A Victorian wall conceals a home and garden fit for the Hollywood hills

Japanese influences give this Perthshire home and its garden a connection that enhances and benefits both

Regardless of the season, a garden should encourage you to unwind, relax and connect with the outdoors. During the summer, it might be the bright colour of the flowers that draws you out; by winter, when the leaves and petals have fallen and there’s snow on the ground, it’s the crisp change in season that makes the outside so appealing. If you are lucky enough to have a garden that complements your home, the two need not feel like separate entities. The dividing line between inside and out becomes blurred and, before you know it, you are on the deck, having drinks in the cold night air, lit up by the stars.

This project – a new house built within an existing Edwardian walled garden – owes much of its success to the architect, Ewan Cameron, and the landscape architect, Susan Gallagher, considering it as a whole, where the building informs its surroundings, and vice versa, and the two work together in harmony.

“We always design our gardens to complement the architecture of the house,” explains Gallagher, of Glasgow-based Terra Firma Gardens. “That means materials and layout are determined by the architectural style and period of the building. This ensures the garden looks and feels like an extension to the house, rather than an unrelated appendage.”

While the Edwardian walled garden was an undoubted source of ideas, both the architect and the landscape architect have also drawn inspiration from elsewhere, particularly Eastern cultures. Indeed, one of Cameron’s trademarks as an architect is the subtle influence of the Far East and the introduction of elements of Chinese and Japanese structures to his designs. He lived and worked in Hong Kong and Singapore for a time and has travelled widely in the region, and the impact of seeing the Japanese temples of Kyoto and the gardens of Suzhou in China has left a lasting impression on him.

“Experiencing at first-hand the compelling symbiosis of architecture and nature to be found in these World Heritage Sites was a moment of revelation for me,” he says.

This villa in Perthshire was one of the first designs Cameron completed following his return to Scotland, and the effect can be seen in everything from the light-ing to the glazing and the orientation of the building. He planned the villa so that it would harness as much natural light as possible and then redirect it through the spacious, understated four-bedroom interior. “As you approach it, there is no sense of what lies behind the original, high brick wall,” he says. “Beyond this, the villa initially retains its sense of intrigue, echoing the original wall in slate. But once through the entrance, the house reveals its true nature: two interconnecting glass pavilions, one for living and one for sleeping.”

The glazed corridor of the bedroom wing is bathed in morning sun, while the living-room portion gets the evening light. Balance is everything. The palette of materials is pared back and simple: concrete blockwork and steel provide the framework, with an emphasis on the glazing and exterior canopy. The aluminium-clad timber-framed triple-glazed windows are by Danish specialist Ideal Combi and are a key element of the whole project. With the house looking inwards, these glazed walls and sliding doors not only allow the maximum amount of light to pour in, but they draw the eye out to the garden, connecting the two spaces. The considered relationship between inside and out is crucial, and the principles of hide and reveal, says Cameron, were deeply inspiring.

“Modern technologies such as thermally efficient triple glazing and insulation mean we need no longer be confined to the traditional ‘wee windaes’ of yesteryear,” he acknowledges. “We are spoiled for fabulous gardens and gorgeous landscapes in Scotland and I believe contemporary house design should embrace nature.”

The architect cites the attention that is given to particular aspects of structures – both internal and external – in Asian countries that could be adopted in Scotland. After all, he points out, there are parts of the Far East with a similar climate to our own, at least in terms of the amount of rainfall. But whereas in Japan the rain is a celebrated aspect of the climate and reflection pools and water canopies are a common feature in both private and public gardens, Scottish gutters and water drainage systems tend to be perfunctory rather than decorative. The two, he suggests, need not exist in isolation.

With this in mind, Susan Gallagher designed a large pond that would reflect the house. “The corner of the pond has a chalice water sculpture by David Harber, which is both a water feature and a sundial, engraved with a personal message by the owner,” she says.

She also wanted to stop the lawn creating a sense of division between the two spaces, so she devised a scheme of stepping stones to link the garden to the deck and then inside, making a feature of the pathway. It’s not just for visual impact either: “It’s always a lovely feeling walking across stepping stones.” 

Gallagher’s love of gardening goes all the way back to her childhood, when she remembers building miniature gardens in old biscuit tins, complete with their own ponds, plants and worms. “I think I was born to be a garden designer,” she laughs. “Nature has always had a very positive, inspiring and relaxing effect on me, and I wanted to share those benefits with others by creating beautiful outdoor spaces where people can relax deeply and connect with the natural world.”

Elsewhere, planting is minimal, confined largely to the granite pots filled with Buxus sempervirens ball topiary on the stepped deck. This, says the designer, also helps to define seating areas on the terrace. The idea was to keep the site level so that the views from the house to the garden were not obscured in any way. The lighting in the soffit above the terrace – long LED battens – helps to illuminate the terrace so it can be used for entertaining in the evening, but also cleverly draws the eye from the structure towards the garden. The blue slate of the external walls, handpicked from a quarry in the Lake District and laid by Cumbrian stonemasons, is imposing without diminishing the rest of the house or garden design. Warmth is added through the wooden window frames and the external canopies, as well as by the diamond-sawn smooth Yorkstone that Gallagher used to break up the long sections of decked patio. This acts as a border and also provides more scope for exterior recessed LED lighting.

This project succeeds thanks to the understanding that the two architects – building and landscape – have of the space and through their shared determination that it should be connected in ways that transcend the purely visual. Gallagher’s calm, contemplative air outside is mirrored in Cameron’s interior structure, and together they have created a home that is as beautiful as it is life-affirming.


Photography Helen McCrorie
Words Catherine Coyle
The brief To create an easily maintained garden that complements the spacious new-build house.
Budget £100,000 (for the garden).
Timescale The house was completed in 18 months; the garden was completed in 10 to 12 weeks.
Garden designer Susan Gallagher, Landscape architect Terra Firma Gardens
Architect Ewan Cameron