Be inspired by this bold and beautiful Birch Green garden

PUBLISHED: 11:38 03 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:38 03 August 2017

Fluffy plumes of Stipa tenuissima catch the breeze beside the striking 13 metre pool

Fluffy plumes of Stipa tenuissima catch the breeze beside the striking 13 metre pool

Elliot Hook

Letchworth designer Daniel Shea has transformed a one-time gamekeeper’s garden at Birch Green with contrasting strong lines and soft planting. Philippa Pearson visits

Soft planting edges bold lines - here made with reclaimed bricksSoft planting edges bold lines - here made with reclaimed bricks

‘We absolutely love this garden,’ says Jacky O’Leary about her and husband Gary’s beautiful outdoor space at Birch Green near Hertford. Their house, Beechleigh, with its walled garden and surrounding outbuildings was once a gamekeeper’s cottage on the historic Panshanger Estate. Covering two and a half acres, the garden combines bold confident lines of contemporary planting with more traditional herbaceous borders, a wildflower meadow, kitchen garden and a woodland area.

When the couple had a new kitchen extension a few years ago they decided the garden could also do with an overhaul.

‘We had some ideas but nothing really came together,’ says Jackie.

It was visiting the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and seeing the planting style of designer Daniel Shea’s conceptual garden that gave the garden a new direction.

Dahlias in late summerDahlias in late summer

Daniel, based in Letchworth, used grasses and perennials in his show garden to create a soft but striking contemporary planting design that Jackie felt would work at Beechleigh. Daniel started work in the garden in the winter of 2013 and created a design that was contemporary and bold as well as soft and enchanting and helps to unify the new build of the extension with the existing architecture and surroundings.

‘I think it was quite brave of Jackie and Gary to do something different with the garden,’ Daniel explains, ‘and I’m really pleased they were open to pushing out the garden design boundaries.’

A key inspiration for Daniel’s design is the architectural style of the lovely red brick house and how the new extension with its full length bi-fold doors, which open out to the garden, relates to the original building.

The focal point of the design is a 13 metre reflective pool that runs the full length of the extension. It is surrounded by long beds with ornamental grasses and perennials that help to soften the formal structural lines of the design. Daniel incorporated reclaimed red bricks and York stone paving for pathways to blend with the house and surroundings, adding a wooden terrace area from the kitchen that creates harmony – bringing the house and garden together. An oak pergola walkway adds height and structure. Key architectural grasses in the long border include Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, a tall upright grass with wheat-coloured stems from late summer which adds drama and strong winter presence, and Stipa tenuissima, another versatile grass with plumes of silver-green flower that are reflected in the pool.

Lush planting around a small pondLush planting around a small pond

Mingling with the grasses, Daniel has used a palette of purple, dark plum and white flowers including Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Alba’ and Sedum telephium ‘Purple Emperor’, along with tall plumes of bronze fennel and low growing lavender and sage.

The garden opened last year for the first time with the National Garden Scheme in May. ‘We did a pop-up garden opening for the NGS,’ says Jacky, ‘when late spring flowers such as alliums and tulips were looking good. But I wanted to open in August this year as the grasses look particularly grand then, and elsewhere in the garden dahlias are putting on a good show.’

Despite it being a rainy day, people travelled from London and further afield to see the garden last year. ‘We were delighted with the response and the feedback from visitors to the garden,’ Jacky says.

The prestigious Society of Garden Designers, of which Daniel is a member, were also charmed by the garden and awarded him Best Future Designer at its annual awards ceremony last year.

The oak pergola frames viewsThe oak pergola frames views

Daniel studied garden design at Capel Manor College near Enfield, having worked as a gardener in private gardens in London. He was inspired to work in horticulture from a young age by his grandad Jack Shea, a professional gardener.

‘Grandad used to give me some jobs to do in his garden at the weekend,’ Daniel recalls, ‘and later I worked with him in other gardens.’

Jacky has also been inspired by Daniel and her new garden to take up a garden design course herself.

The gardens at Beechleigh are continually being developed and Daniel has worked on other areas including a woodland space and a walled kitchen garden which has a working productive plot and a wildflower garden. Jacky is enjoying redesigning other areas including new planting by one of the ponds and adding a new seating area. The garden has become an evolving, ongoing passion project.

A terrace surrounds the kitchenA terrace surrounds the kitchen

Visit the garden

Beechleigh, Birch Green nr Hertford SG14 2LP

The garden is open for the NGS on Saturday August 26 from 5-8pm, and Monday August 28 from midday-5pm. Admission £4.50, children free.

The garden and kitchen are beautifully linkedThe garden and kitchen are beautifully linked

Wine, homemade teas, plants for sale, wheelchair accessible, artisan stalls, children’s quiz, dogs welcome on leads.


Design by Daniel Shea 07881 507 851

Society of Garden Designers

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