A garden room can be an extension of the house or a free standing structure elsewhere in the garden. It may be an extra room for children or a grown up space for entertaining. Whichever type it is, the garden room should be embedded in the landscape, linking house and garden. This is best achieved by using plants architecturally, contrasting vertical lines with horizontal ones to create a pleasing balance.
The planting area around the garden house should be thought of as a border, with the house backing it as a wall or hedge would. As in a border, it will be best to site taller plants at the back, grading down to ground cover. Structural plants will give height and weight, to be balanced by plants with interesting foliage. Repeat planting along the length of the bed will have a unifying effect. For taller, background plants, evergreens are invaluable. Prickly shrubs like pyracantha are best avoided so near the house, as are high maintenance evergreens like escallonia. Better to choose evergreens which may be clipped, but only need pruning once a year. Euonymus and choisya would be suitable. Fatsia japonica is an excellent architectural plant which makes a striking focal point with its large leaves.
Moving down to the next storey, hebes are invaluable, weatherproof shrubs. Larger varieties, like ‘Great Orme’, will add bulk as well as colour. Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ has fluffy silver foliage. It looks deceptively fragile, but the foliage survives through winter. Maintaining the silvery theme, cistus also retain their leaves and although each flower lasts only a short time, the flowering season is long. Any of the Euphorbia characias varieties would fit this central band.
At the front of the border, the cistus could be echoed by their smaller relatives, the colourful helianthemums. These mix particularly well with thyme: fragrant and attractive to bees. The little hebe ‘Wiri Dawn’ has a low, spreading habit, as do ground cover geraniums like ‘Bertie Crûg’. Hostas make a good front row feature, especially if arranged with some artfully placed stones and pebbles. Ferns would go well with such a scheme.
Once the structure of the border is established, it can be infilled with perennials, annuals and plants in pots to give seasonal interest. For instance, pots of spring bulbs could be slotted in, to be replaced later by lilies. Night-scented stocks would be lovely near the house, especially when evening guests are being entertained. The taller nicotianas, and especially Nicotiana sylvestris, would add scent and impact.
The garden room is a good place to display and over-winter tender plants. Low shelves, built in under the windows, are the perfect home for some of the more unusual pelargoniums, such as Pelargonium ‘Ardens’. A collection of succulents could be arranged on an étagère or on a shabby chic painted table, if that matches the décor. The garden room may be the main route into the garden, in which case scented foliage plants either side of the doorway make a pleasing transition. Lavender, rosemary and lemon verbena are all aromatic when brushed against in passing.
The right planting will suit the garden room to the site and make it a fitting and valuable addition to the property. Clark Davis is a landscape gardener and tree surgeon in Birmingham. Genuine Garden Services, 84 Wood lane, Erdington, Birmingham, B24 9QS