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Transform your garden (and maybe your life)

North Oxfordshire landscapers Nicholsons are the best in the biz, so who better to ask for advice on creating a sublime outdoor garden space from dreamy grand designs to creative quick fixes. We chatted to owner Liz Nicholson.

What are the projects you love the most?

It’s fun to start from a completely blank canvas, whether it’s a grand house or something more intimate. That’s happening a lot at the moment with the influx of people moving into the area from London, often to houses with gardens that haven’t been designed past a square of lawn, or perhaps they have more land but it’s just fields. So we’re often starting from scratch.

Ewww, isn’t that quite a pressure?

Ha! Not really, we love it! We use CAD design that allows clients to understand our vision and we’re one of the only businesses to show it in fully 3D which really helps bring it to life. They might not be so sure in theory and then they see what we’re proposing in 3D, and they’re like ‘Ahhh, ok, I get it!’

What’s been your favourite project?  

We just finished working on a manor house garden, a beautiful space with its own river meandering through it, where the builder had created a horrific huge white traversine terrace – you couldn’t even stand outside on a sunny day, it blinded you! The owner had a massive passion for Africa so we refurbished the whole garden in that image with long meadow grass, giraffes at waterholes (it sounds mad I know but honestly, it looked amazing), and the terrace in warm African orange and big pergolas. I’m really proud of it. It will have increased the value of the house, that’s for sure. 

How has Covid 19 changed your business?

Not surprisingly with people spending more time in their gardens and working from home, we’re being asked to create more work/nature blended spaces – lots of garden studios and a much higher interest in the emotional feel of the surrounds. Where possible we try to put studios where you can’t see it from the house – it’s important when you’re working from home that you can go to ‘work’ and then come home to relax, without family tapping on your windows! We persuaded a vlogger client recently to do that and she was really pleased she’d gone with that decision.

What’s the big new trend in garden design? 

The rewilding movement is massive and I’m proud to say we’re leading this trend – it’s about letting the grass go long, not ripping gardens out but retaining and celebrating what’s already there. We’re right out there with our eco credentials, we aspire to be as carbon balanced as possible, so if we have to take up paving stones we’ll reuse them for something else like school projects rather than going into a skip. We build waterponds that are nature-balanced not chlorinated, and we love to plant trees! Every garden is a forest, and I always say to clients, don’t be afraid to plant trees, they give a beautiful structure to a garden and are actually so easy to plant and maintain.

Liz’s tips for quick garden improvements

Go wild. Let the borders scramble a bit, just take away tidiness and let nature slightly win, it has its own beauty. Welcome in wildlife with birdboxes, wild roses – maybe put a hammock out on the lawn.

1

Declutter. Pare your garden right back, treat it like a room in your house that needs simplifying. Take it back to its bare bones and then go forward with strong structural items. And think cosmetically – ceramics, glazed browns and terracottas all go well together for example. My own garden is very simple and sculptural, it’s not fussy at all.

2

Give your garden a brand. This is particularly effective for smaller gardens and budgets. So if you love Morocco focus on that look – it might mean lanterns dotted around the gardens and warm palette of planting in orange, reds, and pinks, throws, maybe a Moroccan inspired screen panels to divide areas. 

3

Treat it like the exterior version of your house. If guests are coming over, set the scene – put the cushions out, candles, flowers, make it a beautiful time with your friends.

4

Small improvements are still improvements! Money is tight for many with Covid – so maybe the dream of the orangerie can wait, but you can create a less extravagant, but still beautiful addition to your garden.Creativity is always the key. 

5

MY FAVOURITE… 

Book: I get irritated by gardening books as they often seem unrelatable and hard to replicate at home. My favourite book is probably the David Austen rose catalogue! 

Flower:My absolute favourite is the Mme Alfred Carrière rose. She puts herself about a bit, grows vigorously, and produces white flowers from June to November and is evergreen all winter. She’s brilliant for north facing wall of a house.

Heritage garden: Rousham (near Bicester) without a doubt. I love it. Just so clever and timeless. It doesn’t need to be renovated or changed, it’s perfect.

Tree. Honestly the choices are endless, I’m passionate about trees! If I had to choose I’d say Davidia involucrata– it’s called the hankerchief tree, and has the most extraordinary blooms.

Hedging. Hornbeam, hornbeam hornbeam every time! It’s great in the shade or full sun, holds it shape really well, and is totally beautiful.

Nicholsons, The Park, North Aston, Bicester, Oxfordshire OX25 6HL. Tel: 01869 340342

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