A few miles outside Braco, not far from Gleneagles, lies an estate with stunning views and a breathtaking location for a new-build house designed by Sula McEwan of Lorn Macneal Architects.
The clients contacted me very early on in the design process and I worked with them and Sula on ensuring the exterior spaces worked perfectly with the interior. The clients were particularly keen to ensure the house sat comfortably in its surroundings and requested that I design the areas around it ‘with a light touch’. They love the outdoors and at their previous house had created a stunning country garden. However, their new house needed something a bit different. Its location, looking onto a moor and backed by a forest of pine trees, needed very little enhancement and nothing to distract from the scenery all around. But a driveway, access around the house, patios for dining and sheltered places to sit were all required. I brought in Kenny Macfadyen of Endrick Landscapes to build the garden and Water Gems for the water feature.
First on the wishlist was a wildlife pond, completely natural, spacious enough to catch reflections of the big, open sky and with a Scottish larch deck sitting over it to allow the visitor to get up close to the water. Mown paths were created through the moor to take you there and flag irises and water lilies adorn the feature. Boulders sourced on the estate edge the pond and old, preserved tree stumps add interest and habitat. The pond was built by Water Gems’ Stuart Booth and his team. What is so remarkable about it is that it was built over the winter in 2019 and is photographed here in 2020 looking as if it has been there for years. Such great work is surveyed by a single, elegant heron (made out of an old motorbike by sculptor Helen Dennerly who also created the two giraffes outside the Omni Centre at the top of Leith Walk).
The clients had an idea of having a place to sit on summer evenings, hunkered down out of the wind where the ground rises away from the house and with views to the hills to the south and west. Using stone from the estate I designed a circular drystone wall with bench (not dissimilar to a sheep pen). A slatted Scottish larch bench and some chunky logs in the middle provide somewhere to lay drinks. A fire pit could also be used here. The structure is reached by more mown paths and this almost hidden gem is signposted by a Stanley Dove sculpture of a giant hare.
Immediately around the house are gravel paths and paving in black basalt slabs and setts. A wall to match the stonework on the house defines a west-facing dining area with built-in bench. This catches the evening sun and provides views to the pond. On the gable end of the house I extended a timber clad wall to create two sheltered spots for benches. Moors are by their very nature, windy and so the wall acts as a wind break allowing my clients to pick their spot depending on which way the wind blows. Each bench is surrounded by planting, designed to withstand the wind and the conditions but also to provide seasonal interest.
This location is exposed and in most winters it will see regular frost and snow. Spring comes later than in the central lowlands and the summer season is short with a quick blast of growth and activity. It can be baking hot on a good day in summer but we wore hats and gloves at one of our meetings in June. What this means for plants and planting designs is that patience is required – plants take longer to establish, will come into flower later than further south and will struggle if the ground is waterlogged for long periods of freezing weather in winter. I’m a great believer in trial and error and in planting a wider range of species in order to find the ones which like the conditions and will do their thing happily. Micro-climates mean we are often pleasantly surprised by what takes happily to a site and then hugely disappointed when the same plant sulks in a neighbouring garden for no apparent reason. Working alongside David Wong of Inhouse Plants, I created a colour palette which captures the colours of the moor with purples, pale yellows, whites and the odd dash of pink. As the borders are newly planted they are protected by mesh from hares, deer and the vast population of voles. The idea is that once the plants have had time to mature they will better withstand the appetite of the local wildlife residents. We hope. I also opted for species rich turf rather than standard turf. Species rich contains a mixture of grasses, clover, daisies and pretty much all the things people spend time, money and effort trying to eradicate in their lawns when in fact these are the things which help keep it green for longer. Species rich is also good for insect life such as ground nesting bees and provides pollen. It is generally considered to be tougher and more vigorous than standard turf and its less manicured appearance fits well here with the clients’ desire for ‘a light touch’.
The gravel driveway sweeps in from the estate road and brings you round to catch your first proper view of this L shaped contemporary house. It was an exciting moment at my most recent visit to drive in for the first time (competition for parking spaces outside the house on previous site visits was stiff) and to see my clients sitting in the sunshine waving to me. Sula had designed a covered area at the front door with a corridor leading to the carport. We added space for a bench where boots can be removed, a logstore and parcel shelf for deliveries and post. A wide border in front of this also viewed from the kitchen is filled with Rhododendrons, Pinus Mugo, Dryopteris Erythrosora and a range of flowering herbaceous plants for a natural, wildflower effect from spring to autumn. The gravel parking area around the house has a gravel stabilisation system to keep it firm and is edged with setts to match those at the entrance to the carport. The architectural success of this entrance is that it is open and welcoming but at the same time sheltered from the prevailing weather. We have planted 25 trees down the driveway including Amelanchier Robin Hill, Prunus Cerasifera Niger, Malus Evereste and Crataegus Pauls Scarlet as well as a specimen Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood) near the pond. All the hard and soft landscaping was carried out by Kenny Macfadyen and his guys at Endrick Landscapes. They were a great team to work with – excellent problem-solving, keen to get things right and willing to go the extra mile to get a really good finish.
The fear I have with many new build projects is that the house will feel too contemporary, that the materials will jar with their surroundings, the clients won’t leave enough in their budget to deal with the outside space and that it will take many years and some sort of wizardry to create a garden and repair the damage from the build itself. Any such fears in this project are completely unfounded. The clients had the good sense and taste to keep things simple. They have created an exceptionally comfortable house which talks quietly to the landscape. This is an easy and enjoyable place to be and coupled with the clients’ enthusiasm for the project and their very generous hospitality throughout, visiting this little piece of paradise is an undeniable joy.