What garden would a #Passivhaus have? [guest post by @LinseyEvans] cc @vectorworks

Following on from my guest post on Garden Designer Linsey Evans site on ‘What is a Passivhaus?’ I am pleased to post here a reciprocal post by Linsey on a trickier conundrum on: What type of garden would a Passivhaus have?:

“What sort of garden is appropriate for a Passivhaus? This is the same question I have to ask myself when designing any garden. The garden design process takes time and starts with considering what kind of garden is suitable for each property, its surroundings and its occupants.

During an initial consultation clients often want to talk about features – outdoor kitchens, pergolas, patios, etc. What I really need to know is how they want to use the garden. I may eventually design a contemporary space with built-in seating, an outdoor kitchen, a steel pergola and outdoor fireplace, but that will depend on the brief. It’s my job as a garden designer to translate the requirements into a garden that reflects the clients’ aspirations and tastes, is practical, suitable for the site and beautiful.

Another important factor determining how any garden is designed is the setting of the house. This doesn’t mean that a country garden can’t have contemporary features and facilities, but these must be integrated sensitively into the scheme. Framing a beautiful view and softening a new house into a rural setting is very important. A skilled garden designer will accomplish this by adding new elements that enhance the qualities of the existing landscape and direct attention towards important existing features and views.

The nature of a Passivhaus is that it leaves a light carbon footprint on the planet. Anyone who buys or builds a Passivhaus wants to keep energy costs down to a minimum and may be aiming for virtual self-sufficiency including growing food and keeping livestock. The garden must reflect these values and goals. So, deciding how to design a garden for a Passivhaus in the countryside requires the same decision process as designing a cool, chic urban garden for city dwelling high flyers.

When the owners of a Passivhaus consider their requirements for the garden it will include the same things as any other house owner – a seating area, a place to cook outside, shelter from the elements, planting, a lawn, storage for garden equipment, a dry route around the garden, etc. In creating these practical, modern features it’s important to ensure they do not conflict with the house or its surroundings.

One of the essential functions of any garden is to set the house into its plot. The garden must envelop the house and merge it into its setting with any hard landscaping softened by planting. Enclosing paved areas with raised borders gives visual interest and the level changes will help blur the edges between natural and man-made structures. Turfed banks can be used to retain terraces, or create natural sculptural forms and provide a seamless join between the garden and the wider landscape.

A steeply sloping, contemporary garden in Buckinghamshire

In a rural area, the use of natural materials such as Oak for pergolas and locally sourced stone for walls and paving helps blend the house and garden into its surroundings. Self-binding gravel is a wonderful, low-cost, natural material for informal walkways which requires no mortar and minimal maintenance. Any structures over paved areas should be placed so they do not obscure views over open countryside. Sweeping curves that extend out from the house opening into the wider landscape work well in a large, country garden. Artfully clipped hedges and a carefully placed tree can frame a view and direct attention to notable features.

A large, country garden on a steep slope in Surrey.
In an urban location where the architecture of the house may be more modern the use of contemporary materials such as powder coated aluminium will provide a virtually zero maintenance option for garden structures. In this type of situation creating raised beds with rendered concrete block walls, planted with soft grasses and perennials will complement beautifully the house and its environment. Use large, single sized porcelain paving slabs for a clean, contemporary patio that will require virtually no maintenance and stay looking good all year round. Strong, geometric shapes and straight lines that tie the garden back to the house are perfect for a crisp, modern garden.

A contemporary garden in Berkshire
Where clients wish to reduce water bills and are environmentally conscious the garden can also incorporate rainwater storage and recycling. Water reclamation systems start at simple above ground rainwater storage tanks connected to household gutters and surface water drains. More expensive and complex systems have submerged tanks which collect and filter rainwater and grey water from the house and recycle it to flush toilets as well as watering the garden. Garden irrigation systems that connect to the storage tank and use one or more pumps to carry the water where it’s needed are the most efficient way of watering a garden.

A large country garden in Upper Basildon, Berkshire
Another energy and cost saving option are the use of LED lamps for all garden lighting. LED lamps were initially insufficiently powerful to be used effectively in the garden. Recent improvements in LED technology means that all garden lighting – decorative, task and security – can be accomplished with low-cost LED lamps that have a long life span and are very power efficient.
In larger gardens, a compost area will ensure that all garden and household can be composted and re-used. Three bins will work best so that you have one in use with fully composted waste, one that’s full and can be left to rot down, and another one that is being filled. Depending on the size of the garden and the amount of waste generated a good size for each bin is a 1m cube. If there are a lot of trees also include a leaf cage. This area which will not always look attractive will need to be screened from the rest of the garden, but not in full shade or the compost will not rot down properly and may become smelly.

These visuals are for a large garden around a new Passivhaus in Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire. I have designed one acre of this three-acre site. The brief was for a full outdoor kitchen with a large seating and entertaining area that could be covered in bad weather. The large lawn area is for football games and parties. There is a seating area with a fire pit at the end of the garden approached through a moon gate and enclosed by a turf mound for privacy and to avoid disposing of spoil from the house construction. The garden also has an area for bee hives, a sinuous perimeter path for cycling and dry year round garden access, a resin-bound gravel driveway, large storage shed, and compost area. The whole scheme will be blended into the surrounding countryside with planting. The rest of the 3-acre plot will be developed over time to include paddocks for animals and an orchard to enable self-sufficiency. The garden will start construction as soon as the house is finished next year.

I’ve covered some practical and aesthetic suggestions for how to design a garden that may be appropriate for a Passivhaus. However, there are no rules for exactly what type of garden is suitable for a Passivhaus because each one will be in a different location and owned by people with unique hopes, dreams and needs. Any garden design should be a combination of what is wanted, what is appropriate for the setting, what is practical for the site, and what is needed to settle the house elegantly into its surroundings.

Linsey Evans

Linsey Evans is a garden designer based in Bracknell, Berkshire with projects in London and throughout the Thames Valley and Home Counties.
Linsey is a specialist in designing sloping gardens with extensive knowledge of the technical aspects of garden construction. Linsey Evans Garden Design has been designing and constructing gardens for 12 years with the emphasis on strong structures and geometric layouts softened by elegant planting schemes.

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[Editors note: 3D Landscape design by Vectorworks Landmark]

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