Courtyard gardens: how one designer created a desert-inspired garden in the middle of her London home

Alex Mitchell
·3-min read
<p>Holding court: garden designer Martha Krempel has used every inch of her garden to create a spacious yet intimate feel</p> (Clive Nichols)

Holding court: garden designer Martha Krempel has used every inch of her garden to create a spacious yet intimate feel

(Clive Nichols)

London gardens are known for being small but in the past year every single centimetre of outside space has become a prized possession.

Martha Krempel’s garden at her home in north-west London is no exception. And at nine by six metres, it pulls off the holy grail of design tricks feeling both spacious and intimate at the same time.

When Krempel, a garden designer, and her husband bought the corner plot in Kensal Rise the house needed a lot of work and the small garden was “a mud pit” with a garage at the end. It was Krempel’s daughter who hit on the idea that would turn it into the heart of the home. Why not create a building down the side of the garden to connect the house and garage? The garden would then become a courtyard with the house wrapping around it on three sides.

Krempel’s garden is included in The Gardens of Eden: New Residential Concepts & Architecture for a Greener Planet (£35; Gestalten), which showcases 23 city garden designs from around the world. Urban gardens need to work with the house and this one has plenty of tips for how to do it.

Urban gardener: Martha Krempell’s house is full of potted plants and cacti that add to the feeling of a single space
Urban gardener: Martha Krempell’s house is full of potted plants and cacti that add to the feeling of a single space

You not only look out at the courtyard from the house through Crittall-style doors, but cross it to get from one part of the house to the other including the garage, now Krempel’s design studio. It’s a nice walk to work. “I wander round with my coffee in hand every day checking on all the plants,” she says.

“It’s a complete integration of house and garden,” says Krempel, who trained as a sculptor, then made vintage costumes for films and designed furniture for London’s Nineties restaurant scene before turning to landscape design.

To further blur the boundary between inside and out, Krempel has packed her home with a variety of plants. The new 2.5metre-wide side building (its roof planted to mitigate its scale and bulk for the planners) is an indoor garden filled with pot plants and cacti with a sumptuous velvet Crumpet sofa (from £1,395; loaf.com) placed for the perfect sundowner. “You can watch the sun set and you can’t see any other building whatsoever.”

Window of opportunity: the new side building with wall-to-wall glazing flows seamlessly out to the gardenSee Instructions for Credits
Window of opportunity: the new side building with wall-to-wall glazing flows seamlessly out to the gardenSee Instructions for Credits

Warm, flaming colours in the planting entice you outside. Fantacoloured Rudbeckia fulgida var deamii and pink Japanese anemone ‘September Charm’ are a riot and the unusual evergreen shrub Loropetalum ‘Black Pearl’ is a feisty contrast of purple and magenta. Roses mingle with the wispy grasses and tall narrow perennials: burnt orange Summer Song, Lady Hamilton, Desdemona, and Gertrude Jeckyll are all packed into the beds and cut down to 60cm every year to keep their shrubby form. ‘You don’t want a leggy rose.’

In front of a coral pink outdoor fireplace designed by Krempel are two lightweight Acapulco-style chairs (Indoor Outdoor Grey String Chair, £125 each; coxandcox.co.uk) while a silvered timber dining table and chairs sits quietly in one corner. “In furniture anything earth-coloured is easy to manage in the environment,” advises Krempel. “People love a pop of colour but sometimes it’s nice to pare it back. This garden is very colourful in terms of its plants so I didn’t want the furniture to clash.”

Outdoor hosting: in front of a coral pink outdoor fireplace designed by Krempell are two lightweight Acapulco-style chairsClive Nichols
Outdoor hosting: in front of a coral pink outdoor fireplace designed by Krempell are two lightweight Acapulco-style chairsClive Nichols

Holiday vibe

The other great success of this garden is its intriguing sense of place. There’s an un-Englishness about it you can’t quite put your finger on until Krempel explains its inspiration: a family trip to the US South-West in a camper van with her husband and two teenage children in 2015. The coral-coloured desert earth and winding blue-grey Colorado river provided the cue for the planting and hard landscaping.

The blue-grey, float-finish concrete path and clay pavers of the courtyard (Pearl Grey Ancienne Belgique clay pavers, £125.98 per sqm; vandemoortel. co.uk) are reminiscent of the river, says Krempel, and the coral walls of the scorched earth. You wouldn’t think the desert would look at home in Kensal Rise, yet in this boundary-blurring garden, it really does.