The rise of artificial grass

by Jane on February 5, 2024

Apparently around 10% of gardens contain plastic grass now. Strange that we have happily got rid of plastic bags in shops, only to cover our lawns with them!

Unfortunately, it’s an ecological disaster. As the Society for Garden Designers says: “Not only do these products contribute to habitat loss; they also cause plastic pollution, destroy living soil, leak microplastics into waterways, cause flooding, contribute to urban heat islands due to the amount of heat they retain and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in their production.”

A damning summary. For more details, please see this leaflet from the SGD. In addition, they also need more brushing and cleaning than a patio – if there are pets that use it, then this becomes a weekly task.

For alternatives here are some ideas (also from the SGD):

  • Grass – a traditional lawn is sustainable (mow with electric mower) good for nature, safe for animals and children
  • Clover – a very good drought-tolerant alternative to grass. No need to mow or water, stays green all year round and has bee-friendly flowers all summer
  • Chamomile – also needs less attention than grass, helps improve the soil and attracts pollinators
  • A ‘tapestry lawn’ – a mix of low-growing flowering plants. Low maintenance, very attractive to look at.
  • For a hard-wearing sports surface, use Pratia pedunculata – an evergreen plant that has white flowers in spring and summer, but is low-growing and will take even deep shade.

© Alister Thorpe


A garden transformation for a 30s house

by Jane on September 21, 2022

I had the pleasure of designing a garden for a close friend in Milton Keynes.  It’s an example of how the same space can have a completely different feel to it once redesigned, even before plants have been put in.

The previous owners had small children, and the garden was entirely designed as a child’s play paradise – slide, swings, Wendy house, soft surfaces to fall on, a willow arch to hide in and a shady nook at the far end as a den.  Unfortunately the play area split the garden down the middle – and it was a narrow longish garden anyway, so it felt cramped and crowded.

view of garden before work with play area


The new owner had one grown-up son and wanted a place to look at when working from home in her first-floor study, and to sit outside in at leisure, with some outside entertaining.  Her son needed a bike shelter, and the shed at the far end needed some renovation.  The house dining area was in the conservatory facing the garden, and views were important.  “I want to sit and look at greenery” she said.

I could see that the garden would feel much more spacious once the play area was taken up, and the space could be used in a different way, with more of a flow from one area to another, and planting to emphasise the flow and to provide privacy and lushness.  The plan we agreed on had a curved lawn and path, which helped the narrow garden feel wider as it drew the eye from side to side.  Curves also meant that eventually the planting would conceal some of the garden from immediate view, making it seem bigger and more interesting. The area near the house was shaded ,but this was preferred to sitting in the sun, so the patio was kept there.

We spent several months finding a landscaper, as they are in short supply because of the lockdown increasing the popularity of gardens.  I had produced a specification for the landscaping, to help brief landscapers and to compare their quotes.

Chameleon Landcapes were a real find. James and his team worked really hard even in the very warm weather we had this summer, they followed the brief to the letter and came up with creative solutions when unexpected things came along.  They turned up when they said they would and kept the client informed, and they kept the site very tidy considering the volume of mud and rubble they had to move!!  The client would really recommend them.

The garden only had very narrow access down the side of the house and Chameleon were able to use smaller equipment – a digger and dumper truck.  There was a lot to clear away, including things that were only discovered once the deck and play area were removed – remnants of many patios and paths gone before! They also had to create a soakaway under the patio and lawn to deal with the downpipe from the conservatory.

Lots of rubble and layers of slabs under the garden surface

As the house faced north-east, the patio would be in shade most of the time, which suited the clients.  A stone patio in this situation would need a lot of maintenance to stay clear of slippery green algae etc, as it would not dry out easily, so we chose a porcelain slab instead.  Porcelain doesn’t absorb moisture and is easy to maintain.  Here is the patio laid, with the metal edging providing a rough guide to the path laid out on the earth.  The edges will be hammered into the ground to provide a smooth edge to the lawn that can be mown over.

Porcelain patio laid in garden

Here are two pictures of the finished design, before new plants have been added.  The utility area at the back has been hidden by a trellis, with plans for a climbing rose in front of it.  There will be seats in the ‘shady nook’ at the back under the apple tree, and also at the end of the lawn, to make the most of the changing light and the new planting to sit among. A tree will be planted on the left side, to help screen the view of the house at the end. There’ll be more to show you when the plants come – the client is exploring a purple, blue, white and pink colour scheme.


The client said: ‘Even though we haven’t done the planting yet, I am already using the garden a lot more and I’m delighted with the design and the peaceful atmosphere of the space. There are a lot of choices to make in designing a garden and for a novice like me it was great to be able to talk through my ideas, get a second opinion and advice, and particularly to see the computer generated mock-ups that really brought the design to life. Jane quickly understood what I wanted and was able to produce a design that captured my vision. It also made briefing the landscapers far easier. The garden will give me many years of entertaining, relaxation and interest , so definitely money well spent.’


Oriental gardens, and an English version

October 27, 2021

I have been asked to design gardens with an Oriental influence recently, particularly from the Chinese and Japanese traditions. I haven’t seen these gardens in their home countries, but there are examples in the West that have inspired many. My most recent clients were inspired by one in Vancouver – and so were two people […]

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Landscaping for a long narrow garden, step by step

March 11, 2021

Thanks to my clients for the photos in this post. The Design Brief My clients had a long, narrow, flat garden laid mostly to lawn, in Beckenham.  They wanted more privacy – both visually and from the noise of the adjacent road.  They had just added a modern extension with bifold doors onto a patio, […]

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Birds in your garden: 3 steps to attract and keep them

November 13, 2020

This time of year many of us start to feed the birds. But what else should we do to encourage them to flourish in the garden? We know they need help – even sparrows’ numbers are decreasing – and we love to look at them. This post shows you 3 main things to consider. 1. […]

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5 Steps to Successful Organic Lawn Care

April 22, 2020

I hope you are all keeping well during this strange time of lockdown against the corona virus. It seems everyone wants to tackle their gardens at the moment, and in the UK it’s been perfect weather to get out there to do that. A favourite project is improving the lawn, and here’s a post to […]

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When is a good time to start planning my garden redesign?

January 30, 2020

Here’s a great article on how to work with a designer and what to expect – including how long in advance to book them.  This is for the UK by the online house and garden magazine/forum ‘Houzz’.  Houzz also have another article here on Design Costs (not including landscaping or plants).

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Australian ‘back yard’ garden tips

January 15, 2020

Here’s an article from the ‘Houzz’ website on Australian gardening – with a photo from one of my designs in it, from Towcester in the UK! I enjoy looking at gardens from a different culture – The Australians always have a shaded space next to the house as the sun gets so hot. They practically […]

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Summer 2019 Open Gardens

October 18, 2019

It’s been awhile since I wrote a blog and I have some varied visits to blog about – the first ones in June. My village, Wappenham in south Northamptonshire, once again opened its gardens for the National Garden Scheme, and there were all sorts of gardens to see. I didn’t get round all of them […]

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Small garden ideas from Chelsea by Houzz

June 17, 2019

I thought this post from the home and gardens website ‘Houzz’ was worth including:

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