come and go whilst the seasonal sculpture exhibition set within the garden beds and borders add drama and fun.

This is not a cheap garden, specimen plants have been used, there is permanent irrigation hidden within the beds and the horticultural skill and maintenance is excellent.

Gardens designed by Michael Balston

Design study trip to Paris

Monday, March 12th, 2012


Walking the city taking in the new and the old: contemporary ceramics by Ursula Morley at Galerie Helen Poree (, medieval art at Musee de Cluny, exciting architecture of the Institut du Monde Arabe, riverside sculpture park and winding public gardens (Quai St Bernard) and the Parc de Bercy.

Parc de Bercy with its long avenues, arbours, grids, box edged beds and tucked away seating is set beneath a vast canopy of semi mature trees.  Relying on structure rather than flowers (at this time of year anyway) it is a fully used public space.  Of the three big scale water interventions none were functional highlighting the cost and maintenance needs of such creations.  I understand that the Parc Andre Citroen has suffered a similar fate (although it is currently undergoing major restoration and refurbishment).  Indeed there were signs of decay already showing around Parc de  Bercy including the stone pergola; the pillars of which appear to be stone clad rather than solid stone, with this building technique showing signs of failure one wonders about the life expectancy of such big budget gardens and the potential disappointment of its users (including those who have seen the glitzy pictures and travelled to experience it).  I am looking forward to exploring London’s Olympic Parc which is centred around a natural water feature, the river Lea.

A winning garden in Shaftesbury

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

A lucky couple in Shaftesbury won a free £6000 garden makeover from Castle Gardens (garden centre, Sherborne) earlier this year.  I was commissioned to redesign the front garden which I helped plant up today. 

The front garden to this 1930′s brick house was dominated by a tidy lawn however the borders were very overgrown and the drive did not allow for the easy manoevering of vehicles.   I slightly modified the  layout of the front garden  in order to accommodate more space for parking and turning cars.  Plants were saved from the original beds and reused in part however the new borders are planted to create year round colour including shrub and standard roses (these are due to be planted late November).

The garden work was carried out by the landscape team at Castle Gardens.

Terracing on steep slope – Farnham

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

A steep neglected garden is transformed into a functional family garden with a contemporary feel, low maintenance planting, secret areas, decking and firepit. 

The planting design will provide a long season of interest,  grasses have been used for their movement, colour and architectural forms which persist into the winter.

This garden will be built in phases to fit in with a large extension planned for the house.  It is a fabulous site backing onto mature woodland.

Town garden – London

Friday, March 5th, 2010

This is a family garden on split levels and on a heavy clay loam, it has been designed to attract bees, create year round colour, secret areas for the children, a vegetable growing area and a new front garden.  In addition to the survey and detailed design, planting plans, drainage and electical plans were drawn up. 

Section of garden