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Landscape Architect Visit: Whimsy & Delight in a Walled Multi-Level Garden for a Family of Seven

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Landscape Architect Visit: Whimsy & Delight in a Walled Multi-Level Garden for a Family of Seven

October 20, 2020

This is simply one of the most joyful gardens we’ve ever seen. More than 20 years ago, Anna and Allan Joyce (a landscape architect and architect, respectively) decided to build their family home on a half acre in Southwell, England, that came with a derelict walled garden. They had five young children, and their dream was to build a compound that offered surprise and delight at every turn.

The two collaborated on the design and after two years, their “Garden House” was finished: a nearly 5,000-square-foot seven-bedroom house with floating mezzanines, balconies, a conservatory that blurs the line between indoors and out—and a multi-level, multi-use garden that encourages discovery and play.

“I didn’t want the whole garden to be seen from any one place. I wanted it to be intriguing like the house. It is within a beautiful high brick wall, which is a secret in itself. I wanted this secrecy to be reflected in the garden,” Anna tells us. “The garden is a series of rooms formed from yew and box hedging, which gives the garden year-round structure with strategically designed glimpses beyond to the next area. I wanted it to be fun. We had five small children and they liked this playfulness. Their friends, though now in their late twenties, still talk about this element of our garden.”

Now that their children are grown, Anna and Allan are understandably looking to downsize and have listed the property on The Modern House. (See the full listing here.) Below, they give us a tour of their spirited and fun-loving garden.

Photography courtesy of The Modern House, unless otherwise noted.

From the carport and entrance, the house appears to be a modest single-level building, albeit one with major curb appeal.
Above: From the carport and entrance, the house appears to be a modest single-level building, albeit one with major curb appeal.
To the left of the entrance grows a Corylus avellana &#8
Above: To the left of the entrance grows a Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (Corkscrew Hazel); to the right, growing in a stone planter, is Jasminum officinale.
And here&#8
Above: And here’s what’s on the other side. “I love having visitors who have not been here before as their surprise as they come into the house is always fun,” Anna told The Modern House.
The defining feature of the house is a conservatory that promotes indoor-outdoor living. More importantly, it&#8
Above: The defining feature of the house is a conservatory that promotes indoor-outdoor living. More importantly, it’s designed for energy efficiency. The two-and-a half-story south-facing conservatory, “as you would expect from any greenhouse, can get very hot in the sun. In the [colder] seasons, this heat is captured by the thermal mass of the building and then re-radiated at night. In the summer months, the heat is used to create air movement using the ‘stack effect,’ that is hot air rising and drawing air into the thermal chimney.”
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Above: “The lowest part of the garden is a little courtyard outside the underground bedrooms. The stone flooring runs through from inside to out to connect the house to the garden,” says Anna.
Galvanized steel steps lead from the basement courtyard to the the lower lawn, which has a well beneath it. &#8
Above: Galvanized steel steps lead from the basement courtyard to the the lower lawn, which has a well beneath it. “This water is used to pump into the house to flush the toilets and water the plants,” says Anna. “The sundial sits in a semicircle of slate and thyme. Al’s joke is carved into the oak post on which it’s set. ‘Look at the thyme; it’s slate.’ “
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Above: “Sitting on the balcony inside the conservatory is like being on the deck of a ship, particularly when it’s crisp and cold outside but the sky is blue and the winter sun is warming,” Anna said in The Modern House.
A meadow roof, with Cydonia oblongs ‘Vranja’ (Quince tree) hanging over. &#8
Above: A meadow roof, with Cydonia oblongs ‘Vranja’ (Quince tree) hanging over. “It was seeded with a wild flower mix on sub soil originally, but as the fertility has increased the species have changed. Oxeye daisy and grasses predominate after the first flush of narcissus and fritillaries. We have a lovely little window looking into this at ground level from our dining room. At the height of summer it has the view point of lying in a meadow.”
While much of the garden was designed to encourage play and creativity, there are also ample areas for rest and contemplation, like this nook, what Anna calls their &#8
Above: While much of the garden was designed to encourage play and creativity, there are also ample areas for rest and contemplation, like this nook, what Anna calls their “gin and tonic sitting area.” It’s in the upper level, the largest part of the garden. Catmint and Geranium x oxonianum flank the steps up to this level. A sweet secret lies among the cobblestones here: “The children’s treasured go-cart bits rest in peace amongst the stones.”
Above: “I have planted a ‘grass snake’ into the lawn. It is formed using Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold,’ He winds right across the lawn and up the bank. We also have a delightful ‘Girl On A Bicycle’, an inherited sculpture whizzing down the bank. I find lawns very boring!” Photograph courtesy of Anna and Allan Joyce.
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Above: “Two small ponds are connected by a small square bog garden. I like bog garden species so I wanted to have an area to plant them. To get into the house from here, you have to walk over the slate slabs which appear to be floating on the pond. The ponds were designed to be right outside the sitting room windows so that the light from the water reflects onto the ceiling of our sitting room, making it feel Mediterranean on a sunny day.”
“We were determined when we first worked on the site  years ago to be patient and wait a year before planting to get rid of pernicious weeds,&#8
Above: “We were determined when we first worked on the site 20 years ago to be patient and wait a year before planting to get rid of pernicious weeds,” Anna told The Modern House. “Consequently, maintenance has not been hard. The plants are chosen to fill the spaces and therefore weeding isn’t onerous.”
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Above: “We have a raised bed area to grow cut flowers, vegetable, and salad crops.”
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Above: “I do most of the gardening, but Al cuts the yew and box hedging,” shares Anna. “The lawn has a Eunoymus japonica ‘Ovatus Aureus’ which he has shaped into a life sized car! When it’s a bit overgrown, like in this picture, I think that it looks like it’s going fast!” Photograph courtesy of Anna and Allan Joyce.
“When Al first showed me the derelict walled garden site, I understood that there was potential. I never dreamed it would end up being so delightful.”
Above: “When Al first showed me the derelict walled garden site, I understood that there was potential. I never dreamed it would end up being so delightful.”

To see the listing for Anna and Allan’s Garden House, go here.

For more on walled gardens, see:

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