A Family Garden Design in Dorking

High Meadow – A Multi Level Family Garden Designed For Adults and Children

After some time designing large projects in Kent and London, it was a great pleasure to be asked to design a garden for a family in my hometown of Dorking. The family were a professional couple in their early 40’s with two young children, and had moved to a house built in the 1980’s when the orchards of an old manor house were sold off for development. They didn’t like anything about the garden they had inherited, which lacked any character or interest whatsoever, giving me the ideal blank slate to radically redesign it as an exciting family space. The garden itself had been created by levelling across a site that had originally been steeply sloped, and was roughly square but with some interesting features to work with.

The Brief

Whilst challenging, sloping sites also present opportunities and interest that can be lacking from level ones, enabling space to be organised fully in 3 rather than 2 dimensions. The clients had a long list of requirements for the garden, to meet the need for family entertainment, private adult space, children’s play, attraction to wildlife, fruit production, privacy and preservation of beautiful views towards the North Downs. The possibility of creating several garden levels helped here in dividing the garden up for it’s different users. In all the garden has 4 levels, with a large lower lawn, ramping up to a narrow middle terrace for children to explore behind tall planting. The top level hides the children’s play area with a playhouse and log trail, again concealed behind tall grasses, which also hide the compost area, which recycles all plant waste on site. Lastly a very large split level curved deck provides the perfect adult space for enjoying a G&T and admiring the view towards the setting sun over the North Downs.

The Design

The design uses a circular theme to integrate the whole garden and this is carried through to all features from the large split-level raised deck and planting beds to the amphitheatre constructed from oak sleepers and used to reconcile the level changes and  divide the upper and lower garden levels via a narrow terrace. Planting is designed to add seasonal and spatial interest by the use of trees and hedges, and movement and excitement with a small palette of shrubs, grasses and perennials chosen for length of seasonal interest and ease of maintenance. The clients loved the design and were committed to implementing it without compromise. I used Sketchup from the outset and the clients absolutely loved the ability to ‘see’ their garden develop in 3D and walk and fly around it from early on in the design stage, which also made discussing (and sometimes scrapping) alternative ideas quick and easy. As one of the clients was Argentinian, the design also included an English interpretation of a classic Argentine parilla for those occasions when only the best barbeque will do!