THE UK has the highest number of houses with gardens in Europe but, arguably, they were underappreciated until the Covid pandemic.

With people restricted in their movements because of the lockdowns, those with gardens began to make full use of them, realising their outdoor spaces had more potential than a simple lawn, some flowers, or the idea of converting their front garden to a car park.

Lockdowns are now over and the use of gardens, like extra rooms of a house, have continued to become a common addition.  People are including elements like outdoor kitchens, pizza ovens, firepits, and summerhouses.

The biodiversity crisis has resulted in people wanting to create a better habitat for birds and other wildlife, but without letting their gardens go completely wild.

This change has led to more customised garden designs, that balance both environmental concerns, as well as hosting social events, gatherings, or creating spaces for peace and relaxation. North Hill Gardens, based in Glasgow, is a company that is dedicated to helping clients realise their vision for their gardens, whether it involves leisure, entertainment, sustainable practices, or a blend of all.

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Courtyard garden in Eaglesham. Photo: Alan McAteer

They have been providing comprehensive landscape design, construction and maintenance services within Glasgow, Edinburgh and the wider central belt since 2008. The company has grown to undertake and complete works on the West Coast islands and the Highlands.

However rather than blindly following the mainstream trends, which can often be expensive and misleading, the team works hard to create solutions specifically suited to each garden – a completely bespoke approach. 

They aim to transform outdoor spaces to enhance the built environment, improve people’s quality of life, increase the value of properties, as well as make contributions towards wildlife conservation and sustainability.

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Courtyard garden in Eaglesham. Photo: Alan McAteer

Their design studio works with both private and commercial clients of all sizes to create fresh, thoughtful and timeless landscapes.

This team of in-house industry specialists collaborate closely to design and actualise some of Scotland’s most beautiful gardens. North Hill Garden’s construction team helps make this happen, along with their joint venture (considered as the third part of the company), Grassgo, which does the planting and provides garden maintenance. The teams also operate separately if the full package is not needed, which makes their professional approach to garden design stand out.

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Urban glamping garden in Giffnock. Photo: Alan McAteer

“We have many interesting solutions for smaller and regularly used gardens,” said North Hill founder Michael Dumanski. “I think this is our biggest strength as a studio. Our internationally experienced team is always excited to experiment with new styles, delivering projects that are genuinely tailored to the needs of our clients.

“That is why our projects are so different one from another and, most importantly, different from the average gardens we can see all around us.”

He pointed out that creative solutions don’t always mean that the project is going to be expensive.

“It is actually a big part of our creative work to find solutions that fit the budget instead of stubbornly following the mainstream trends that often aren’t the cheapest and don’t always fit the case,” he said.

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Urban glamping garden in Giffnock. Photo: Alan McAteer

At the moment contemporary country gardens are popular after a few years of a craze for high-tech, ultra-modern and minimalistic gardens.

North Hill’s courtyard garden in Eaglesham is a good example of a contemporary country garden as it complements the historic weavers’ cottage, respecting its rural character but implementing modern solutions and uses. 

The courtyard that used to serve mostly as a utility space for carriages, animal stock and farming machinery became a centre for leisure and entertainment for a whole family, with plenty of rustic-looking flowering perennial borders, bespoke tiered water features, various sitting areas and, lastly, a cleverly designed driveway that doesn’t look like one when the car isn’t parked there.

This style works best in larger gardens but North Hill has much experience in finding solutions for smaller plots, such as those for tenement houses, flats, or semi-detached. In past years, the team has worked on Scandinavian, Japanese, Arabic, coastal and industrial–stylised gardens, since these were themes desired by clients.

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Scandinavian-inspired garden in Comrie. Photo: Alan McAteer

A greater consideration is climate change when planning a garden, as the weather is changing in Scotland with more intense rainfall that often leads to flooding. Some areas of the country are also starting to experience long, dry spells that can lead to drought.

“We need to learn how to balance that,” said Arek Zakrzewski, one of North Hill’s landscape architects. “How to drain the water when there is too much of it, but also how to retain it for dryer periods to avoid the need for irrigation.”

Rain gardens are areas created to cope with being periodically flooded and plants that can survive being submerged. 

The garden becomes a system of swales, dry rivers, soaking wells, and trenches – which can be designed to remain visually appealing. Sustainable drainage systems are designed to manage stormwater locally (as close to its source as possible), to mimic natural drainage. 

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Grassgo Gardeners. Photo: Alan McAteer

"In our climate, it’s advised to use some solutions from this trend in residential gardens, but most importantly in big public spaces or within parking lots,” said Arek.

The team is finding that clients increasingly want to make informed, sustainable choices and are turning away from artificial grass due to its detrimental environmental impact. There is greater empathy towards recycling, with a direction for existing hard-landscape materials to be reused in a design or crushed to form a foundation sub-base.

“We always advise to create biodiversity in the garden with loads of flowering perennials to provide habitat to animals,” said North Hill landscape architect Charlotte Cocking.

There is a current move toward rewilding but this does not mean the entire garden has to look as if it has been abandoned. A happy balance can be achieved that accommodates wildlife, remains easy to maintain and is attractive.

“We can treat the garden as another room of your house but with slightly different rules because we are sharing that space with nature,” Charlotte said. “Gardens need to be practical for the whole family. They aren’t just there to look nice – they’re functional spaces just as much as the kitchen or living room.”

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The landscape architects of North Hill: Laura Stevenson, Michael Dumanski, Angie Padden, Charlotte Cocking and Arek Zakrzewski. Photo: Adam Stent

The company believes that materials such as artificial grass will be banned in due time, since associations like the Society of Garden Designers have ceased sponsorship for such. The team also aims to make gardens accessible, considering those who are senior in age, or neurodiverse, or need extra care.

“Older adults can naturally become frustrated when they are prevented from enjoying their gardens, such as if their property is on a slope. We want people to have access to all parts of their gardens, not only view them,” said landscape architect Angie Padden, who also specialises in designing accessible spaces.

“Gardens can be a form of therapy with various smells and textures, so incorporating plants that have different bloom times, as well as including conifers and evergreens, will mean that there is interest all year.”