I watched the first episode of The House That 100k Built last night. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s one of the most inspiring programmes of its type on TV. I especially love the way Piers Taylor inspires the use of alternative, sometimes waste, materials to create something really individual and inexpensive that elevates the design to another level.
As with all renovation projects, the garden is often forgotten until the moment when the contingency budget is used up and there just aren’t any more resources left. It makes me sad and frustrated because the houses are amazing, but they could be so much better with a garden that has been thought through and implemented with the same passion.
I completely understand why budgets get eaten up. All you need is a couple of challenges along the way that need urgent attention and, poof, the money you’d set aside for a new terrace has disappeared into thin air. But even when funds are depleted, I do think it’s worth taking a step back to think through how the garden connects to the house.
The couple last night used gravel for the driveway and areas around the house which made sense because it’s one of the cheapest hard landscaping materials and funds were really tight, but using cheap materials doesn’t mean you can’t create a well-designed space.
If you get the design and balance of a garden right from the start, it’s possible to change the materials later if needs be. So, for example, with areas to be hard landscaped, you’ll need a sub-base appropriate for use whatever material you choose. So, in the case of a driveway, gravel could easily be scraped off and replaced with something else later if the infrastructure is right from day one.
One of my main criticisms of development sites is the lack of planting, especially against the house wall. If the hard landscaping material meets the house wall it always looks really harsh. In front gardens, you risk your beautiful new renovated house looking like a carpark rather than a welcoming entrance to your home.
Plants, in comparison to hard landscape materials, are cheap. You can buy small and watch them grow. As long as the soil doesn’t breach the Damp Proof Course (DPC) there won’t be any issues. If the levels are a challenge then leave the finished soil level lower than the finished level of the hard landscaping. Once the beds are full of plants, you won’t even notice the difference.
So, enough said, I’m passionate about gardens. If you’re planning a renovation project, I urge you to take a bit of time out to consider the design of the garden ahead of time so that you keep some money aside and don’t have to scrabble around at the end trying to make the best of a bad situation.
You don’t have to do the whole thing at once, but if you think about it ahead of time you’ll be able to ensure that the areas that need to be clean and elegant from day one are done in a way that will stand the test of time and won’t require destructing later when you realise you’ve made a big mistake.