Bringing a piece of Provence to Dorset

PUBLISHED: 14:32 19 March 2014 | UPDATED: 14:32 19 March 2014

These specimen olive  trees were specially selected for their ‘knarled’ sculptural character. © Janine Pattison Garden Design 2010

These specimen olive trees were specially selected for their ‘knarled’ sculptural character. © Janine Pattison Garden Design 2010

© Janine Pattison Garden Design 2010

To bring Provence to a corner of Dorset Janine Pattison sought out ancient olive trees, planted a wildflower meadow and added mood lighting to create an award-winning garden filled with fragrance, colour and style

An outstanding garden to complement a stunning house © Janine Pattison Garden Design 2010An outstanding garden to complement a stunning house © Janine Pattison Garden Design 2010

When our client bought a Grand Designs award-winning property Dairy Farm Lodge near Blandford as a weekend retreat, the one-acre plot was steeply sloping and virtually unusable. Our brief was to create a piece of Provence in this beautiful corner of Dorset and make it family-friendly. The family wanted the garden to incorporate a top-quality outdoor swimming pool, pool house with shower, toilet and changing facilities; a boules allée and plenty of space for relaxing by day.

Design solutions

The amazing location of this garden, with its far-reaching views over the rolling north Dorset countryside, demanded an elegant design solution that, by day is restrained and restful, but comes alive at night. The ambitious design we created required structural calculations and planning permission in order to dig out 600 tons of chalk to create the level area to site the pool, pool house and large hardwood deck. In order to save cost and be environmentally-friendly, we used the spoil on site to create a wild-flower meadow under an orchard of mature olive trees. These specimen trees were over 150-years-old and were selected by us in Spain for their ‘knarled’ sculptural character. The wildflower meadow provided a ‘transitional’ space between the formal gardens and the rural landscape beyond.

Other areas of the garden we designed included raised hardwood decks with glass balustrade, and further LED-lit olive groves back planted with perennials and framed with formal clipped boxwood. We also added a bespoke Urbis water feature, garden gym conversion and for added wind protection and screening we added baffle walls and pencil cypress allées.

The essence of Provence

The client’s love of Provence was reflected in the specific variety of materials used and the restricted palette of plants that we allowed ourselves. Foliage and flower colours were limited to blues, purples, silver, white and cream by using olive trees, verbena bonariensis, lavender, perovskia, liatris, rosemary, boxwood, sage, white roses and wisteria.

The retaining wall was clad with panels of hand-carved sandstone to create calming textures by day and, when washed with a bespoke system of colour-changing LEDs by night, the wall was transformed into a theatrical showpiece. The lighting scheme we designed runs through an advanced control system to allow pre-programming for different mood lighting.

This once barren and unusable site has now become a haven for wildlife; in summer the air is alive with dragonflies, butterflies and bees. Water harvesting from the gym roof and generous compost bins, along with organic gardening principles, ensure that this garden will sustain and thrive in the years to come. The garden has also been awarded the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) National Design Excellence Award. and entertaining by night. The over-riding instruction from the client was to create something ‘truly iconic’ – an outstanding garden to complement their stunning house.


How to get the Provence look

Mediterranean plants (see suggested list below) need a sunny, well-drained spot in your garden. The hotter the better! Add extra grit into the planting holes to improve drainage and don’t be too generous with the fertiliser in spring. Mediterranean plants flower best if made to work hard. Add a mulch of gravel or pebbles to suppress weeds. Use planted containers to bring colour closer to the house. The strong colours of pelargoniums and petunias will add great summer colour and when they finish flowering you can tuck the pots out the way or replant them with winter interest plants like hebes or euonymous.

Provence Planting

Lavandula ‘Hidcote’ – lavender is the quintessential Mediterranean plant and is a must have

Salvia officinalis – sage is good in a border and a useful herb for cooking

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ – Russian sage has tall fragrant spires of purple/blue flowers which bees love

Verbena bonariensis – this tall, see-through perennial has flat purple heads of flowers which butterflies adore

Olea europaea - the olive tree is a must for a Provence garden. These are hardy so long as kept dry at the root in winter

Rosa ‘Margaret Merrill’ - the classic, highly scented cream rose of the South of France


Creating a wildflower meadow

If you have an open sunny area of lawn why not convert it into a wildflower meadow? Wildflower seed specifically for this purpose is easily available from good garden centres or online. The key to a successful and blooming flower meadow is to reduce the fertility of the soil so that it is the flowers that grow and not grass or weeds.

Sowing can be done in early autumn but we prefer to sow in late spring as the ground is warming up. Start by stripping off the turf then add grit or sand before sowing the seed. Germination is quick and plants grow very quickly as it warms up. You might need to water if there is a dry spell and do a little hand weeding to remove nettles or docks if any blow in. Flowering usually starts from late May and can continue through until autumn. Wait until the flowers have gone over to form seedheads and ripened before cutting in October. Leave the cuttings in place for a couple of weeks to let the seeds drop to the ground for next year, then rake up and remove onto the compost heap to rot down.


About Janine Pattison

Janine Pattison MSGD MBALI is a multi award-winning garden designer and horticulturist who trained with English Heritage at Eltham Palace in London and at Kingston Maurward College in Dorchester. A Registered Member of the Society of Garden Designers, Janine is also a qualified RHS horticulturist. Janine Pattison Studios are a leading UK landscape and garden design practice, renowned for creating stylish and contemporary gardens throughout Dorset and further afield. They work for private and corporate clients and have close ties with architects, interior designers and developers. Find more information at or call 01202 426143 or visit their state-of-the-art design studios at 1077 Christchurch Road, Bournemouth BH7 6BQ,

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