“My fairytale garden is my sanctuary...”

Fairytale wood meets jungle

Abigail Ahern made her outside space a magical place withdramtic planting and different zones to explore...

Photography of Abigail's garden by Marcus Harpur/Harpur Garden Images www.harpurgardenimages.com/

Photography of Abigail's garden by Marcus Harpur/Harpur Garden Images www.harpurgardenimages.com/

Garden Plan

LOCATION
“A terraced townhouse in east London. I’ve created lots of little zones with seating nooks, a fireplace and an outdoor kitchen on the patio. I’ve tried to create a magical effect of fairytale woods-meets-jungle style!”

THE LOOK
Urban tropical, with lots of lush green foliage.

Urban Retreat: A small sheltered seating area has been sited outside the customised cabin.

Urban Retreat: A small sheltered seating area has been sited outside the customised cabin.

SITE AND SOIL
Size: 35 x7m
Faces: West
Soil type: Clay

MY BUDGET
Cabin (from eBay) £100
Path and deck £2000
Outdoor kitchen £3000
Trees £1000
Furniture £5000
TOTAL £11,100

HOW LONG IT TOOK
Making the path 2 days
Installing the kitchen 1 day
Refurbishing the cabin 3 days
Planting 2 days
TOTAL 8 days

 

 

 

With its rustling bamboo hedges, tall eucalyptus trees, and a meandering weathered pathway, Abigail Ahern’s stylish garden in Hackney, east London, looks as if it has been there for years. But the urban oasis, which is full of textures and dramatically shaped plants, was only created in 2015. “As soon as we moved in we cleared the garden which was full of gnomes and little bridges,” says Abigail, a designer and retailer, who lives here with her husband Graham and dogs Mungo and Maud. “We only kept one 80 year old lilac tree. I planted some black bamboo along the sides and placed lots of white pebbles in the middle of the space and it really stayed like that for 10 years. Then having completely transformed the house to include some double height windows which draw your eyes constantly to the garden, it became increasingly important to make it the star.”

It was the purchase of a tiny shed from eBay for £100 which triggered the idea for the design. “It was the catalyst. I knew I wanted a bolthole, somewhere I could go and write. So I put the hut at the bottom of the garden and painted it black. I immediately knew that it needed to have a path leading to it, and suddenly, the rest of the ideas for the garden fell into place!”

"I'm a foodie... I am in my outdoor kitchen at least once a week."

"I'm a foodie... I am in my outdoor kitchen at least once a week."

Artificial foliage from Abigail's own range, is placed inside the shed to make it fee cozy.

Artificial foliage from Abigail's own range, is placed inside the shed to make it fee cozy.

The path was made using a faux oak called Millboard, and the same material was used for the patio. “It is brilliant because it doesn’t get slippery and you never have to power wash it!” says Abigail. After a spell living in America’s midwest, where outdoor cooking is commonplace even in winters as cold as minus 15 degrees, she had become a convert, so she was keen to instal an outdoor kitchen where she could pursue her passion year round. “I’m a real foodie and everything tastes so much better on a grill. I’m in my outdoor kitchen at least once a week. I love to cook something long and slow at the weekends and can quite often pop out for something quick during the week, too. Flame-grilled pizza is a current favourite! I have no problem with nipping out in torrential rain under my brolley to flip the pizza over!”

Her stylish kitchen was custom made from a Dutch company called Wwoo (www.wwoo.nl/en) which specialises in concrete designs. Abigail and Graham chose shelves, where wood for the fire can be neatly stacked. There is a purpose built space for a smoker, a firepit and a Dutch oven.

A pergola, created simply from a wire stretched from one side of the patio to the other is adorned with a plant called Russian Vine, or ‘Mile a Minute’ for its fast growing properties. “A lot of people avoid this plant because it can be invasive, but I am the most impatient gardener ever, and I like it!” Abigail has added outdoor festoon and pendant lights to the pergola, to create the effect of a room. She hangs chandeliers from the tree branches, a mix of vintage finds and new ones (some from her own ranges). “I’m a huge advocate of outside lighting. It has really transformed the outside space in the winter months from somewhere dark and gloomy to a place where you really want to go and spend time.”

Even though she works in the retail industry, Abigail doesn’t follow fashion in her garden. “Most of us can’t afford a full revamp twice a year.  I would always say follow your heart and buy whatyou love. For me, that’s lots of black chairs for my outside seating areas – they look beautiful with my lush green foliage and supersized copper pots which glimmer and glint in the sunlight.”

Treat the garden like an indoor room with carefully chosen accent pieces.

Treat the garden like an indoor room with carefully chosen accent pieces.

As well as the outside seating areas, Abigail has customised her cabin, which she had wired for lighting. To create a cosier feel inside, she had the walls lined with faux slate panels by a company called Dreamwall (www.dreamwall.co.uk). “It has a very textured, ‘Fred Flintstone look, and makes the inside feel warm and cosy.” A big sheepskin rug and an antique desk adds to the ambience in the hideaway.  “You can only fit one person inside, but it is the perfect place to sit and do my writing.”

To create a feeling of drama in the garden, Abigail selected her plants carefully. “I’m not a gardener, but I decided to use the same principles that I use in interior design in my outside space. Texture is very important to me, and so is playing with scale, so I am not afraid of using large plants in a relatively small space.”

Two eucalyptus trees are planted on either side of the path, which helps to draw the eye along it. There is also a mature olive tree, a quince, a forced Acer, a fig tree and the lilac which came with the house. “Lots of people freak out about planting big trees in a small garden, but I love it,” says Abigail.  She avoids flowers, preferring the interesting textures of grasses and evergreens. “The only flowers I have are hydrangeas in green and deep blue, and lilac, apple and quince blossom in the spring.”

Abigail's garden is a coherent outdoor extension of her home.

Abigail's garden is a coherent outdoor extension of her home.

She admits that she does make mistakes. “I have a tendency to crowd plants in, and I have planted things in the wrong places, such as a jasmine behind my shed, which was too dark, and hydrangeas in another spot which didn’t have enough light.”

But the garden is a constant source of delight. “My favourite place is the terrace with its seats and sofa. I can sit there and look at the whole garden. It’s my sanctuary, and I relax there by sweeping, weeding and pottering. I don’t think about work and I have a total digital detox. Just seeing my plants makes me instantly happy.”