Creating a tranquil ‘secret garden’ in a busy commuter town was the brief given to garden designer Marja van Asperen by her clients, Rob and Tineke, who longed for a modern, peaceful outdoor space. When the couple had first moved to their urban home in Soest in the Netherlands, the garden was in a sad, neglected state, but as their priority was to renovate the house, it was five more years before they engaged Marja’s services to transform the outside space.
‘The owners had built a contemporary new wing at the back of the old house – which dates back to around 1900 – incorporating lots of glass,’ explains Marja, who describes herself as a ‘feel-good’ designer. ‘It’s a very interesting shape architecturally, and that really inspired me to design the garden along those lines.’
Rob and Tineke had some definite requirements that Marja needed to incorporate, some of which proved a challenge. ‘There were a lot of elements to the design, but as the garden itself is not very big, I had to be very creative in a limited space,’ she points out. ‘The clients wanted a pond, along with several different terraces, but they also required the garden to feel relaxed and laid-back.’ Not least, privacy was of prime importance: while the couple’s street is quiet, the neighbouring houses are very close, which means their garden could be overlooked on all sides. To overcome this, plants that would provide privacy were incorporated into the overall design. ‘I used bamboo and evergreens, together with specially trained trees to create screens around the boundaries,’ explains Marja.
The hard-working couple also wanted the planting to be low-maintenance and include varieties that would result in a garden that was interesting all-year-round. Shrubs like Lavandula angustifolia and Hydrangea arborescens were incorporated, together with a variety of hostas, all of which provide a plethora of peaceful green tones that soften the hard landscaping and bring life to the grey stone.
Natural materials – gravel, cobblestones and wood – have been used in the design to ensure the overall look is one of classic simplicity, with the square pond and patio forming the structural focal points. These elements, combined with a simple colour palette and few ornamental distractions, ensure that the garden is a very quiet, calming place to be. It is indeed a retreat from the busy outside world – a secret garden, just as the owners and their empathetic designer envisaged.