Great Garden Design in Surrey

by theartofbespoke in Designer style at home

How one family gave their dated 1950s garden the wow factor.

When the new owners of a 1920s house in St George’s Hill, Surrey, modernised their home, they encountered a problem: suddenly the three-acre garden looked very old-fashioned indeed.

To bring it up to date, they brought in Wilson McWilliam Studio, one of the country’s leading garden-design practices. Their brief? To create a contemporary outdoor space with room for large-scale entertaining, as well as intimate family dinners.

There was a lot of work to do. ‘The whole of the garden was sloping, apart from a small area around the house,’ says Andrew Wilson. ‘The house itself is arts and crafts, but the garden had been modernised in the 1950s, so there was this big rockery and stream affair, along with lots of huge and choking rhododendron.’

‘The planting starts off regular and then starts to twist and turn, meandering to suggest a fluid movement.’

But revamping this vast garden wasn’t simply about aesthetics. There were practical reasons for changing it, too. ‘The owners have a young family and enjoy entertaining on a larger scale,’ he says. ‘They felt that they didn’t have anywhere to put a marquee, while the children didn’t have anywhere flat to play.’

Inspired by the lake that sits at the bottom of the lawn, Wilson came up with a ‘flow’ concept. The layout was then designed to suggest water flowing down the garden. ‘The planting starts off regular and then starts to twist and turn, meandering to suggest a fluid movement,’ he explains.

There was an existing swimming pool, which was modernised to create a deck-level pool with a gym and pool house attached. Wide, elegant steps now link it to the main terrace, which Wilson paved in pale sandstone. The result is a large space that wraps around the south side of the house. This, he feels, is one of the most successful parts of the redesign, since it directly addresses one of the clients’ issues. ‘Having this big terrace allows them to entertain either as a family or as a large social group,’ he says. ‘It means there’s much more useable space around the house.’

Other covetable features include a couple of secret gardens, one of which is home to a children’s playhouse. There’s also a small formal garden, where adults can enjoy an evening drink surrounded by scented roses. Visitors are also surprised to stumble across a second terrace down by the lake, which is perfect for parties, or just kicking back on a hot day.

Today, the garden strikes a perfect balance between the manicured and the wild, combining hip entertaining space with traditional English woodland. Wilson is rightly proud of it. ‘Suddenly the garden is full of life,’ he says, ‘not just in terms of colour and living planting, but of how the family use it.’

And this new lease of life lasts way beyond the summer. ‘You’ve got colour from the beginning of May, right through to November or December time. Originally it was all green – you’d have the rhododendrons that would flower in May and that’s it.’

As it stands, the garden could grace the pages of any design magazine. But it wasn’t always like that. ‘At one point the whole thing was just soil,’ says Wilson. ‘On Google Earth it looked like a quarry.’ Understandably, that’s not easy for a client to live with. ‘You have to manage their expectations, reassuring them that, at some point, this garden is going to look fantastic.’ And patience was required, for it took a while to get to that point. ‘From the start of design to completion was about two years,’ he says. ‘The build took about nine months.’

But, clearly, it was worth it – we can think of few places we’d rather spend a sunny afternoon. No wonder it keeps winning awards.

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