PROPERTY
Surrey’s Premier Lifestyle Magazine
Alladio Sims

Blurring the lines

Emanuela Alladio of Alladio Sims Garden Design asks what makes a garden a unique space? Here she explains why location, the brief, the budget and a garden’s peculiar series of opportunities and constraints all play a very important part in the mix.

Perhaps more than anything else one of the key aspects that can give a garden or a space its own unique identity is its edges and boundaries, and the way in which they define and constrain the space and flow within and the relationship with what’s around it.

We often wonder how best to blur the edges between building and garden, and between ‘managed’ garden and ‘wilder’ landscape. And as garden designers we constantly make decisions that manipulate those same edges and redefine them – by blurring them or ‘greening’ them we try to make them disappear, hiding fences and walls; by using indigenous plants we disguise the edge between private garden and wilder location; by creating hybrid spaces we blur the boundaries between house and garden and introduce furniture and other objects that remind us of the indoor, but invite us to be outside.

Some of the gardens we design can only be described through their boundaries and edges, starting with the drama of a window or a pergola leading the eye to the far end – an edge concealed and turned into an intriguing focal point. We like to introduce internal boundaries and edges too, by framing views and forcing us to take a break, by creating different ‘rooms’ with screens and embellishing them with plants, and simply by working with what’s already there, bringing new and old boundaries and edges together, mixing new solutions and restoring or blurring old ones.

Boundaries and edges are there to challenge our senses and our behaviour, and when we design we like to consider ways in which we can do so in an unexpected manner, creating little surprises along the path, pushing us to stop and think and become emotionally involved with the space we find ourselves in.

Front gardens and entrances provide the perfect setting to introduce strong and solid boundaries, but what happens when we challenge this idea and choose a more blurred, flowing and soft divide between house and front garden and street or greater landscape? Does that create an even more dramatic entrance?

A screen is a good edge defining solution, being less strong and solid than a wall, but introducing enough definition to a garden to encourage circulation and discovery. Plants can climb and mingle in the spaces in between, softening the look. Image courtesy of Alladio Sims Garden and Landscape Design Ltd, private Twickenham garden, 2017

A few years ago, at a garden design conference in London, I remember looking at some images of a stunning American garden where instead of creating a clear cut division between road and house, the designer decided to blur the external boundary by ‘moving’ the surrounding forest very close to the front door, with some woodland elements making their way into the porch. By choosing hard materials for the front door, steps and landing, built using the local wood with natural finishes and colours that echoed the neighbouring landscape and by bringing the trees and middle shrubbery inside the house, the house became part of the forest, freed from its own boundaries, unified with nature and the surrounding spaces to establish the perfect flow. At the time everyone seemed fascinated by this concept and liked the idea of dissolving and blurring the edges. And I began to wonder wouldn’t it be useful if we considered boundaries as an essential part of the design brief and process and looked at ways in which we can utilise them to give a garden a more unique identity?

Clearly, blurring the boundaries gives us the freedom to use plants more creatively. Once the harsh angles and edges have gone, plants are the perfect material to soften and conceal. And the best way to achieve surprising results is to throw in the mix different layers, shapes and textures – bold architectural silhouettes with dainty annuals against the sturdy foil of perennials dotted with some ordinary native plants to keep the flow going with the surrounding landscape. Indeed, combining plants with interesting forms and textures is the best way to mimic the intricacy of nature and to soften the transition between edges.

Still, solid boundaries can be useful too, to entice movement and a sense of discovery of what’s beyond, and both planting, hedges and screens are useful tools to create strong layers that entice us to discover what’s just beyond or behind the hidden corner. Sometimes these junction points are there because of specific conditions that exist within and outside each garden, but often we introduce them and manipulate them to create the desired space.

Indeed, as designers, it is our job to constantly make decisions that manipulate and redefine edges and boundaries and our role is to recognise them so that we can respond to them in a way that will make our gardens positively unique.


Garden 2Jon and Emanuela in the show garden they created for the Istanbul Flower Festival in 2016

Profile: Alladio Sims

Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Ltd was established in 2015 after Jon Sims and Emanuela Alladio collaborated on a Silver Gilt winning show garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The two directors continue their collaborative approach throughout their practice with Jon’s background in interior architecture giving distinctive spaces and Emanuela’s passion for plants and photographic eye adding great texture and contrast.

essence info
Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited
Unit C Willow House, Dragonfly Place, London SE4 2FJ
Website: www.alladiosims.co.uk
Email: hello@alladiosims.co.uk

Looking ahead

Emanuela Alladio of Alladio Sims Garden Design reminds readers to always plan ahead and anticipate any problems and risk when considering a gardening project.

Our job at Alladio Sims as garden designers is to plan and look ahead, to think of as many variables as we can – from design brief to budget, from inspiration to practicalities and to be as open as we can with our clients and suppliers.

In view of the above, for us, producing a programme and looking ahead is a necessity, no matter what size and type of project being considered. This principle applies to house and garden schemes alike, whether a project is small and straightforward, or large and complex.

Anyone who has experienced a house renovation or any rebuild project knows all too well that they often bring a loss of privacy and a level of disruption that are deeply unwelcome for everyone. The distress they can cause is even more unpleasant when it lasts for longer than expected, and although no programme can ever eliminate the risk of a setback or two, it will prepare everyone involved for an easier journey.
Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 20.36.28
As designers, we understand that we need to be very open – it’s the only way to be. And so we are upfront and communicate from the word go any difficulties we might foresee: perhaps delays in preparing the site, working with unpredictable or poor weather, delays in planning applications, dealing with workloads and previous work commitments of chosen contractors and stock availability from nurseries.

It is no coincidence that two of the busiest times for us in the office are winter and early spring, both good times to start thinking about the process of renovating a garden, when it is still not used for family relaxation and entertainment and when plants have the best chance of establishing themselves. A garden design project starting to take shape in autumn/early winter allows a client the best chance of seeing the project accomplished by springtime, ready for when the weather suddenly turns nice and spurs us to spend more time outdoors.

Of course, no planning will ever take away all risks and unexpected surprises, but the increased awareness for all parties will help prepare for any disruption and create an easier ride for everyone during a garden project.
A designer will always be open and willing to discuss the different elements to include in a comprehensive garden programme – timelines, budget and contingency sums, planning and permits, contractors and tenders, materials and plant supply, site constraints and bespoke elements’ build and supply times, poor weather, quality of contract etc. – these are just a few things to consider when getting started. If well managed through good communication and awareness, any unforeseen issues can be better resolved and a client can feel better engaged in the process and be more accommodating.

Looking outside today, it’s certainly not too late yet: a little bit of forward planning will go a long way.

Garden 2Jon and Emanuela in the show garden they created for the Istanbul Flower Festival in 2016

Profile: Alladio Sims

Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Ltd was established in 2015 after Jon Sims and Emanuela Alladio collaborated on a Silver Gilt winning show garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The two directors continue their collaborative approach throughout their practice with Jon’s background in interior architecture giving distinctive spaces and Emanuela’s passion for plants and photographic eye adding great texture and contrast.

essence info
Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited
Unit C Willow House, Dragonfly Place, London SE4 2FJ
Website: www.alladiosims.co.uk
Email: hello@alladiosims.co.uk

Winter sparkle

Emanuela Alladio of Alladio Sims Garden Design reminds readers not to ignore the garden in winter, but to take the opportunity to fill in gaps and enjoy the subtle beauty of winter plants.

Good gardens evolve with time and through the seasons, and they become much more open and transparent in winter, once leaves have fallen and been replaced by bare stems and empty gaps. At this time of year a garden really needs its backbone of shrubs and trees – from coloured stems and bark to the reassuring presence of evergreen ‘cushions’. But now is also a good time to take stock of what is there, to savour those often hidden sparkling treasures, and also to establish whether the gaps that have emerged are not too big, leaving the garden too bare and exposed in winter months.

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 20.30.19Subtle leaf forms and textures are key in winter, when most flowers are long gone. Image courtesy of Alladio Sims Garden and Landscape Design Ltd, Surrey private garden, 2016

Amongst the surprises that the garden brings at this time of year are the minute frosty crystals sparkling on leaves and stems that shine gloriously on early frosty December mornings.

Dissected and whole leaves catch the frost better than anything else, trapping sparkling crystals in the multitude of tiny nooks and crannies on their surface. Plants such as Alchemilla Mollis, Salvia Argentea or Melianthus Major will undoubtedly steal the show for a few magic days before finally dying down or becoming less prominent for the rest of winter.

Winter gardens bring unexpected surprises for the other senses too, scent in particular being key among winter flowering plants and so well worth a place in any good garden design plan.

One of the joys of visiting RHS Garden Wisley on an early winter morning has always been the walk up Battleston Hill and the sensation of suddenly being hit by the heady sweet perfume of a distant Daphne, tucked away in a sheltered and shady spot sometimes a good few metres away.

Sarcococcas (Sweet Box) is another great shrub for this time of the year, with aromatic honeyed cream flowers creating a cloud of perfume each time someone passes. One would not want to be without them and so we always encourage clients to find a sheltered and shady space for at least one specimen, or better still, we position them by an entrance or a gate, perfect for that welcome back home.

Another fond memory from RHS Garden Wisley is the Paper Bush – Edgeworthia Chrysantha – a truly spectacular sight in the midst of winter, this is a shrub covered in clusters of wholly white and yellow flowers, much like a string of Christmas lights, that light up even the darkest of days. An added bonus is its leaves too, very exotic and architectural once the flowers have disappeared.

Adding to the list of sparkling beauties in the winter garden are Mahonias, despite the love-hate relationship they have always seemed to spark. But how could one resist their yellow plume of early December flowers followed by a cascade of long lasting damson-coloured berries? And if the spiky large specimen is simply too much, then why not settle for its new, smaller cousins, such as Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’, with pretty dissected leaves surprisingly thorn free. This is a wonderfully architectural plant with a strong presence that should be worthy of any garden.

In the open gaps under the bare canopies of deciduous summer shrubs and among dormant leafy perennials now is the time to discover the little unsung heroes of the winter garden – candid Cyclamen Hederifolium flowers and the clear, pale blue flowers of Iris Unguicularis, reminiscent of a winter’s sky, the recumbent and discreet flowers of hellebores, the frothy leaves of evergreen ferns and heucheras, the heart shaped leaves of epimediums... so many small treasures!

Without these winter garden beauties a garden would risk becoming too static, and not such an interesting space after all, incapable of evolving and changing its character throughout the seasons. The true mark of a successful garden should therefore also be its ability to stand out in winter, and to create an architecturally interesting space in the dormant season too.

This is the perfect time to take stock of the garden, so go out and take a good look, make a note of any gaps that seem too big, but above all don’t forget to enjoy the subtle beauty of winter plants.

Garden 2Jon and Emanuela in the show garden they created for the Istanbul Flower Festival in 2016

Profile: Alladio Sims

Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Ltd was established in 2015 after Jon Sims and Emanuela Alladio collaborated on a Silver Gilt winning show garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The two directors continue their collaborative approach throughout their practice with Jon’s background in interior architecture giving distinctive spaces and Emanuela’s passion for plants and photographic eye adding great texture and contrast.

essence info
Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited
Unit C Willow House, Dragonfly Place, London SE4 2FJ
Website: www.alladiosims.co.uk
Email: hello@alladiosims.co.uk

Box mentality

Garden1

A broader approach to any design project can achieve a property’s full potential. Emanuela Alladio of Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited advocates planning outdoor spaces right from the beginning of any project.


When planning a new extension or build, we tend to think inside the box. We visualise the house as the main box, sitting somewhat alone on a piece of landscape, and then divide this empty box into separate rooms, each with its own very specific function to fulfil – each a smaller, yet still empty, box (furnishings are often brought into action at a later stage).

Once the main box is finished, we stop to wonder how the box relates to the space around it. Only at the end do we think of ways to soften the building and make it sit more naturally within the outside space. The result is that often the finished box doesn’t connect with the neighbourhood or the wider landscape, and the inside/outside flow is seriously compromised and its potential lost.

Yet when we admire images of houses and gardens conceived with an integrated approach, we are in awe. So why consider the relation between house and landscape as an afterthought? Wouldn’t it be better if someone was in charge of thinking outside the box from the very beginning of a project?

We could do so much more if we engaged the building with its surrounds from the very beginning. If, at the early planning stage, client, architects, garden designer and interior designer all sat at the same table the result would mean much fewer lost opportunities, well-integrated solutions and useful economies of scale.

We hire architects to create forms from interconnected spaces, focusing on concepts such as flow and aesthetic, we hire interior designers to introduce the right mood and texture to each and every one of these spaces. All our energy is spent worrying about what happens inside – floors, furniture, curtains, light fittings, kitchens and bathrooms – forgetting that this beautiful flow will stop as soon as those brand new bi-fold doors open – and we are faced with an empty and alien back garden.

Yet the solution is out there. Bringing in a skilled garden designer can continue the dialogue outside. A skilled designer will absorb information from all sources and develop the outside space to extend the link with the house. Your brilliant, new, glass-clad, sleek kitchen living area will no longer open to an uninspiring and empty back garden. You will discover a new world of potential and create a stunning outdoor room.

Some tricks are simple: choose the same porcelain tiles installed in the kitchen for the patio area – in a different finish to add slip resistance outside – to achieve that instant, seamless, indoor/outdoor transition. Make the most of the expanse of glass walls in your new extension by controlling the views out, creating new ones, adding light and water for a touch of drama.

Of course, just like a good architect or interior designer, a great garden designer will guide you through this process, looking at the ‘outside box’ and dividing it up into a series of meaningful layers each with a different function: privacy, drama, entertaining, framing the view etc. And the difference will be in the small details – identifying the best aspect for dining or enjoying a swim or a view, making the space feel much bigger and more inviting thanks to directional paving or the right materials and plant palettes, choosing the best plants for the site given the local soil, drainage and exposure to the elements. Once this process is complete, the indoor/outdoor flow will be seamless.

Despite this enormous potential, so often garden designers are called to ‘intervene’ right at the end of the renovation, new build or extension, missing out on some earlier opportunities. Considering the outer environment can bring so many tangible advantages to any development, for example, by making the most of an existing level, framing a borrowed view from the landscape and creating a positive link between the building and its surrounds. This can be easily achieved if the garden designer is engaged from the beginning as a three-way conversation with the architect and client. It would often mean saving on costs too as later ‘interventions’ are minimised.

This holistic approach to an extension or a new build is already very established across the ocean and is being adopted here too, producing some amazing results. Next time we admire a stunning new build if we ask ourselves why our eyes are so drawn by what they see it will no doubt be the very unique connection that the building has managed to establish with its surrounds, the creative use of local materials, the effective and functional use of space, the clever yet understated details. This very elegant product will be the result of clever thinking outside the box.

Garden 2
Profile: Alladio Sims
Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Ltd was established in 2015 after Jon Sims and Emanuela Alladio collaborated on a Silver Gilt winning show garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The two directors continue their collaborative approach throughout their practice with Jon’s background in interior architecture giving distinctive spaces and Emanuela’s passion for plants and photographic eye adding great texture and contrast.

essence info
Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited
Unit C Willow House, Dragonfly Place, London SE4 2FJ
Website: www.alladiosims.co.uk
Email: hello@alladiosims.co.uk