London-based landscape and garden designer Jinny Blom guides us through one of her favourite projects, this beautiful Oxfordshire estate, taken from her new book The Thoughtful Gardener.
Sometimes a place reaches a point where everything needs looking at and a comprehensive restructuring can be considered. This was one of these. The entire estate needed rationalising. My favourite assignments are where I can consider every element of how a place works and then put it all into practice. Making the garden knowing that I’ve made sure everything around it is functioning beautifully is a dream come true.
The area shown in the sketch plan is the heart of a much bigger estate and this is where I concentrated the gardens. Siting a pool and pool house opposite the principal façade allowed me to make a very structured space. I could devise a magnificent entrance courtyard, and by building a traditional stone-roofed building as a garage I also created a lower courtyard at the rear. This means everything pleasantly domestic is close at hand, secure and focused. Once a space is rationalised, the beauty of it begins to appear.
The estate is huge. It is also flat. Flat land is challenging to design, as everything is visible in one go. It becomes hard to hide things that need hiding, and creating focal points is necessary to hold the eye.
This estate was full of potential, with some ancient parkland trees and a brown trout river. It was enjoyable bringing these elements back into prominence and working out where to put everything else to make it work smoothly.
I have a golden rule that wherever possible we don’t take spoil off site but reuse it. In this instance the restructuring of the estate involved reusing mountains of spoil, especially from the digging of the swimming pool. This allowed me to introduce gentle contours over the landscape and also to hide the newly designed gardener’s compound and boiler houses behind pretty hillocks covered with trees. This protected the views from the house. The new drive passes seamlessly through parkland devoid of eyesores, and the house and new pool garden have wonderful vistas in all directions.
The most important thing in structuring an estate is remembering that the gardens that are used every day must be close to the house. I always like to put the fun things near at hand, so using them becomes intuitive and easy.
This is a social house and there are lots of friends and family around, so plenty of cooking goes on outside, and the pool gets used all year round. I chose to use it as an ornamental part of the garden. I suggested that we place the pool house facing back to the main house and utilize the pool as a reflecting pool.
The architects and I are old friends and our collaborations are really enjoyable. We reached easy agreements about most things, which always ends up in a better outcome.
Swimming pools can become very attractive in a garden, and in this one I wanted the swimmer to experience the garden. Two sides of the pool are set within huge beds of perennials segmented by smooth stone paths. I had visions of the children running through these paths, playing hide-and-seek, wet from their swimming. On another side of the pool is a lawn for sunbathing and picnics, and at the shallow end is the terrace with the pool house and outdoor kitchen.
The main house is completely wrapped in sumptuous planting emerging through gravel. I created a huge terrace off the kitchen that sits slightly elevated above the main gardens, with commanding views out over the gardens and parkland towards the new lake.
Enveloped in soft planting, this is a lovely place to spend Sunday afternoons and to appreciate the beauty of the landscape spread out on all sides.
Extract taken from The Thoughtful Gardener: An Intelligent Approach to Garden Design by Jinny Blom (Jacqui Small, £35)