It says something about Alasdair Cameron’s passion for gardening that one of his favorite projects to date is his own backyard. Though his eponymous landscape design company, Cameron, has seen him craft terraces for palatial penthouses in London’s Whitehall and the famous private member’s club Annabel’s, he also has a soft spot for his own corner of the English county Devon, which he has transformed over 11 years from a former cow paddock into a three-acre oasis. Both the outdoor space and the adjoining house have been designed to feel immersed in the surrounding landscape; there are no hard boundaries, only low hedging, and the bucolic backdrop of Devonshire countryside beyond it.
In essence, the space practises what Cameron preaches. Since founding the studio in 1995, Alasdair has been championing a branch of landscape design that interlinks outdoor spaces, buildings and the surrounding environment together, like a patchwork quilt of landscaping. “The connection really fascinates me; how an outdoor space can support and enhance architecture and interior design, while working with the landscape,” he explains. As well as a passion for synergy, Alasdair and his team’s projects are driven by innovative gardening techniques, inspiring planting design and immersive spaces that, first and foremost, respect and enhance nature. To help you create your own oasis, we caught up with Alasdair to discover his essential tips for designing the perfect outdoor space.
Whether designing family homes in London’s upscale Marylebone and Mayfair neighborhoods or commercial spaces for the likes of the restaurant group The Ivy Collection and hotel Nomad London, Alasdair's first port-of-call is always the client. “It’s really important for us to take the time to learn about our clients’ lifestyle and listen to what they really want from their outdoor space,” he explains. “We never dictate a particular design style but instead fashion a truly individual plan.”
Before you begin, take into consideration who will be using your backyard—will it be a family space for children, for example—and how they’ll be using it. The designer recommends thinking about how low maintenance you want your outdoor space to be, too; if you’re short on time or have lots of space to play with, something easy to look after may be the best route. You’ll also need to consider the aspect; does the yard face north, south, east or west? Its direction will affect the amount of sunlight it receives, which in turn will impact your choice of plants and flowers, the layout of the outdoor space and how you’ll likely use it.
The most common mistake people make when designing their outdoor space? Not thinking about the rest of their home. If you’re looking for backyard ideas, your interior may have the inspiration you need. “Your outdoor area needs to tie in with the internal palette, and work as an external room,” Alasdair explains. “You need to consider the materials used inside of the home as well, such as flooring and fabrics, and replicate this outside.” Testament to this is Cameron’s recent project in London’s Fulham area; the studio worked in partnership with the historical property’s interior designers to ensure the terrace reflected the interior and offered a seamless extension of the inside, by using complementary materials and colors. The result that people are encouraged people to venture outside into a space that feels like an extension of the home, rather than somewhere separate.
Alasdair and his team always think about the seasons to ensure their designs have year-round interest. For those on the hunt for backyard design ideas that will look great whatever the weather, the designer recommends using evergreen structures, such as Yew Domes. Nicknamed the King of Hedging, these British hedge plants are highly tolerant to the different climates and are easily maintained. “We also work with good structure, such as multi-stem trees, to provide year-round interest,” Alasdair adds,” as well as successional planting to ensure there is always color in the garden. Using plants that provide good seed heads during the winter is another good idea, as they not only look good but are a fine source of food for birds.”
Considering biodiversity and their designs’ environmental impact is always of paramount importance for the studio. This means using local plants where possible, avoiding pesticides and using organic peat-free fertilizers and climate-resilient plants. Alasdair advises against plastic pots and encourages people to consider their water usage at all times. “I would also use a good mix of plants, trees and shrubs to attract key pollinators and insects,” the designer says, and recommends trying to work with local and sustainable materials. “Rather than hard boundaries, for example, we use hedging and climbers to provide habitat and food for wildlife.”
The layout of your outdoor space, too, is key for Alasdair in creating interactive spaces that feel connected to their surroundings. Whether reimagining an urban terrace or a countryside estate, the designer likes to break up the space into “rooms,” giving smaller yards lots of detail and making larger spaces feel cozy and complete. A recent project in England’s Bath is the perfect example; with spacious lawns for outdoor games, a secret garden, arbors and clever planting of pleached trees (a style of trained tree that creates a wall of greenery; think a hedge on stilts) around the pool terrace and entertaining garden, the space was sliced into sections to create a sense of privacy, while at the same time feeling seamlessly connected.
If you want to create zones within your own space, think about the different ways you use it and let this inspire each area. If you love to entertain, for example, a dedicated dining spot should be at the top of your list. Don’t forget about a seating area for after-dinner drinks or somewhere to sunbathe during the day. The trick, Alasdair explains, is to think about the backyard as one space, even if you’re going to divide it up. “Often people don’t fully understand the importance of designing a home’s outside area as a whole; we always consider it as one space when we think about the layout, and then we split it into different rooms,” the designer says. “Each area might have its own atmosphere, but we ensure they all sing together.”
You can discover more about Cameron here.