-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Prue's thoughts on the secret garden

Prue is the garden designer who's helping us... see here and here for background

I'd forwarded on Eric's emails to her, to get her input on the secret garden especially in terms of how it should be shaped, positioned, etc. Here's her replies:

Extracts from email from Prue - March 23

"I've been thinking about your internal courtyard and how it should be positioned. It almost appears that the courtyard needs to be designed first and the house and all the rooms designed around it.

(She went on to say that using the garden to tie the buildings together, as Eric suggests is a very good idea... but) I think part of the space could be active for sitting/ small entertaining/breakfasting in, and part be inactive for looking and contempating either from cloistered walkways or a conservatory.

A few thoughts...

It will need to be enclosed on all sides to protect the garden & plants from harsh northerly hot winds and summer sun, also in winter protecting all the plant from cold south westerlies and the frost.

It would also be good to have the option to be inside the courtyard but still have a bit of a view out across the surrounding landsape at some point within the courtyard. This could be done with a wall with window openings (shutters to keep it enclosed when needed) looking toward the north, or a glassed in walkway partway or completely joining two wings of the house looking into the courtyard on one side and out to the garden on the other.

Also perhaps a balcony overlooking the space, on the north or west side as this will cast a bit more shadow across the courtyard in summer eliminating some of the hot afternoon sun but still allow for morning sun in winter.

The inclusion of arbours/pergolas with deciduous climbers will also give protection in summer and light in winter. This could be over an active area

A conservatory extending into the space from a living area, or main bedroom.

A pond or water course that will increase the air moisture content while aiding in keeping its surrounds cool.

A breeze-way along a cloistered walkway. Breeze in the shade nearby to water acts as a bit of an air conditioner.

Recycling water, catching the water from the low side and pumping back up to the high side either for use as irrigation or for a water course.

Probably most importantly would be planting one or two very hardy deciduous trees to give an upper canopy to shade the hotter, sunnier spots in summer ie Gleditsia triacanthos 'Shademaster', or if possible a Jacarandah (they are stunning at christmas time but not too partial to frosts as a young tree)

As the site is on a slope, this garden can be built up to almost level (it would be nice to have a couple of steps either up to a deck or conservatory, or down to a cool shady area) therefor allowing for a generous depth of good growing compost and soil media. Also for its own tank for irrigation and pond which could be built under the house.


A lot of gardening books on Mediterannean, Spanish and Moorish gardens show enclosed courtyards, cloistered spaces and secluded shady enclaves. Perhaps start with those. I also saw in a magazine a year or so ago, and can't remember if I bought it, a corrugated iron and timber house in some exposed area of either Australia or NZ that had a huge internal couryard with enormous rustic timber sliding doors that opened the internal to the external environment. It looked absolutely fantastic. It was all very minimal.

Even Japanese garden design is a good place to search for more ideas. They are big into internal coutyards. Although smaller and a different climate they give a serene feeling and can be replicated for your purpose.

I have also had a client in St Kilda who's house was built around an internal pond which acted as a tank and water storage (overflow and watering capabilities for the back garden). The kitchen living space was built around two sides while the bathroom and a bedroom looked in from the other. It was a lovely outlook from the living space, and functional.

Extracts from my reply - 30 March

I like the suggestion that the space could be multi-purpose, but I still want there to be parts that are quieter and contemplative, "secret". But, given it's going to have some traffic around it anyway, it would make sense to have an area for sitting I agree. In our brief to Eric we asked him to design in a whole lot of different
verandah-ey type areas, so we can have different ones by season, mood, etc.

I love the idea of letting the garden have a view sometimes... shutters would be nice(very Mallorcan!) but even better would be something you could open out / slide back / whatever so it's almost like part of the wall goes away, like in that garden you saw in the magazine. I'm not so keen on the idea of having glass walkways as I
think it might feel a bit too modern, but I guess it all depends on the execution; we could always build a verandah railing around it to soften the effect, or make it feel a bit like an Edwardian glass house. (I love the glasshouses at Kew, especially the littler one that grows all the gourds! Speaking of which, gourds are really cool, don't know if they're possible to grow there, I'd guess they need a
tropical climate but no idea really.... :-)

The balcony idea could work really well too, especially if we made it perhaps a bit more extended than you would normally expect (it could have pillars to hold it up. Then it could function as a climbing frame / gazebo type thing too.

I also like the idea of having a pond that doubles as water storage tank and borders onto some rooms... We could grow water lilies in it perhaps, plus the reflections would be very soothing. In fact, imagine having french doors from an inside room opening onto the pond itself, you could sit and dangle your feet in it!

In fact, I like all your suggestions! The challenge is just working out how to combine it with the house.

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