mylandscapes contemporary garden design london

drought-tolerant minimalism dorset courtyard

modern dry desert courtyard garden design sandbanks dorset england

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design & words Amir Schlezingeramir schlezinger

A Seaside Haven

Following the completion of an urban roof garden in Clerkenwell's St John Street, our clients' neighbour enjoyed a bird's-eye view of the space. A commercial architect, with a discerning eye for art and fine detail, the new client invited us to design and build a contemporary courtyard garden in his weekend home on the Dorset coast. The plot formed a 65-square-metre remnant of a home renovation, yet with an unusual outline, a 300-year-old heritage, authentic stone walls and a magnificent backdrop, the stage was set for an inspiring design.

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1. flora 2. walls 3. lights 4. stone 5. detail 6. levels 7. colour 8. location 9. logistics 10. sculpture

landscape architect designed modern coastal courtyard garden projectcontemporary garden dry raised bed detail with palm and sotolmodern desert agave planting english courtyard

1 flora

living sculpture

A sculptural array of desert plants distinguishes this modern dry garden near the Dorset seaside, where maritime artefacts compiled by our client complete a drought-tolerant planting design. With Agave and Dasylirion from Mexico, Cabbage, Jelly and Sago palm trees from New Zealand, Argentina and Japan, Euphorbia cactus from Ethiopia, and Lavender, grasses, Fan palm and Houseleeks from Mediterranean Europe, the diversities of evergreen, serrated and variegated foliage generate dramatic contours above sculpted tree trunks in a truly low maintenance dryscape – punctuated by a trio of tall ceramic pots.

2 walls

centuries-old boundary

With a 3-metre-high wall enveloping the site, beautifully restored in well-crafted rubblework, the courtyard's authentic, imposing backdrop instils a true sense of place as a textural focal point nestled between a contemporary garden and the Dorset hills beyond. Pointed in local lime mortar and irregularly coursed, the naturalistically ancient stone walling is highly conducive to modern lighting techniques, extending the garden's quintessence through grand architectural foliage with an alluring shadows and light interplay during daylight, which is further contrasted by theatrically striking night-time silhouettes.

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3 lights

expressive luminosity

With a dynamic design sequence, abundant in textures, large-scale walls, raised beds and stairways, the garden lighting captures every architectural nuance, accentuating a robust layout. To preserve the integrity of existing outer walls, the Hunza outdoor luminaires are utilised entirely in uplighting and cross lighting methods, concealed within step risers, the sculpture aperture niche and among alcoves, pots and elevated planting beds. Viewed primarily from high above, through a series of aerial vantage points in the home's entrance and mezzanine levels, the courtyard's illumination at nightfall enriches a highly structural planting design with mystique and warmth.

4 stone

timeless masonry

Two types of smooth sawn sandstones were utilised throughout the courtyard's design; their light grey and deep brown hues emphasise a contrastive combination of harmonious natural materials. Large-scale floating steps, capacious landings and specially handcrafted corner edges, juxtaposed with square flagstones, articulate a design study in detail, minimalism and stone masonry. This compositional character heightens the distinctiveness and genuineness of an unusual outdoor space, enhancing its sense of antiquity, grandeur and timelessness.

smooth sandstone patio garden step detail with paving raised bed and lavenderarchitectural tall glazed ceramic pot with garden succulentmodern sculpture garden wall art

5 detail

minimalist outlook

With levels, lighting, planting, surfaces and walling forming a layered pentad of detailed designs, the renewed courtyard exhibits a garden abound in visual interest – delineated through a minimalist mindset. This captivating amalgam of juxtapositions, sited in the aridness of a sultry, discrete walled courtyard perched amid the Dorset countryside, merges our fervent ideology of site-specific designs in an innovative approach with the pragmatism of a modernist architect client.

6 levels

rhythmic emphasis

An elongated level change of twenty steps leads downwards into the courtyard from an upper parking space. We eased off this transition by lowering the risers and extending the treads with large sandstone flags, culminating in a stretch of artificial grass in an intermediate landing, evocative of Dorset hills in the horizon. Four angular steps, built with stone quarried in full height, float above slight plinths, and form an ergonomic entrance into the garden, while a further edge to edge step, oriented at a converse angle, guides towards a dining area in the lower patio. The ultimate placement, fluid rhythm and lustrous stone, thoughtfully detailed and meticulously constructed, mitigate a challenging and rather tedious existent topography, transformed into an effectively ornamental, yet integrally functional, liveable element.

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7 colour

sandiness aplenty

A subtle colour palette graduates tonal hues from desert tawniness to muted mauveine across newly rendered walls, fitly highlighting the coarseness of the stone-clad high perimeter, while enhancing further sense of depth multidimensionally in orthogonal niches. This sandy spectrum preserves the authenticity of a coastal environment, and complements the intrinsic qualities of a drought-tolerant planting scheme, our client's garden design style and adjacent architecture.

8 location

seaside scorcher

South-facing and greatly shielded in a sweltering hot microclimate, the courtyard is carved out four metres into a quaint Dorset hillside. Completely concealed externally, this oasis of foliage and art provides a bona-fide modern courtyard garden for our client at weekends and holidays – functioning self-sufficiently to maximise outdoor pleasure. The 4-hour drive from North London, immersed in a great succession of monumental heritage sites, concludes a southwestwardly journey to reveal a somewhat extrinsic materials vernacular for a Londoner... While bewildering at first, this surreal association of exotic weather, divergent builders' jargon and undulating country terrain has grown throughout the project to become a part of our design repertoire.

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9 logistics

south west england

We relocated to South West England for a month, and while 5 tonnes of sublime sandstone was being prepared in China, quarried by Farrar Natural Stone, we commenced this unique, exciting undertaking. The design features a minimalist desert theme, apt for such a scorcher of a south-facing subterranean courtyard garden, interlaced with ethnic and modern seaside art and sculpture, where architectural essence is defined by both a clean-lined layout and majestic sculptural plants.

10 sculpture

outdoor gallery

The opportunity to fully engage in a sculptural scheme on the South West coast not only enabled an insightful design and build process, but also a delightful encounter with some witty Dorset folklore. The primary impetus of this project, underlined by inspiration derived through studying a great mentor, the Arizonan landscape architect Steve Martino, stirred a site-conscious, client-focused blueprint. With a highly structural fabric, an anthology of artworks collected by the client and a unique gamut of architectural plants, this courtyard garden defines an autonomous stage as a living outdoor gallery.

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– coda –

Blissful Sunshine

We spent four weeks reinventing this old courtyard garden into a contemporary showpiece, preceded by three months of long-distance visits to Dorset, rigorous planning and off-site preparation with our suppliers, subcontractors and plant nurseries to produce a one-off bespoke garden – the centrepiece of our client's home. We navigated a chasmic gradient via a smooth progression of steps, remodelled an awkwardly shaped vertex into an aperture for a sculpture display, and replaced an old-fashioned trompe l'oeil with digital wall art to boot. While the tender plants establish and flourish, this heavenly refuge continues to thrive under the seaside sunrays of Dorset's coastline, by the enchanting sandy beaches of the English Channel.