From tennis court to island paradise

In part two of our Ascot garden design diary, we reveal how the Abbotswood team overcame the challenging terrains of a tarmac tennis court, waterlogged lawn and acid woodland…

One of the major excavations in the early stages of the project was the removal of the garden’s most prominent feature – an overgrown tennis court surrounded by 25m of 15m high leylandii.

“In our initial draft we toyed with the idea of keeping the court and providing some better screening, but it became apparent it was in a bad state and the client was not sure it was needed so it was suggested it should be removed,” adds Rob. “Ultimately, this became one of the best decisions for the whole project as it freed up the garden to make an uncluttered landscape maximising the views of the surrounding mature trees.”

It took a fleet of 20-tonne muck-away lorries, multiple 14-tonne diggers and tracked dumpers to level the surface – and two days to remove the towering trees. Always striving to be as environmental as possible on our projects, we used soil recycled from the building site to fill the gaping hole and reused a 3m high pile of wood chips generated by the leylandii for mulches and paths. The whole area was recontoured with imported retained soil, creating sinuous, organic shapes to overcome the rectangular impression. Throughout the project, we advocated keeping as many of older trees – Scots pine, birch, oak, beech – which surrounded the site as they gave a sense of permanence, with roots in the former landscape.

It was during the tennis court excavations that we discovered the garden had a high water table – which made it prone to water logging – and the dampness of the site was further exacerbated by the roof of the newly emerging house, which currently had no gutters, which was disgorging its contents onto the lawns. With acid soil to boot, any plantings would need to be able to withstand the rigours of this difficult footing and also be eye-catching; after all, this part of the garden formed the main views from the house.

“We designed a series of island beds, which would subtly divide the expansive lawn and create mystery. These acted like an ‘entrance’ to the rest of the garden with plantings that included large clusters of winter flowering heathers and shuttlecock ferns, as well as ornamental grasses that mirrored the plantings on the terrace and the meadow beyond, interspersed with specimen trees and shrubs.”

Trees that could cope with the poorest conditions were selected for the wettest ground, such as Taxodium distichum and Metasequoia glyptostroboides, and these formed the nucleus of our planting in this area, which we came to call the ‘Pinetum’. The swamp cypress was also chosen because of its striking, coppery foliage in autumn, which would contrast with the existing conifers.

“Another key planting was a large copse of 35 white Himalayan birch, whose ghostly stems shone brightly from the surrounding backdrop of rhododendrons. We partnered these with warm, contrasting orange/red stems of Cornus sanguinea,” says Rob. “Our intention was always to plant large specimens that would seamlessly blend old with new.”


Find out how we turned a dangerous drive into an enchanting entrance in part three