Le Jardin Contemporain // The Contemporary Garden - Barry Watton Garden Designs

Years ago when I began practising law, I was told “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” and this mantra also certainly rings true of garden design.

Having moved to a new house in France, with around 1200m2 of accompanying land, I am almost spoiled for choice in comparison with my previous 70m2 garden in Bristol. It could be very easy to get carried away with such a generous space. Careful planning of any garden of any size is essential to avoid an unappealing, unharmonious, hodge-podge, or a costly budget overrun.

Planning allows you to focus your ideas not only in terms of the fun stuff such as aesthetics, colours, planting and so on, but also practically in terms of what you want to get out of the garden and how the space will be used. Careful consideration should be given to this at the outset. Through focus and honing of my ideas, I expect to end up with a garden that is not only pleasing to the eye, but also ‘works’ on a practical level.

So to start with I have made a small aide memoire detailing my primary objectives/desires for the garden to inform my design choices later in the process. In a professional setting, this taking of a ‘brief’ would form part of my initial consultations with the client (albeit in a more detailed form – I have the good fortune of being the client and so have a very good idea of what I want to achieve already).

Garden Use

Identify who and what the garden is for. Put simply, there seems little point to creating a garden that is neither appealing to, nor works for its owner and other users.

I shall be purchasing a separate plot of land that will have a functional, potager use. This allows me the freedom to create for the house a purely ornamental garden for enjoyment purposes. I want the garden to be capable of being enjoyed at all times during the day and evening, not only by my family and me, but also our guests (we have a gite/guest house that opens out into the same space).

Having more than one seating area should encourage those using the garden to explore and enjoy the space more fully. To a large extent achieving this involves tracking the course of the sun and shade around the garden and building several seating areas around the garden that take this into account, being mindful of not blocking any important views from windows, any desirable views of the land beyond and blocking access/making navigation difficult.

Areas to be enjoyed should include: a morning coffee spot near the house, lunch/dining table area relatively near to the house, an evening spot to enjoy the views and sunset. It will be essential to keep a certain amount of lawn area for guests and children to play ball games etc. On the wish list is also a more secluded area amongst trees that the children can enjoy/be used by the adults as an evening firepit/gathering area. There will also need to be an area dedicated to outside dining for the gite. Lighting is also a consideration I will need to make during this process.

Le Jardin Contemporain // The Contemporary Garden - Barry Watton Garden Designs

Consider the locale

Back in Bristol I frequently worked on gardens in which clients wanted to evoke a feeling of being elsewhere, for example, a reminder of favourite holidays abroad or a serene oasis in the city. Indeed, my own back garden in Bristol was attempting to create a feeling of the mediterranean. Creating a themed garden or one that has a flavour of a land far away can be great fun and tranquil in its own right.

However, in this new garden in France I strongly feel that I want the garden to be sympathetic to the landscape to a large extent. I don’t wish to create a garden that evokes elsewhere; after all why go through the difficulty of settling in another country of your choice only to create a garden that reflects a vision of being somewhere else entirely?

The area in which we live is extremely agricultural, the surrounding fields being full of wheat, barley, sweetcorn and sunflowers during the summer months. Small clusters of irregularly shaped woodland pepper the landscape here, regularly coppiced for fire wood. We are also located just a few hundred metres from the beautiful Charente river. I would like the garden to reflect on these aspects in some way.

I have also been graced with being left with several piles of local stone – all houses here are constructed of stone – which I would like to use in some way, shape or form.

There is wildlife aplenty here, which as a philosophical choice I would like to keep in mind at all times in terms of layout, sustainability, choice of materials, planting choices, and the difficult issues of pests, diseases and weed killing (something I will return to specifically in the future in a separate blog post).

Likes and dislikes

When meeting with a client detailed discussion around the subject of their tastes needs to be had. The garden needs to appeal to the client after all! If the client doesn’t already have a firm idea of what their garden preferences are, taking note of the decoration of their house is often a very good pointer of colour use and styles. Fortunately, being the client I know what I like and dislike already! Without going into too much detail (as all will be revealed in due course) I intend to build and plant the garden according to my preference for natural materials and a naturalistic style of planting.


Us British folk don’t like to discuss such distasteful things as money, hence why it appears last on my list of essentials, but it is no less important for that. Matters of budget flow through the entire project; it is reflected in how we deal with the challenges presented by a location, the amount of hard landscaping used, the materials used and the number and maturity of the plants initially planted.

At present I have no budget to speak of whatsoever. Being cash buyers of our house, living in rented accommodation for several months whilst waiting out the purchasing process, setting up a business and purchasing a vehicle and tools, and replacing furniture for our home and the gite has all but exhausted our savings.

This being the case I will need to build the garden in phases, as and when money becomes available. This makes the planning phase of the project all the more important; a cohesive plan for all phases of the project from the outset will ensure a harmonious and unified garden come the end of the project. Planning each phase as you go separate to the others runs the risk of ending up an incohesive final result.

Having established an outline statement of intent for the garden, one must undertake an assessment of the site and clearly define what is actually there. This boils down to measuring the site and all that is in it, creating a visual itinerary of the site and thereafter making an assessment of the site to understand fully its challenges, its opportunities before considering how it might be altered to fit with the brief.

I am now off to undertake the mammoth task of measuring up the whole site all by myself. In the meantime, is there anything you would add to, or change, on my list if you were the client? Are there any other topics you might like to see covered in this blog?

If you would like help with planning, constructing and planting your new garden for next year, please get in touch here.


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