The design brief:

To create a design for a gazebo set among stunning planting, that would draw the eye from the house, and invite people down to a previously overgrown and underused area of the garden.

Design principles in action

Ecological design:

  • Selecting the plants for an immersive planting scheme for their value to bees and butterflies
  • Using oak – native, traditional and enduring
  • Using cedar – ties in with other natural wood applications in the homestead
  • Strengthening the connection to nature through a rich sensory experience
  • Planting buddleia and Eryngium Miss Willmott’s ghost for pollinating insects who feast at night (such as moths)

The project in focus

We chose to design a gazebo, which would create a beautiful focal point whilst blending harmoniously into the rural setting. The material choice would enhance this approach; oak as it is native, traditional and enduring, and cedar shingles for the roof to complement the natural colour of the gazebo, and weather over time to a silver-grey.

Our main aim was to create a restorative refuge, one in which nature and the rhythms of the seasons could be enjoyed. The structure considers both the gazebo viewpoint and the view from the house onto the gazebo.

The site is a sunny open one, in order to create shelter, privacy and diversity, we opted for a beech hedge as a backdrop to the rich planting scheme. This hedge would ground the gazebo and create a sanctuary for birds and insects.

The area was naturally sunken from the lawn. It was excavated a little more to create further shelter from the wind. A native stone was used to create the circular patio base upon which the gazebo sits, the colours of which are reflective in the local landscape. The stone has been used elsewhere on site providing continuity.

Whilst the gazebo was set close to the edge of the lawn, we wanted to create an entry journey so that the plants could be admired from a variety of angles. This provides a sense of anticipation – you feel immersed within the planting and have the ability to get close to butterflies and other pollinating insects.

Biophilic design in focus

Using biophilic design, the nature of the space mimics spatial configurations in nature, which deliver prospect, refuge and mystery.

  • Prospect: the location of the gazebo provides for unimpeded views into the distance, across great swathes of farmland to the hills beyond, and back across the garden to the house
  • Refuge: the gazebo as a place to withdraw from environmental conditions that affords overhead protection
  • Mystery: the planting and pathway entice the individual to explore deeper into the environment

The design is sustainable. Its restrained palette of materials form an enduring structure, which, upon its useful life coming to an end, will gently degrade back into the earth.

Gazebos in focus

Once exclusively the reserve of wealthy landowners and royalty, Oak gazebos are now a popular choice for those looking to improve their gardens. They are both aesthetically appealing and create a practical, immersive experience within the garden.

They provide space in which to relax, a venue for al-fresco dining or outdoor entertaining, quiet for reading, and shelter from the sun or rain.

Gazebos are a practical choice if constructed from the right materials, as they are capable of enduring the harshest of British weather conditions.

Ecological design in focus

Our British gardens are key habitats for bees and butterflies and can help the current decline in pollinating insects. Pollinator garden design should be the single most important aspect of garden planning.

In approaching the planting design, we considered low input, high impact planting, creating a sense of connection to nature and stimulating the senses, both visually and olfactory.

Designing the planting scheme around the gazebo, it was important to consider the surrounding landscape – working in empathy with nature and taking the position, climate and soil type into account.

The planting scheme would allow for a prolonged flowering season to provide a show of flowers from early spring until late autumn. With the use of grasses, affording winter interest along with the structure of the hedge and the naturally rusty colour winter leaves, reflecting the landscape that surrounds it and tones within the wood.

Grasses in focus

Stipia tenuissima, or pony tail grass, runs across the front of the gazebo, planted in a long drift. It’s a closely packed stiff grass that forms a strong horizontal shape and produces masses of pale feathery seed heads that are held above its foliage.

This grass has many benefits, it can be cut and dried for use in floral arrangements and provides an important winter food source for finches and other seed-eating birds.

Visually, the grass is always stimulating, lapping at the edge of the lawn and creating movement as it sways gracefully in the slightest breeze. It mixes beautifully with a range of flowering bulbs and perennials – its translucent appearance does not seek to crowd out other flowers. Rather, it enhances and naturalises thanks to its ability to self sow.

Stipia Maxima, or grater quaking grass, is a stunning grass with pale green flowers. They look like raindrops when they catch the light and the stems are wonderful to use in arrangements. Charlotte planted this grass around the circular base on which the gazebo sits. Again, it provides a vital food source for birds throughout the winter.

Stipia Gigantia, or giant feather grass, has superb heads of oat-like flowers which shimmer and shine as if gold when they catch the light. Arising from clumps of slender semi-evergreen leaves, they last for months and can reach a height of two metres.

Planting list

We selected the following for their rich pollen and nectar, and for their spectacular visual impact when combined together:

Echinacea, verbena, salvia, eryngium, campanula, astrantia, alium sphaerocephalon, dierama pulcherrimum (angel’s fishing rods), agapanthus, iris germanica (Benton Lorna), and buddleia.

The grass selection provides texture and architectural interest. We chose to plant three different types of grasses in the space, they each grow to different heights, creating visual interest and movement:

Stipia gigantean (greatest height of the three), stipia tenuissima (lowest height of the three), briza maxima (Greater Quaking Grass) (medium height of the three).

Two climbing roses were selected to train up and over the gazebo, creating a romantic feel and allowing for sumptuous summer scent. We chose ‘The Generous Gardner’ by David Austin, a repeat flowering rose with a strong old rose/musk/myrrh fragrance and high attractiveness to bees.