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Alladio Sims

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time and through the seasons, and they become much more open and transparent in winter, once leaves have fallen and been replaced by bare stems and empty gaps.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

Autumn’s palette

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Emanuela Alladio of Alladio Sims Garden Design explains why the seasonal colour shift of shrubs and trees is invaluable to gardens at this time of year.

In recent years, shrubs and trees seem to have gone more and more out of fashion, leaving perennials to bask in the glory instead, with most of us seeking the fleeting and ephemeral pleasures of their short-lived flowers whilst following the latest garden trends.

Yet it is precisely at this time of year that a garden, deprived of its backbone of shrubs and trees, will invariably disappoint by not being able to hold its own and provide the essential structure and colour changing boost needed during the drabbest of autumn and winter days.

Some trees really excel at colour changing, establishing themselves as colour chameleon heroes, so it’s little wonder why we love this seasonal colour shift so much – we should think of the leaves as if they were flowers, morphing into different hues at different stages of their maturity.

One of my favourite trees at this time of the year is the stag’s horn sumach, Rhus Typhina, with its multi-coloured fronds that look like a traffic light, from green to amber to red. Once the leaves are gone it has a good winter skeleton too. It does, of course, like to self-seed itself a bit, but it can easily be kept under control by pulling out any suckers as soon as they emerge.

Acer Palmatums have, perhaps, the most attractive autumn colours of any genus. Often one species can display the whole range of autumn colours on the same tree, and one such wonder is undoubtedly Acer ‘Koto no ito’, whose leaves emerge green with a flush of crimson and then turn from buttery yellow to rich gold and end up in a warm amber tone before falling.

The first time I came across a Cercidiphyllum japonicum was whilst walking in Winkworth Arboretum, near Godalming in Surrey. I was suddenly hit with the sweet and delicious scent of caramelised apple cake that pervaded the air in the lower woodland near the lake – the tree stopped me in my tracks and wowed with its golden coloured, heart-shaped leaves, tinged with copper and rosy tips: a real multisensory delight.

Another great specimen providing a dazzling display at this time of year is the Persian ironwood, Parrotia Persica, whose scallop-shaped leaves take on a multitude of individual shades – from glowing oranges to intense reds and rich yellows.
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Even the humble silver birch cannot be forgotten for its striking contribution at this time of the year; the wonderful silhouette of its peeling tactile trunk – available in a multitude of hues, from the more widespread brilliant whites such as Betula utilis var. Jacquemontii ‘Grayswood Ghost’, to the soft gingery tones of Betula albosinensis ‘China Rose’ and the reddish brown tones of Betula albosinensis ‘Bhutan Sienna’ – adds year-round interest to the vivid rich yellow of its falling foliage.

Euonymus, amongst the most invaluable shrubs to have in autumn for their fiery red hues, are one of my favourites for a country garden as they offer the added benefit of being wildlife-friendly – robins in particular especially love their brightly coloured berries.

Of course, grasses are key at this time of year too, bringing soft buttery tones and slender stems that add movement and transparency to an overall scheme, catching the first drops of dew and adding a surprising long permanence to the winter garden. Pennisetums and Miscanthus are invaluable specimens to introduce autumn drama, dotted around the garden and repeated at regular intervals to guide the eye around the space, lacing together the whole composition in a pleasing way.

If I could only make one concession for an invaluable perennial to have at this time of year it would have to be Amsonia hubrichtii, with its golden needle-like leaves that take on rich butter yellow tones. It is one such perennial that doesn’t get noticed at all until it’s ready to steal the show in autumn, providing early season good lower coverage to hide bare stems of roses or other shrubs with an unsightly base. It may take a while to find it, but it’s certainly worth the effort.

Overall, autumn, being so subdued, can be a very demanding time of year for a garden, and it can only truly be mastered if the balance of shapes, foliage textures and colours is right. Shrubs and trees are invaluable elements in this composition and they can really transform a garden in autumn, and make this season sing with drama.

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

Show gardens of our own

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Emanuela Alladio of Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design shares her top ten tips for creating a stunning garden worthy of an RHS show garden in our own homes.


1. Frame the view: most gardens are viewed from the house and in order to work they need to relate back to it. Key details of the architecture of the house need to be repeated within the garden and views out should be nicely framed and lead the eye, inviting exploration to discover the garden.

2. Keep it simple: material choices should be kept to a minimum. For instance, one type of stone used in different finishes for inside and out or for areas of the garden with different characters, and use repetition in the planting too to create a sense of harmony.

3. Create a private haven: introduce a secluded area that feels intimate and tranquil where a glass of wine can be sipped or where it is possible to sit and relax. Introducing vertical elements such as a semi transparent screen, a wall or a tall hedge works wonderfully, creating an unexpected space that breaks down the emptiness of a garden and spurs us on to walk and discover what’s beyond.

4. Create something that looks good in every season:
June is the month of the year where every garden looks at its best, with lavender, geraniums, alchemilla, roses etc. all flowering and in prime condition. Yet these plants can fade quickly leaving an empty gap for many months to come. Try and avoid planting plants that fade so quickly and choose instead a good backbone of evergreen shrubs and perennials that offer a long season of interest and maybe even some pretty seed heads for the winter.

5. Disguise the ugly bits: every garden has a view or wall that shouldn’t be looked at. Use plants and paths to lead the eyes away, encouraging focus elsewhere.

6. Boundaries are key: use hedging to frame a sharp and clean lawn or a well-defined border. This will produce neat shapes that help keep maintenance to a minimum and make the garden look crisp and fresh.
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7. Let the plants speak for themselves: don’t overcrowd, but give them space to breathe and become established. Think about it in terms of layers of vertical interest and bring some taller perennials towards the front to break the mould and create a dynamic border and more interesting look.

8. Be bold: choose more of the same thing, so for instance put together two plants of the same colour (such as bronze fennel and black phormium) to create a good textural foil for the rest of the garden. A similar result can be achieved by repeating similar shapes at different levels (such as round pots, round lawns, allium heads etc.).

9. Don’t be afraid of grasses: grasses add a softness and a texture that is invaluable to any garden and they have very good longevity too, especially the ones with interesting seed heads.

10. Use splashes of colour to draw attention: but keep the overall picture harmonious by restricting the colour palette. The effect to be achieved is pleasing and not a muddled mix!

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

Chelsea - making the wild look pretty?

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Emanuela Alladio of Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited describes her experience of creating four show feature installations at this year’s prestigious Chelsea Flower Show with her fellow director Jon Sims.


Every year the Chelsea Flower Show is an unparalleled experience for everyone who loves gardens – an explosion of flowers and ideas assaulting the senses the minute you walk through the gate, bursting with colours, shapes and scents, some very brash and bold and boisterous and others more quiet, restrained and soft. The Chelsea Flower Show has something to offer for every taste.

This year Alladio Sims was asked by the RHS to create four separate show feature installations around the show ground. There had been a reduced number of show gardens this year, possibly a consequence of the Brexit vote, as each garden at Chelsea usually requires a high level of sponsorship to bring it to life. Despite this, the reduced numbers made for an undoubtedly more relaxed and leisurely show. Instead of rushing to see the next show garden, this year visitors seemed to slow down, taking their time to enjoy and digest what they saw and making the most of the opportunities to meet and engage with the designers.

The rare opportunity to share the joys and tribulations of the process of creating a show feature at this prestigious event was one Jon and I grabbed with both hands. It’s a treat to display your ideas to so many enthusiastic visitors and to listen to their views on the gardens they see and is one that we as designers relish the most. It is a great chance for us to obtain a good indication of what people like or dislike, and it is so heart warming when our work is able to bring joy to so many people. In creating evocative and atmospheric garden spaces we hope to stimulate reactions, feelings and memories that make a thoroughly engaging spectacle for the viewer. Indeed, we believe the level of visitor engagement is the true measure of a successful show garden.

Venturing inside the Great Pavilion the passion for plants really transpires on the growers’ faces. If you engaged them in conversation they are always very willing to share growing tips and secrets, because they too are in tune with those who share their passion for plants.
What was the real star of the show this year? We think there were two opposing camps: one really bold and almost garish (with bright pink rhododendrons, showy lupins and explosive oranges) and one much more restrained, naturalist and soft, closer to what a natural habitat would look like without any artificial intervention. Needless to say these two camps divided visitors, sparking criticism towards the more unkempt look and equally leaving others unimpressed by the very showy and contrived nature of the more manicured gardens.
Who is correct? Should a show garden only contain perfect specimen plants and highly manicured borders, or should it portray a landscape close to the one where the plants would survive naturally?

We think there is space for showcasing both options: the trick is to give visitors enough information that they can engage with it – if you share the passion, the personal experience that inspired it, and the long journey taken to create it people will, without fail, fall in love with even the commonest plants and the landscape they illustrate.

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

Opposites attract

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Emanuela Alladio of Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited considers the art of combining contrasting textures in our outside spaces.


There are a million different shades of green in a garden. And when it comes to plants, many of them share at least one similarity – be it colour, form, shape or size. Yet in a successful garden each contrasting element – whether it’s a plant or hardscape – is able to contribute towards creating a sense of space, a certain mood and an excitement that sets the garden apart from any other space and draws eyes in. Exciting gardens know how to play with opposites, and how to successfully combine contrasting textures.

The key to the art of combining opposites relies on providing enough variation to create intensity without letting chaos settle in. A series of successful contrasting combinations in a garden introduces a layer of visual textures that lets our eyes ‘see’ each and every one of its elements.

The most obvious tools for creating texture in gardens are their building blocks – hardscape, plants and colour – constantly combined and rearranged until ultimate finesse is achieved.

Just like a chef would create a dish choosing each and every ingredient in the right quantity and introducing interesting flavour combinations by contrasting clashing ingredients, a garden designer sets out to create a garden by striving to achieve a very fine balance of all three of its main building blocks.

At the bottom of the pyramid is, of course, the hardscape – paths, patios, planters – key structural elements forming the backbone of visual texture, each material carefully chosen for its finish, that might contrast or absorb the texture from surrounding plants. A sleek, large, porcelain slab patio surrounded by soft linear and light reflecting grasses is a good example of contrasting textures and forms.

A step up is colour, to be found not only in flowers, but in bark, fruit and seeds, and in leaves too of course, to create a balanced backdrop of harmonious shades with peaks of interest in the form of contrasting colour combinations. Good examples of contrasting arrangements could be a blue geranium with a hot pink rose, or the lime green flower of alchemilla mollis against a purple heuchera or a black mondo grass.

And, of course, the key building blocks to create good visual texture are plants, through both their form and their leaf texture. Just think of how many habitats a plant can have and how important that is to the overall story a garden tells – a spiky plant is contemporary and sleek, it’s a full stop, because it commands attention making the viewer stop and look at it. Phormiums, with their upright and spiky form, are an emblem of confidence and showiness, while a trailing or spreading plant is much more informal, perfect to create an intimate atmosphere – think of a trailing nasturtium against a brick wall, or a billowing geranium spilling out of a border. Mastering clever contrasts between two opposite forms can produce stunning results: an upright allium or a spiky eryngium emerging through the soft fronds of a tall grass, one rigid and sharp the other softly arching in the wind.

Foliage textures are all important too. In general, leaf types can be divided into four main categories and they too look stunning when contrasted between each other: Simple leaves – these could be oval, round or heart shaped etc – are provided by common plants such as bergenias, brunneras, foxgloves, tiny thyme or box. They form the base of any planting composition and can look stunning when contrasted between each other – not only in terms of proportions, but of hue too.

Linear or strappy leaves – these can be very upright as the rigid swords of astelias and phormiums, or more gently arching and soft, such as the blades of most grasses. Again, a sharp contrast between a phormium and a stipa tenuissima draws us in, forcing us to stop and feel the texture, running fingers through the grass.

Feathery and dissected leaves (ferns typify this group) introduce a layer of complexity. They are stunning against simpler leaf shapes, for example, a hosta and a fern next to each other, nothing is more beautiful yet so simple and so contrasting, or a fennel against a foxglove, bold form next to delicate and fine fronds.

And finally the true visual delight of exuberant leaf shapes – be it very dissected, such as those of geraniums or very frilly and deeply lobed such as Japanese maples – they are perfect to accent a scheme with the right amount of frilliness and bling. Imagine a red Japanese maple underplanted with the strappy acid green leaves of hakonechloa and next to a round leaved vivid green or purple cotinus. These are true opposites in terms of textures and shapes, and yet so elegant and refined together, adding a real punch and making a unique statement.

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

Path to success

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A path in a garden is often an expression of how an owner wishes to use it: an expression of personality in the landscape. Emanuela Alladio of Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited asks: “Which one are you?”.


A path can be a straight line, following the most direct route to reach a destination that might be a seat, a sculptural element or a view; it can be a meandering route, allowing time to linger to take in surroundings, or an unpredictable route that leads out and then allows the walker to find his or her own way on to lawns, into woods or round ponds. Alternatively, a path can follow a zig zag route that opens on to unpredicted elements or reveals the next surprise, be it a view or another unexpected space.

Gardens are all shapes and sizes and path options are as diverse, but they are key to a great design that delivers the user into a garden in a way that individually suits.

A couple of years ago, Alladio Sims created a show garden for the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. It was called ‘The Secret Garden Party’ and set out to illustrate a community of gardeners.

It became a study, investigating just how differently the paths crossing six equal sized and shaped front gardens could express a personality. The result was an eclectic mix of styles, atmospheres and solutions that was greatly admired by the public. While the spaces were small, the results were scalable and clearly showed how a path gives structure to the personality of a garden.

Our first garden welcomed a happy mix of softer and more formal elements – the rectangular stepping stones in a matte honed natural stone, chosen in two different sizes and spaced at regular intervals through the gravel connected the front door to the gate, while the surrounding gravel, in a complementing tone, let the path merge with the dry borders, softening and blurring the edges. Here the chosen line was straight, so quite formal, but with staggered ends showing the benefit of stepping stones that allow the movement to be more dynamic thanks to a mixture of stone sizes and offset joints.

Stepping stone paths would work equally well across a lawn loosely or directly linking to spaces beyond. They are relatively easy to construct and look very naturalised once they are allowed to settle in.

A wandering route is a great solution for those who prefer a more romantic or relaxed garden, and the materials chosen in our second garden show just how free its form can be: from a simple path mown out of long grass or a meadow, to a loose, windy gravel route through a dry garden, or a chipped bark path disappearing into a wood, naturalising to perfection as it ages. Wandering along such a path one is often surprised by sudden clearings, or peaceful sunny corners perfect for a bistro table and chair set: a haven for contemplation and relaxation.

In line with this relaxed approach and perfect for a sunny courtyard, the next garden used bricks laid across a diagonal straight line, cutting through the space and blurring boundaries with surrounding gravel mulch borders. Laying bricks across the route makes the space appear bigger and slows one down, an invitation to take time and linger. This is quite an informal path that brings to mind the Mediterranean, and with it images of gardens in Italy or Greece where plants and hard materials mingle to soften te boundaries and delight the eye.

The feel of our third garden was mainly determined by the way the path was laid. Using standard stone slab sizes to create a staggered path gives a clear route, but with a more naturalised edge. This is a good alternative to a traditional red brick path. The soft pastel shades of the planting and picket fence complement the natural hues of the chosen paving stones in this contemporary English cottage garden. Spilling on top of the path, the dreamy planting softens the staggered edges and draws one in to smell the blooms.

Recycling can throw up some great solutions and in the next garden we reused clay roof tiles on edge. Rustic upcycled materials with gaps left for the plants to colonise created a strong textural element that fits in perfectly with the exuberant nature of the surrounding planting in this garden. There are other options for recycled materials including bricks, broken slabs and even wine bottles, used bases up, could work. They do lend themselves to a loose, winding path given the mismatched nature of the materials. This style would make the perfect choice in a classic country garden.

Overall, the paths in our first four gardens offered a certain degree of flexibility in the implementation of their designs and are probably the kind of creations that would appeal to a more informal ‘artisan’ type garden. The last two gardens, however, were aimed at showing paths that took control – with crisp edges that create strong transitions between soft and hard landscape. Garden five presented a curved path which showed just how the route may be soft in line, but unlike other wandering pathways, nothing here was left to chance: the slabs were perfectly cut, laid and grouted, and the finish is the same as would be expected on a kitchen floor. When selecting a curved path, material choice is key as most hard path materials are rectangular. Here we selected large slabs so that the edge kept the cut pieces larger and the angled direction broadened the sense of width.

The last garden really illustrates a path that takes total control of the space around it. This straight and perfectly symmetrical path provides a very precise solution to a classic design. The planting falls in line to reflect the very high degree of precision and extends the mirroring effect to the left and right of it. Requiring a solid base and very neat edges, the paving slabs are consistent in size and tones complementary to the formal planting. In larger gardens straight paths are used to lead the eye to a special view or feature at the end, and are perfect for creating long views in line with windows or doors.

In short, each path tells an interesting story – be it a reflection of a more artistic, free spirited or exuberant soul, or that of a style conscious minimalist spirit – and finding it is just one of the many surprises it will bring.

Next time you wander down a garden path, the backbone of any garden design, notice its very own unique story, or perhaps even just think, if I was a path, which path would I be?

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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

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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.

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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