This week we spoke to Amanda Afshar, the co-founder of Alfresco Garden Design. We asked her about her most exciting projects to date and how to add a make the most of small, communal gardens.
Tell us a little about your background – where did you train to be a garden designer and when did you set up Alfresco Garden Design?
I trained in Edinburgh with the Pickard School of Garden Design, and set up Alfresco Garden Design with my business partner Sue Hay soon after finishing the course in September 2002.
How difficult is it to balance functionality and beauty when it comes to designing gardens?
This very much depends on the client’s brief, and what they actually want from their garden. For example clients that need a play area for children may also require ‘adult space’, so it is our job as designers to come up with a scheme that satisfies all requirements. It can be tricky, especially when space is tight, but there is always a way! There is a vast choice of hard landscaping materials to choose from to enhance a space, together with a large palette of beautiful plants.
What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on to date?
Probably a walled garden I designed on a large estate near Dunfermline, with a large budget. This project was very different from the usual town gardens we design in and around Edinburgh. The walled garden had been neglected for years, and was essentially just a muddy field with a wall around it. Our design for it was formal, with gravel paths and buxus hedging around the large planting beds. It looked fantastic when it was finished, and provided the clients with a lovely view onto the garden from their drawing room.
Can redesigning a garden improve someone’s way of life and if so, how?
Yes definitely! Designing a garden well can provide people with outdoor living and recreational space, essentially another room.
Due to the high amount of tenement flats, many gardens in Edinburgh are communal and small in size. Can you recommend a few top tips for making the most of these spaces?
For small gardens it makes sense to keep everything simple so as not to make the space feel too busy. This means not using too many different materials for hard landscaping, and using plant repetition, rather than having too many different varieties of plants. Vertical gardening i.e using walls, trellis and pergolas can increase the amount of planting without using up too much space. For communal gardens it is important that the planting is low maintenance, as often these gardens are not regularly maintained.
Edinburgh receives its fair share of rain! What plants and flowers would you recommend for resisting the elements?
Although Edinburgh does seem to get a lot of rain, there are still areas in gardens that can be dry, e.g under heavy tree canopies. Every garden is different and has it’s own microclimate, so it is difficult to generalise when recommending plants. Here in Scotland we also need to be aware of frost and snow. Having said that, there are some species that do well in most gardens. Some of the most reliable shrubs include Viburnum, Skimmia, Rhododendron and the hardy varieties of Hebe. Many perennials will do well also, one of the most reliable being the hardy geraniums.
What gardening trends should we be looking out for this year?
Naturalistic planting is a big trend this year, with the emphasis being on using native UK species. Wild flower meadows and green walls along with plants that encourage wildlife are also a growing trend. In an age where we are encouraged to recycle, we also see this trend in the garden, reusing old stone, wood and metal. As far as colour is concerned, at Chelsea Garden Show this year, purple seemed to be the predominant colour, along with the classic white and green.
How would you describe your own garden?
A work in progress!