Grand gardens

Millboard discuss the various design approaches available to help self-builders achieve a truly ‘premium’ outdoor space

Great outdoor spaces reflect the style and ambience of the properties that they belong to – and they also communicate the temperaments of the owners.

Designs that step outside of those tenets have a tendency to be jarring, or worse, uninspiring. Happily, there’s never been a better time to immerse yourself in landscaping as the diversity of available options means that everybody can find a way to make their gardens marry up with their houses, and with their personalities.

Generally speaking, contemporary premium garden design falls into two camps – hyper luxe (think of sleek hotel courtyards with muted colours and flashes of chrome) and naturalistic (which can mean anything from wild meadow flowers to lawns punctuated with showy topiary). But in between these two polarities sits an entire smorgasbord of options. From comfortable and creative bohemian hideaways to lap-of-luxury outdoor living rooms, gardens offer so many opportunities for self-expression.

What holds these themes together under the banner of ‘premium garden design’ is the finish and commitment to the idea. Premium design doesn’t dip its toe tentatively in a tin of red cedar fence paint, it goes all-out with teal, magenta, extravagant blooms, and flamboyant foliage.

The other marker of quality is, unavoidably, quality. Premium design calls for premium materials, so these gardens are more likely to be spruced up with products like the Exteriors range by Farrow and Ball than the high street value range. They’ll also contain expertly mapped out lighting, perfectly choreographed to highlight this tree or that water feature.

Naturally, such expense doesn’t want to be mistaken for inferior products so these materials will be used in ways that cheaper alternatives simply can’t be. Decking, for example, takes on an entirely different character in a premium garden. Whereas cheap softwood timber decks will support algal growth, turning them into surprise ice rinks for their owners, highly engineered composite boards such as Millboard or Trex are specifically designed to be water and slip resistant. They can therefore be used in unexpected and exciting ways.

The Ideal Home Show’s judges recently awarded the gold medal to an inspired garden scheme that innovatively mixed embered composite boards with bare copper frothing greenery and multiple water features. The resulting Javan forest idyll would’ve been unworkable with lesser materials.

Unlike interior spaces, gardens constantly evolve, so don’t be afraid to make bold statements. In fact, in some ways this can be of greater importance than expense when it comes to achieving an extravagant finish, so if your budget is limited, approach your design with chutzpah and you’ll reap the rewards, whatever your aesthetic leanings.

What has fallen out of favour is the middle ground – the safe option of two square lawns and a water feature. Unimaginative patches of concrete are also on the backslide, for the poor visuals and the environmental concerns around the use of the material. And regardless of theming, whether you go for ultra- modern or traditional, flow is important. Starkly segmented areas can be unwelcoming, so divisions are better indicated by banks of ‘pleached’ trees or by walls softened by trailing plants.

If the riot of styles available is slightly overwhelming, you can aim for one of the three current dominant trends – bohemian, indoors/outdoors or living walls. Narrowing your focus always strengthens your garden goals so let’s look at these in turn.

The relaxed gaiety of the bohemian hippy retreat is highly achievable. To create this carefree style, you’ll need to think about layering rich textures and colour palettes to cultivate a lived-in look. This sort of design scheme works best as a secret garden within a garden – use part of your space as a seating area (beachy composite decking can add to the serene, ‘edge-of-the-world’ vibe), and surround it with oceans of meadow flowers, climbing morning glories and clematis. If you’ve some good established trees in the area, you could hang a quality cotton hammock like the fringed ones available from Tropical Hammocks.

Another major trend is ‘extending the indoors out’. Essentially, this can mean anything from recreating living-room style spaces in the garden to installing full-scale patio kitchens. The former approach is accessible to most, and makes such an impact. Firstly, you’ll want to cultivate a relaxed seating area with an enticing rattan set (suppliers include B&Q and Out and Out.

These seating areas can be dressed with sculptural walls, potted ferns and set atop a high finish flooring system, like Millboard’s Brushed Basalt decking or Tile Mountain’s Outdoor Mid Grey Porcelain slabs.

Finally, if you are feeling adventurous, the trend for living walls shows no sign of abating, and they currently adorn countless prestigious and prize-winning gardens. These walls look absolutely stunning when brimming with densely planted fruits and florals.

Companies like Treebox make it easy to get going with their Easiwall-Pro system. This is manufactured in the UK from 80 per cent recycled materials and its modular design makes vertical planting a breeze.

Whatever you opt for, remember to foreground greenery and to steer clear of vast expanses of concrete (unless you’re going for a Brutalist look of course). Aside from that rule of thumb, there are no absolute constraints, so have fun infusing your outside space with your own creative approach!