How to Transform a Back Yard into an Oasis to Escape City Stress

Article by Giacomo Guzzon – Parson Green by Cityscapers, in London, England, shows us how to escape city stress and transform a back yard. 

Designing gardens is a very important aspect of our profession, because it allows landscape architects to test ideas and focus attention on particular hard and soft landscaping details that we can learn from and eventually use in the public realm. Parson Green, a small urban garden designed by Cityscapers and located in Hampstead, a wealthy area in northwest London, is a good example to analyze in order to understand what to consider when designing back yards.

escape the city

Digital model of Parson Green. Image courtesy of Cityscapers

Urban gardens often become a refuge for people — an oasis where they can be immersed in nature and forget about the stresses of urban life. Here are some key elements to creating an oasis:

Use Lots of Vegetation

It sounds obvious, but plants are the very essence of almost every garden, regardless of whether they are small, big, rural, or urban. Plants should always cover at least a third of the volume of the whole project; therefore, they are very important in giving character to a place.

In Parson Green, since the garden covers an area of only 25 square meters, the plant palette is pretty simple, yet in some way exotic. In such projects, the rule to follow is: Less is more. It is much better to stick to one or two bold plants and repeat them throughout the garden rather than use many different ones. These plants will help to give a particular style or mood to

Image courtesy of CityScapes

Image courtesy of Cityscapers

These plants will help to give a particular style or mood to the space. In this case, the only bigger plants used are a bamboo Phyllostachys aurea and a cabbage palm Cordyline australis. For groundcover and structure, ferns, shrubs, and climbers such as Buxus sempervirens , Dryopteris affinis and Trachelospermum jasminoides were planted.

The plants help to give the garden an exotic and cosmopolitan look, since the plants have origins in different continents, and they ultimately connect the garden with London, considering it is the most multicultural city in Europe.

Screen out the City

In order to create an oasis and give the illusion that the garden is somewhere else, it is fundamental to make the surrounding neighbors’ houses less visible. Privacy can be achieved by using plants, and in Parson Green, the tall bamboos planted around the perimeter of the garden help to screen out the city and create an intimate atmosphere.

Image courtesy of Cityscapers

Image courtesy of Cityscapers

Vegetation is also useful to hide what you don’t want to see in a “paradise” — for instance, utilities and technical equipment. Tall plants at the margin of a garden help to make the boundaries less visible and therefore make the garden feel bigger.

Image courtesy of Cityscapers

Image courtesy of Cityscapers

Juxtapose Particular Materials to Create

The minimalist style of Parson Green seen in the planting continues in the palette of hard materials. The only materials used are stone, cedar timber, and white walls. In this case, the juxtaposition of different materials that normally refer to a particular style — such as the white walls suggesting a Mediterranean/southern look — lend a cosmopolitan feel and make users forget that they are in London.

In Parson Green, the combination of materials used is very particular and surely not common in other gardens in the area; this enhances the uniqueness of this space.

Image courtesy of Cityscapers

Image courtesy of Cityscapers

The blue and white azulejos Portuguese tiles, used together with the white rendered walls, surely convey a southern look to the garden, but the juxtaposition with the bamboo plants makes it difficult to attribute a particular style to this design.

Simplicity and restrained color palette is surely a rule to follow in every small garden, for the planting as well as for the hard materials.

Escape City Stress

Image courtesy of Cityscapers

Link the Garden to the House

In cities where space is always limited, it is important to design the garden as an extension of the house, to make it another room where people can feel comfortable and use it as much as possible. In Parson Green, by using timber for flooring in both house and garden, the designer achieved a sense of continuity between the interior and exterior spaces.

Don’t forget about the lighting, which not only extends the use of the space during the night, but also connects it with the adjacent living room. The spotlights placed within the bamboos and close to the stone-clad wall create a suggestive atmosphere by casting interesting shadows.

Escape City Stress

Image courtesy of Cityscapers

This garden shows us how a simple design and a restricted palette of materials are the best solution for a small and modern space. Nevertheless, simplicity doesn’t mean that the garden is less interesting or intriguing. On the contrary — this space is highly sophisticated in the complex combination of different elements. It has components that lend it a Mediterranean feel and others that owe a lot to the East Asian aesthetic.

Escape City Stress

Image courtesy of Cityscapers

The mood in the garden varies between the day, when the relation between forms and materials conveys an almost zen-like character, and the night, when the warm light reveals its southern Latin side.

The simplicity of forms and materials, the use of exotic plants around the perimeter, and the lighting are all elements that induce a contemplative mood to the space. This is ultimately the key for creating an oasis in the city.

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Escape City Stress

Image courtesy of Cityscapers

Full Project Credits For Parson Green :

Project: Parson Green
Designer:  Nigel Gomme @ Cityscapers
Location: London, England
Size: 25 square meters
Completion Date: September 2014
Client: Private
Photo Credits: Nigel Gomme and Edoardo Taricco

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