Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Behind The Scenes - Courtyard Garden



Don't be fooled, a small garden can be just as much work as a big garden. There have been several reasons, but this project has taken nearly 6 months to complete. Thats a long time for a space that is only 3m x 3m!

This was part 3 of a bigger garden project that we had completed about a year ago. My clients had a small courtyard built onto their bedroom, to give them their own private garden. The brief was quite straightforward:
  1. A place to sit with a small table and chairs
  2. A waterfeature - along the lines of a letterbox type water feature
We discussed a few options, looked at several books and magazines, and finally settled on a basic style. It would be quite a contemporary formal garden, with a touch of an oriental feel. We would lay a white concrete floor, with white pebbles around the border.
The budget was quite tight for what was needed, but provided everything went according to plan it would be fine.

This was the blank slate:


The work progressed in stages:
1. Subsurface preparation
We laid irrigation pipes and electrical conduit. The irrigation for the entire garden would be run from the unit on the wall in the left-hand corner.
The irrigation, lights and pumps would all need electricity. This created quite a few boxes in the corner that would need to be screened, but still with easy access to plugs and controls.

2. Adjusting of walls and steps
The existing step was too high, and was subsequently chipped away and re-built. Also, the pillar in the center of the facing wall would need to be removed for the water feature that would be installed in the center.

3. Laying the concrete base
Once the builders had finished in this area, we positioned boards around the edges of the soon-to-be concrete slab, and began pouring our concrete. This was then roughly levelled, and left for a few days to harden, before the boards were removed.


4. Building the water feature
The water feature wall was built from brick. The stainless steel chute which would form the sheet of water, had been made up a week before. This had to be installed perfectly level. Even if it is slightly out, the sheet of water coming out would very obviously be skew. The pipes were all joined up, and then connected to the reservoir below.
The test run with a hose pipe connected into the system is always an anxious moment, but the water feature worked according to plan. The top of the wall was then closed up, and plastered.


5. Screeding the surface
We used a combination of white cement and very light sand, so that the concrete screed would be as close to white as possible. Because of the amount of time needed to dry, and the fact that this was our rainy season, we had to wait until the weather man was predicting a dry couple of days. The first chance we got, we carefully screeded the whole surface, and left it over the weekend to dry.
Unfortunately, the final result was a little cloudy, and not entirely white. It did look quite a nice natural sandstone colour, but wouldn't give the necessary final white look that we were looking for.
We chipped it all up, and re-laid the screed. This time fortunately, the colour was a lot more even, so we let it harden for about 10 days before anyone was allowed to walk on it - not that the dogs agreed to that though!

6. Planting
Getting the planting right would be most important, in that I wanted to soften all the walls without closing down the space. I installed trellises on the sides to blur the boundaries of the courtyard a little, and in so doing, make it seem slightly bigger than it is.
I had 3 plants in mind from the start - Bamboo, Arum and Maple. These plants all suited the contemporary, slightly oriental feel, that I wanted to create. Alongside these, I planted Bergenia, Imperata Cylindrica (Red Baron Grass), Tulbaghia and Gardenia. I also planted Jasmine (Trachelospermum) to climb the trellis. Both the Gardenia and Jasmine have beautiful scents.
I planted the Maple in 2 pots on either side of the step - this would also help screen the electricity and irrigation boxes in the corner.



I wanted to add some statues into the courtyard, that wouldn't be too overpowering, and would suit the overall feel. I had seen these dog statues, right in the beginning of the project, which I thought would be perfect, showed a photo to my client, and she agreed. We placed these on pedestals on either side looking into the center of the garden.



After a few weeks, my client called to say that she was a bit disappointed that the concrete would go so dark when it was wet (which was most of the time due to the regular rain that we were having). After a bit of investigation, I discovered a sealer that could be applied to the concrete which would prevent this from happening. I was given the go ahead, and we rolled it onto the surface. It did lose some of the brightness, but at least the colour would remain constant regardless of whether the concrete was wet or dry.
A few days later, white patches began forming on the surface after any rain - the company which supplied the sealer were at a loss as to why this would happen, and suggested that I try waterproofing the surface with an epoxy. We took their advice only to find that it still appeared under the surface. It has improved slightly after a few weeks, but is still there.

Apart from one or two hiccups, the finished garden has turned out exactly how I had planned - the water feature wall was painted a burnt red to tie in with the bedrooms colours. This made all the difference in finishing off the garden.
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