A North London plot with a thoroughly modern twist
Spencer Viner is a garden designer and landscape architect with a fascination for Japanese gardens. His small, square garden is his outside room and a place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of North London. However, when he arrived 10 years ago, he inherited rough grass and uninspiring grey concrete paving in equal measures. The plot also had modern garden fencing on three sides, leaving it feeling bare and exposed.
An interest in Japanese gardens, meditation and yoga led him to create an Oriental garden with a thoroughly modern twist. “I didn’t want a cliched Japanese garden, with red bridges and rocks and gravel,” he reveals.
“I wanted to create an urban space, but I also wanted to be experimental and playful because it’s my home.” The first job was to cover the mundane garden fences with marine plywood to create a smooth finish. “It’s painted black, so it’s quite dramatic,” he says. “It gives a feeling of more space, which is counterintuitive because the planting disappears into the shadows, blurring the boundaries.”
It’s also a perfect backdrop for rich-green foliage, and “has definitely deepened the mood of the garden”. Pleached limes were planted in front of the 1.5m (5ft)high fence, all along the perimeter. “The pleached effect looks great through every season and it echoes old horticultural practices,” Spencer says.
A pergola was also added for privacy along with simple seating and dining areas. Spencer’s passion for upcycling materials such as oil drums and water tanks, the rustier the better, helped him furnish the garden cheaply. One of his Japanese maples sits in a rusty oil drum and he also uses Corten steel, a mixture of alloys designed to develop a rusty surface, throughout the garden. The pillars on the pergola have had welding mesh, which has now rusted, wrapped round them which setoff climbing plants such as Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’. The mesh circle allows climbers to expand and grow, such as the double, plum-coloured Viticella clematis, ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’. The dusky flowers pick up the purple house wall, which has a white disc on it representing the full moon. The opposite wall has a corten steel disc symbolising the sun. Broken terracotta pots top the woody plants’ soil surface as a mulch. It is details like this that give the garden year-round interest. Grateful clients give him unwanted items, too, and the Balinese pillar and oak and flint dining table were both presents. The old, putty-coloured, oak table and upright flints, once used for stretching home-spun yarn, provides texture and form, while the bold metal base of the table, consisting of semi-circular rusty hoops, is architectural and modern. It’s topped by a leaden, gourd-shaped pot Spencer spotted at a local garden centre. The Japanese water feature, which looks so authentic with its lizard motif, is made from concrete pipes. These had to be rolled through the house andthen placed one on top of the other, an idea borrowed from garden designer Stephen Woodhams. There are four of these circular structures, all capped in slate tiles, and they help to soften the grid-like design of this small London garden.