Building A Dream – II

Much has happened in the last few months on the Northants project, so I thought I would capture the main points in a simple, ‘Ups and Downs So Far’ blog.  Here’s a flavour of what’s been happening a third of the way in.


  • Mud, mud, not so glorious mud…  And managing water and drainage on a clay site that falls towards the house.  I am buying cakes for the guys on site now every week but one of them can’t eat dairy…what to do!?

We went from this a year ago…


To this…



  • Not getting permission for a temporary garden entrance means that we’ve had to go through the neighbours – and you can imagine there’s a lot of traffic and some big deliveries.   Thankfully the neighbour is amazing and very lovely.
  • Writing the specification.  Actually something I usually enjoy but this took a long time and then with every change it requires more refinement.  It is open on my laptop much of the time.
  • Heating – we want to be eco but my goodness its complicated.  We have two buildings to heat plus a swimming pond.  It has taken weeks to work out the best way but finally we’ve landed on an air source heap pump (ASHP).
  • It has at times felt a bit like we’re building the new US Embassy (5 years building underground and they’ve only just hit the surface).  Okay its 3 months not 5 years.  The trenching, drainage, pipework for irrigation, power, CAT5 etc design has been pretty complicated (take my hat off to the two Ben’s).
  • We have been enjoying the rigours of planning in terms of timescale.  Certain elements of the garden required planning permission (as its a listed building) and then once granted further information was required in terms of the details of the materials to be used (another 8 week wait)…but the planners have been very supportive and helpful and are (I think / hope!) enjoying seeing the garden evolve.
  • Lighting design.  I remember saying at the beginning, ‘lets keep lighting simple and effective’.  I laugh wryly.  It’s about as simple as possible but no simpler!
  • Budget management as the project evolves and every change has a myriad of knock-on-effects.  Keeping track at first was a bit of a nightmare as small changes racked up but now we have a monster matrix which means we can now easily see how much each change costs across the various contractors.


  • Going back through every element of the master plan design to refine and solve problems has been a fun and creative process (and much aided by the landscape contractor, the wonderful Ben at Breathe).  We wanted to ensure the build quality and detailing is 100% thought through and build on the ideas to try and ensure everything tiny detail ties back to the broader idea of a 21st century pleasure garden.
  • Planting a new woodland area.  We took out a large area of dense Leylandii and leggy laurel growing beside one of the beautiful Copper Beech trees I have seen.  It opened up views of the beautiful church next door which has such an important role in the design detailing.  Then we have created pathways among some newly planted beautiful specimen trees. It took a week to plant 21 trees.  Sourcing the trees from Majestic and Deepdale was such a pleasure and their advice and guidance invaluable.

From this Leylandii nightmare…


To this…



  • The tree avenue made up of box head hornbeams – it’s my route in to the garden each week and it is one of the few glimmers at this stage of what the garden will eventually look like.
  • Drawn into the new kitchen orchard by the powerful scent of the Osmanthus armatus, I look up the centre line towards the weeping willow, precisely in the centre distance – focal points near and far are lining up…phew!

2014-10-28 14.08.27


  • Seeing the artistry of stone masonry take shape.



  • Designing a feature glasshouse and stained glass door with expert British craftsman.
  • Seeing a natural swimming pond being created by Gartenart.



  • With my ‘simple’ lighting plan in my hand, I went to see Roberto at Through Light to get him to check through my ideas.  He was brilliant at grasping what I was trying to do and he’s made some great refinements that haven’t changed the budget but I think will really make a big difference.
  • Our clients – they are 100% supportive, have trust in us and are interested in the detail (as well as having some great ideas and requirements themselves to add into the mix).  Its exciting…
  • The golf studio is purpose built to house a golf simulators and next to a practice putting green.  It’s been very interesting learning about the requirements of the simulator.  The golf studio itself is a modernist cube with a wildflower turf roof to help it blend into its setting built by the very lovely team at Eden Garden Rooms.  A green wall will features up one wall with some interesting sculpture sitting amongst it.  I have opted for oak rather than cedar as it will tie in with other elements in the scheme.



  • What to do with all the mud?  Each problem that has arisen has interestingly led to solutions that I think benefit the overall design.  One of them is the large amount of excavated soil.  We had an onsite sifting and soil reconditioning man come.  The rest has been used in creating some pretty interesting landforms to increase privacy and reduce the noise from the road.



  • And the tree house – it’s been a secret dream of mine to create a quirky cool treehouse. Nothing too perfect, something fitting a woodland area with a preference for the up cycling look.  I am intrigued to see what the guys at Treehouse Life create.  And here it is being built as I write…I can’t wait to see it finished next week.



  • And last but not least, working with such a great crew of people.  There’s been a lot going on but all the various contractors have got behind the project and have been going the extra mile. It will hopefully show when the garden is built and it certainly makes it a pleasure to work on.




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  3. Greenwich says:

    Seems like there is still a long way to go but so far, you and your team are doing a great job. Looking forward to how this space turns out!

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