A year at a Dorset farmhouse

Almost exactly a year ago McNulty & Stonebridge were offered the opportunity to transform a 2 acre country garden at this special farmhouse in deepest Dorset. With a blank canvas apart from some ancient, gnarly apple trees, we leapt at the chance to be involved and work with the owners to bring their vision to reality.  A large kitchen garden, a swimming pool, two terraces and additional planting spaces, all  included on the wish list, we got straight to work, tape measures out, soil sampling kits out and began the fundamental process of site analysis. 

Following several very wet October days of gathering measurements and observations, we were equipped to start to build a concept. This is always such an absorbing stage of the project which we always relish and this farmhouse garden had such exciting potential. Drawing on our experiences, books, photos, researching the area, we began to develop a series of ideas and concepts for each area, all the time being very mindful that the plans for this garden must serve to enhance the traditional farmhouse, blend seamlessly into the environment, incorporate a series of links back to the surrounding countryside whilst always fulfilling our client’s wishes. These concept targets can be applied to any design of any scale, in any location.  To quote the world class designer, Arne Maynard: 

“To succeed, a garden must relate and respond to its surrounding landscape, its history and to the buildings within and around its confines, as well as to the needs of its owners.” 

How true this is. Whether a city courtyard garden, a contemporary roof garden, a country farmhouse or an urban family garden, the ability to link the garden and the surroundings is key to giving a design a solidarity and a sense of harmony. 

Back at the Dorset farmhouse, we had an embarrassment of riches when it came to relating the garden to the surroundings; with uninterrupted views, meadows and woodlands forming the garden’s boundaries, an existing ancient apple orchard and a stone built farmhouse and stables as the backdrop, the canvas was already one of great beauty - our job of enhancing that was (arguably!) ‘easy’ and it was up to us to create a garden that did not detract in any way from the countryside, but instead enhanced the vistas, complimented the landscape beyond and anchored the farmhouse within the garden and countryside. 

This concept stage is, deservedly, a lengthy process, bringing together ideas in the form of sketches and imagery, rough plans and, most importantly, sharing and discussing the clients in every stage. Being experienced gardeners, not afraid of hard work, our clients were keen to be involved throughout every stage as the project evolved. As the winter of 2020 went on, so did the progress - the concept sketches turned to master plans, the master plans turned to construction plans and in January 2021, the site work commenced in earnest. As a designer this is a thrilling (and, not afraid to admit, always slightly daunting!) time as it is now that the plans begin to come to life - the machines are onsite, the beds are being dug, the bases are going down and, with this project, those first digger loads of soil are being removed to make room for the swimming pool! 

As winter turned to spring and the ground started to dry, the pace of work notched up and day on day, each element began to take shape. There were days when the pace was furious, with something going on in every corner of the garden, but being onsite to work as a team ensured the smooth running of the construction and groundworks, keeping everything on track for the clients. 

Whilst the lads were onsite with the machinery, we got to work on the planting plans, again a lengthy but highly enjoyable and fulfilling process. With the brief of ‘hot colours’ for the swimming pool area and naturalistic for another terrace area, we began to pinpoint those plants that would be suitable in terms of aspect, characteristics and colours for these areas and bring together a series of lists and images. Being a knowledgeable plantswoman, our client enjoyed discussing and thinking about the best plants for the area as much as we did. Between us all, we came up with worthy shortlists, from which the planting plans were borne. 

Now, here we are, nearly a year on, the pool is ready, the kitchen garden is pumping out the vegetables and cut flowers and we have been onsite planting up the terraces. The hum of machinery is beginning to subside, the borders are flourishing and the garden is settling comfortably into its surroundings. There’s a sense of achievement all round and we cannot wait to see the garden mature and evolve as all of our visions become reality.