Using planting to soften your building with Paul Baines

Our designs have the ability to make you feel connected to the great outdoors, so having a beautiful garden room will often go hand in hand with having a beautiful garden too. We speak to Paul Baines, MSGD garden designer, to see how you can complement your home glazed extension with the clever use of some well-considered planting…

Nothing works better than a planting scheme to help your orangery or garden room blend in with its natural surroundings. Not to mention, it also gives you something beautiful to enjoy while you relax in your new glazed extension. An orangery strengthens the relationship that your home has with your garden, offering expansive views of the surrounding greenery and bringing the outside in. Choosing the right plants in your garden can only enhance your new space, providing that they work in harmony with the structure’s scale and proportion.

Like many garden designers, Paul did not initially work with plants; he worked as an architectural technician until he was made redundant in the ’90s. Not one to miss an opportunity, he made the decision to embark on a new challenge and change careers. “I did some freelance work for a garden designer who encouraged me to pursue my interest in gardening,” Paul explains. “I realised that landscape design and architecture have a lot in common, as they both focus on balance and proportion.”

Paul now has 25 years of gardening experience under his belt and has worked on numerous gold-winning garden designs at RHS Chelsea Flower Show. He’s an accredited member of the SGD (Society of Garden Designers), a group known for its unwavering commitment to standards. “I’m very proud to be a member of the only professional body for garden designers in the UK,” Paul says. “The SGD has a lot of kudos in the landscape industry, so if you’re after someone to transform your garden then their directory is the first place to look.”

Similar to Westbury’s own values, Paul believes that the fundamental elements of good design are scale, proportion, simplicity, and harmony. These beliefs shine through in his impressive portfolio, but it was also his horticultural knowledge that impressed Westbury’s founder, Jonathan, who commissioned Paul to design a plan for his own garden, and then for the courtyard at the Westbury showroom in Essex.

We have been recommending Paul to our clients ever since, because we trust his ability to complement an orangery or garden room with an elegant and striking landscape, which the homeowners always adore.  

Mastering proportions

There’s something quintessentially elegant about a garden room or orangery extension; unique and timeless, they are comfortable yet sophisticated. They will transform the architectural shape of your property, which means that your garden may well need changing too. “I’ll approach each garden in the same way,” says Paul. “A design works best when it relates to the proportions of the house, and an extension is something that you have to take into consideration or the overall aesthetic could look unbalanced.”

When you first open the doors of your orangery and step out onto your patio, you’re walking into an extended space that feels like another room. To stay connected to the house, the area immediately outside the extension should look neat, manicured, and well-ordered. Consider choosing paving and other hard landscaping products that are structured and straight to create a formal feel.

This might seem like an overly contemporary, bold concept, but this style will keep your outdoor space connected to your home and encourage continuity between the different spaces. “Once the paving is in place, you can then soften the hard edges with planting,” advises Paul. “Pay attention to the areas at the front, right by the extension. I find that when I go to visit a garden, so often everything is harsh and hard. I think people can be afraid of putting plants near a building but it creates intimacy in the space and stops you feeling exposed when you’re sitting outside.”

“As most of a garden room’s structure is glazed, you only need to include low level planting – perhaps knee height or thigh height so that the views are not interrupted,” suggests Paul. “It’s important for your flower beds to have a good depth too, so your home looks like it’s blended in with the surrounding foliage. Avoid thin, narrow strips of plants which won’t have much impact next to an extension.”

As the garden moves away from the house, the hard landscaping scheme can gradually become softer and free flowing, with curves and natural textures:

It’s all about balancing the hard and soft proportions so that the garden compliments the building. As the garden moves away from the house, especially in the countryside, it should become more naturalistic, so you get a nice blend as you move from the formal paved areas, and then out onto lawns and borders, then into meadows and fields beyond.

Planters to impress

If you don’t have flower beds already incorporated into your patio, you can use beautiful containers and planters to bring some greenery into the space. Consider arranging them in matching pairs or groups, in colours that match the shade of your garden room to tie the whole scheme together: “Fill them with shrubs, grasses, and perennials which will come up each year. If you don’t like the idea of making everything match, you can choose planters that will complement the colour of your extension, for example, by combining a stylish grey orangery with smart, dark-green planters,” suggests Paul. Choosing expertly crafted, handmade timber planters will also harmonise with a timber garden room or orangery, like those available from Oxford Planters.

Paul likes to use multiple plants of the same species in a single planter that give a fuller, more impactful look than having a mix of different plants:

Think about using eight or nine plants together in a large bed or planter, rather than using just a couple. Bring larger plants behind them to create some depth. Plant another bed with the same design for continuity, and you’ll make a real statement in your garden.

Soft spot for planting

Choosing the right plants will bring your garden to life, and the secret to a great scheme is to pick plants that will give your garden year round interest. Most plants will only bloom for a few weeks or a month of the year, so flowers should be a secondary factor after you consider the form and the structure of the plant, as this is what you will be looking at most of the time.

Don’t forget to look at where your garden is positioned, to assess which plants are suitable for the amount of sun your garden gets. “If your garden is facing north or east, you have to pick plants that are suitable for shade such as ferns, hostas, hydrangeas and hellebores,” says Paul.

Purple hellebores

If your garden is south facing, then you want to choose Mediterranean plants or plants that love the sun such as lavenders, salvias, cistus and agapanthus as the base of a building if its south facing it will get very warm.

Clockwise from top right; cistus, salvias and agapanthus

“Select plants that have good foliage throughout the year,” says Paul. “Look at the texture, colour and shape of the plants. Think about how they might work together in your garden, so you might want to have a hardy, verigated shrub (which have blotches of different colours on each leaf) next to a shrub with dark purple or silvery leaves. Contrast round, drooping plants with long, tall plants like agapanthus, which flower in late summer.”

For more information about Paul Baines and his designs, visit www.paul-baines.com or contact him on gardens@paul-baines.co.uk