Case Study: Back to nature garden retreat with a modern twist


This academic project was created for a family of environmentalists longing to get nature closer in a sustainable way in their recently bought rural house. The proposal project will invite them to explore classic methods such as sewing their own seed and producing their own compost but will also bring high-end technology to help this area become a self-sustainable/low carbon footprint.


Current site

The soil is neutral to slightly alkaline and the site was a farmer’s field once used for cattle grazing, now with the shell of a house and a makeshift roadway for construction traffic. The back of the house faces south. The front of the house is faced with cut sandstone and no proper driveway or kerbing is installed.

The briefing requests a comfortable, family-friendly garden, with space for the children to cycle around and practise sports such as football. Also, they desire to have room for a vegetable garden to grow enough produce to feed the family and the possibility of an outdoor kitchen with a BBQ. This family also requires an outdoor dining area to be private, and to seat ten or twelve people.

Project Background:

Two different garden-style proposals were presented to the client, where the requested elements were rearranged in different ways.

Proposal 1: Cottage Garden

Proposal 2: Modern Garden

Concept Development:

Proposal 2 meets the requirements imposed in the briefing and is therefore chosen for development. Understanding the challenges posed by harsh winds, the proposal project aims to strategically provide shelter and minimize this impact. The main hardscape material is wooden railway sleepers, which serve multiple purposes, both visual and functional but intentionally covering just a few areas.

The shed entrance is now relocated to the driveway and is now used as a garage. This structure will be supporting several solar panels and a water butt, that reduces their use of piped water through an irrigation system that covers especially the edible garden: a lower-input area enough for small homegrown produce of salad leaves, strawberries, tomatoes, beans, courgettes, carrots and potatoes.

A poultry will provide organic fertilizer, and fresh eggs and also help to keep the area free of bugs and insects. A pond will encourage more wildlife into this area and also create a relaxing calming effect with the water running. Aiming for a ‘naturalistic garden’ this family can build a pile of logs and leave uncut the lawn, in areas such as next to the pond, having a laissez-faire approach to creating a special environment for wildlife, including bees, beetles, skimmers, dragonflies and butterflies.

The partially shaded area is reserved for different kinds of outdoor activities such as football, cycling, and also a space where the kids are able to set up toys, teepees or even a plastic pool in the summer, refrain from having a traditional pool that has high water use, high energy use, and harmful chemicals.

This area is also the safest, far from the house and due to the west to the southwest wind to have a fire pit for evening entertainment.

An irregular meadow’s path with stepstones is placed to connect the front garden with the backyard, some areas are covered with permeable and natural ground covers such as wood chips. For patios and decks, the choice is to use natural clay bricks as it’s an inert material, no toxins or contaminants are used, so there are no risks of ground pollution, laid down in a pattern that simulates the appearance of wood. For the driveway area, a carefully bound helps to contain the gravel spreading to the river, preventing strip-mined off the water as it could destroy marine life.

The BBQ/dining area is a comfortable extension of the house, the pergola made of reclaimed wood creates a cosy shelter area where the family can socialise.

The planting in the gardens is focused on looseness and diversity, mixing natives and wild plants. From drought-tolerant species to pollen-heavy flowers, using a no-dig approach, this project aims to create an informal plating that remotes the coastal feeling.

Shaded area with fire pit.

Leaving wild areas untouched gives this family much interest allowing them to notice the changes in the planting colours throughout the seasons.