Taking a Mindful Approach to Garden Design – our guest blog

Do you ever feel like you’re working so hard on your garden, that you never get around to enjoying it?

If so, take a look at Owner and Designer Ali Dempster’s guest post on the Sitting Spiritually website for advice on mindful garden design.


Thank you Sitting Spiritually for featuring us.

Gardens Revisited – Circular garden

We’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front since the New Year, mainly because we’ve been so fabulously busy! Most people assume, understandably, that landscaping is a seasonal undertaking and that winter is our quiet time. Of course, there’s not an awful lot that can be done during extreme weather like last year’s Beast from the East, but with some careful planning and a bit of juggling, there are ALWAYS jobs that can be tackled despite rain, a bit of snow, or low temperatures. On top of the landscaping work there’s all the design work going on in the office and also planning for the 2019 flower show season, which for us starts with RHS Chelsea in May.

We hope to tell you more about some recently completed and upcoming projects very soon but in the meantime we wanted to revisit a lovely garden we designed and built in East Sussex a few years ago.

This garden is a great example of a fairly low maintenance domestic garden in a suburban area. The original garden was a very square and boring space and the brief was very much focused on making sure we changed the regular nature of it into something that was curvy, had lots of interest and some focal points in it.

It was a very flat site so there were no particular difficulties in building it but the design included interlocking circles of different sizes and so it was important to make sure that the measurements were accurate and corresponded correctly i.e. if a path was 3m in diameter then the terrace was 6m in diameter etc.

The main features of the design include a dining terrace at the back of the house which was constructed using natural sandstone paving slabs. A curved path, using the same natural sandstone but in a smaller sett paving, surrounds the circular lawn and leads to the circular softwood decking and pergola, which includes decking lights and screw eyes for a hammock to be hung from the uprights. Next to the decking is a small paved area designated for the barbecue.

We also created another little journey down a curvy pebble path, past a lovely pond/wildlife area, which the client wanted to encourage wildlife into the garden as a point of interest for the children. At the end of the path is a small utility area with a shed.

The client was a New Zealander so we planted tree ferns and New Zealand flax to remind him of his native country. We created interest by using lots of different shapes, textures and materials: different sized paving slabs and setts, pebble paths and borders, timber decking and raised beds, and different heights and textures in the planting scheme.

There is certainly nothing ‘regular’ about this garden and it is still one of our favourites!

Natural sandstone slab and sett paving – Corker
Treated softwood timberwork and decking – Travis Perkins
Pond materials, pump and lighting – Landscapeplus
Plants – Provender Nurseries

What’s in store for Sandstone?

Earlier in the month we gave you a run down of all the happenings of 2018. And since then (I’m sure you’ve heard) we won the BALI Special Award for Design & Build for our work at Uplands Cottage. What a way to end the year!

So, with that under our belt, we’re now eagerly looking forward to 2019 and all the things that the year ahead has in store for Sandstone.

We are due to complete works at The Spa Hotel in Tunbridge Wells in the next few weeks – we’re really pleased with progress and the handmade Chilstone temple will be going in any day now. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed for more updates.

Planning is in full swing for RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019. Double 5 star winners Chilstone have booked us to design and build their tradestand again and we’re all hoping to achieve a 5 star hat trick!

After having narrowly missed out on a 5 star award last year, Chesneys, the UK’s leading supplier of luxury fireplaces and stoves, are going for it again and this time we are doubling the size of the stand!

In terms of residential projects, we have 5 landscaping projects booked in already and 4 additional designs that Ali is working on right now so it’s looking like a great start to the New Year.

Let’s just hope the weather behaves a little better than last year!

If you have been thinking about revamping your garden for a while, why not make a resolution to do it in 2019? If you have a design in mind or no idea at all, give us a call on 01892 668404 or email info@sandstonedesign.co.uk

And the winner is… Sandstone Design!

Off we went on Friday to Grosvenor House on Park Lane for the eagerly anticipated 2018 BALI National Landscape Awards.

Of course we were looking forward to collecting and celebrating our award for Domestic Garden Construction – Under 30k for our work at Uplands Cottage, plus a delicious three course meal, one or two drinks to toast ours and the other winners’ success, and to meet other professionals from the £11.6 billion landscaping industry.

BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker was the humorous host who led proceedings, along with the sponsors of each award. There were 29 main categories, all of which had multiple winners including a Principal Winner for that category. Then there were 4 Special Awards, each with just one winner. 70 fabulous winners in total!

Imagine our shock and delight when the award sponsor, British Sugar TOPSOIL, announced Sandstone Design as the winner of the Special Award for Design and Build, also for Uplands Cottage! It all went a bit slow mo for us at that point! Particularly for Sandstone owner and designer Ali and landscape manager Jason who both worked on the Uplands Cottage project and went on stage to accept the award.

We were told that the BALI judging panel felt that the scheme, above all others who had designed and built their schemes, stood out and deserved recognition. The judges commented:

“This is a beautifully executed scheme that reflects the contractor’s determination to understand and implement fully the clients’ vision. Working closely with the clients and taking a very flexible approach, the contractor has created a beautiful space on a modest budget to exacting standards. The attention to detail and the quality of the workmanship is faultless. This project fully illustrates the qualities required of a design and build contractor and Sandstone Design Solutions is a worthy recipient of this Special Award.”

A full list of the categories and winners can be found here.

We’d like to say an enormous thank you to BALI and the judges for both our awards and for all their hard work and commitment to the landscaping industry. Also to all the award sponsors, particularly our award sponsors, British Sugar TOPSOIL and Derbyshire Aggregates. And to all the other winners – well done and congratulations!

Have a look at the winning garden, Uplands Cottage, here.

2018, you’ve been a cracker!

It’s not an overstatement to say that 2018 has been a truly fantastic year for Sandstone, despite the challenges presented by the extreme cold in February/March and then the extreme heat of the summer.

We kicked off the year by obtaining a small business grant from South East Business Boost. This enabled us to purchase a mean, green Avant telehandler machine! Adding the multi-talented Avant to our arsenal has noticeably increased our landscaping productivity.

We’ve worked on projects for 25 different clients including designing and building a feature kitchen garden for the RHS and celebrity chef Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir for Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The Grow Your Own with the Raymond Blanc Gardening School feature was a huge success and drew visitors and compliments in abundance.


We were also at Chelsea Flower Show again this year. And what a fantastic week it was with all three of our clients’ trade stands winning awards. We were ecstatic to hear that the gorgeous Chilstone stand had won 5 stars for the second year running! (Can we achieve three years in 2019? We’ll certainly try!) New client Chesneys won a fabulous 4 stars for their stand, which stylishly showcased their HEAT range – we look forward to hopefully topping that in 2019! The Elizabeth Bradley stand won a very respectable 3 stars for its simple design. As always, the show itself was a sight to behold, with the wild, the worthy and the whimsical all in close proximity.

Later in the year, Ali enjoyed taking part in a discussion about ‘Designing with Maintenance in Mind’ as one of a panel of industry professionals organized by BALI South Thames and Provender Nurseries.

Possibly the best end to the year that we could have is attending the 2018 BALI National Landscape Awards this Friday to accept our award in the category Domestic Garden Construction under £30k. We won our first BALI award in 2011 and are totally thrilled to be able to add another to the company’s name!

That’s our round up of 2018. Next week we’ll let you in on what’s in store (so far) for Sandstone in 2019!

The Spa Hotel, Tunbridge Wells

Last week saw the start of a very exciting and very local landscaping project at The Spa Hotel in Tunbridge Wells.

The elegant hotel currently boasts some of the prettiest gardens locally and has recently started really utilising the outdoor space at the hotel. Visitors and residents alike have enjoyed summer garden parties and cinema nights under the stars, as well as holding a very popular local and live music festival. The hotel also has a licensed gazebo which has been used for outdoor wedding ceremonies…until now.

Sandstone owner and designer Ali Dempster has redesigned the hotel’s rear garden to take full advantage of the beautiful natural surroundings and to complement Chilstone’s Ionic Temple, which has been commissioned by the Spa Hotel predominantly as an outdoor wedding venue.

The Temple

The hand crafted temple will replace the existing gazebo (which will be relocated onsite) and will have just three rows of balustrade at the rear of the building, enabling guests to enjoy a fuller view of a wedding ceremony. A nine inch ball atop the lead effect fibreglass domed roof will complete this amorous garden building which is not only practical but picturesque as well.  The temple complies with all the necessary legislation surrounding a civil wedding ceremony and can also be used for other events including jazz evenings, string quartets and alfresco dining, not to mention photo opportunities. The building can be decorated with garlands of flowers and drapes to compliment the theme of an event.

Ionic Temple with lead effect domed roof, handmade by Chilstone in Kent.

The Landscaping

Our brilliant landscaping team will create a multi-tier amphitheatre style area finished with box hedging and soft lighting. These tiers, rather than one large expanse, will create an intimate feel regardless if the number of guests is 50 or 250. The focal point of the garden will be the wedding temple, supplied by Chilstone of Langton Green who are renowned for their stonework. The temple will have a backdrop of the rest of the gardens and a view across the golf course.

The Planting

In summer, the green foliage of the formal clipped hedges and lawns and some white flowering shrubs will provide a blank canvas to be tailored to each couple’s theme. In spring, the blossom from cherry trees, predominantly white or pink, will be in flower. Standard trees can be decorated with ribbons and a number of Chilstone urns will be available to be filled with flowers for maximum impact. Our friends at Hever based How Green Nursery will be supplying all the plants, trees and hedging for the project.

The project is due to be completed by Christmas and so far the team have made excellent progress. This week the hedges have begun to be lifted and replanted to start to form the shape of the new wedding area, and the path to the old gazebo has been lifted and the gazebo moved to it’s new site in the garden.

The team and machines in action this week!

Let’s hope the weather behaves as favourably as can be expected at this time of year!

We’ve only gone and done it again!

Around this time last month we got the wonderful news that we have won a second BALI National Landscape Award, this time in the category Domestic Garden Construction under £30k. We first won a BALI award in 2011 for this Tunbridge Wells garden.

This year it was for the design and landscaping of the garden of a 400 year old semi-detached cottage in Wadhurst, East Sussex, which had proven to be rather a conundrum for the clients who wanted to maximise their living space.

The clients’ brief was to open up the side of their small, north facing garden to light and make the best of the parts that get the sun. It was important for the clients to have a bespoke seating area that would genuinely become an extension of the house, surrounded by planting that would give the desired relaxing Mediterranean feel throughout.

Considerable access difficulties were overcome allowing the removal of the existing paving, walls and raised beds of soil opening up the side of the site. Being sympathetic to the age of the grade 2 listed cottage in a conservation area, it was extremely important to Ali to use the recycled paving and existing sandstone in a way that tied together the old and new when creating the bespoke seating area. Each of the old and new paving slabs (new slabs from Strata Stones supplied by Corker) were individually cut to achieve random thicknesses and stacked in a way that resembles dry stone walling, although they were all cemented in place. To ensure continuity the existing walls were rendered and then painted using a colour to match the stone walling. It was a real labour of love that produced a most practical and usable space for dining and entertaining.

The paved area, supplied by Marshalls, laid at the top of the garden gets the last of the sun and has provided the clients with a perfect barbecue area.

The courtyard garden was enhanced with lighting in the walls and paving and up-lighting of the feature plants and within the borders. This links to a remote control lighting system which means that individual areas can be subtly lit to create different moods within the garden. The lighting was supplied by Lighting For Gardens.

Feature plants were carefully chosen to provide structure. The planting is anchored by a large specimen old gnarly Olive tree and clipped Box hedging and backed by an espalier screen of Hornbeam trees. The fence is screened with wire trained Star Jasmine. Perennial planting and grasses create changing colour and heights to the garden throughout the summer months. All plants and trees were supplied by Provender Nurseries. The client is a keen plantswoman who now enjoys developing and changing the perennial planting scheme to keep it fresh and exciting.

Ali’s careful consultation, interpretation of the clients’ wishes and subsequent engagement with the client throughout the design and build process allowed the creation of a haven that can be used all year round and at all times of day.

After completion our client commented, “I looked for 3 years trying to find someone who would help me realise my dreams for our garden – the ideas were in my head (and on Pinterest) but needed Ali’s experience and creativity to bring them to reality. Ali and his expert team worked tirelessly to create a beautiful garden space that included bespoke recycled stone walling, relaxing seating and wooden screen, barbecue area and wonderful lighting for nighttime impact. We were proud to open the garden as part of the Wadhurst Open Gardens scheme last summer.”

Huge thanks to all our fantastic suppliers. We can’t wait to get our glad rags on for the awards ceremony in London. Roll on December!

In case you missed it…

Pro Landscaper July 2018 – Grow your own

RHS Grow Your Own garden

It’s been another busy year for Sandstone, for the company as a whole and particularly for owner and designer Ali Dempster.

We have constructed feature gardens for the Royal Horticultural Society for the last few years including last year’s RHS Kitchen Garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show designed by Juliet Sargeant. And we’ve clearly earned a great reputation in doing so, as this year Ali was approached by the RHS to not only build a feature garden for the Hampton Court show but to design it as well. He agreed, of course, and plans were set into motion to create an inspirational and accessible kitchen garden which would encourage people of all ages, abilities, budgets and garden sizes to start growing their own food. The planting design was led by plantswoman Rossana Porta, whom Ali has worked with before.

The RHS Grow Your Own with The Raymond Blanc Gardening School had a genuine emphasis on sustainability and there were many examples of upcycling and recycling on display. Old air conditioning ducting had been turned into sculptural-like containers, used car tyres were stacked to make planters and breezeblocks were arranged into a fantastic Tetris-style raised planting area. The garden also featured composting containers made from old pallets, a rainwater recycling system, a wine barrel pond and two beehives, one of which was created in the style of a traditional Provence house – a nod to Raymond Blanc’s Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons’ upcoming Bee Village.

L: Raymond Blanc, Rossana Porta & Ali Dempster R: Traditional Provence style beehive

Raymond held an engaging demonstration from the garden building on press day during which he rustled up a dressed tomato salad, gave spectators a taste of his delicious tomato essence and talked about the importance of using local, seasonal ingredients.

L: Raymond Blanc discussing flavour with schoolchildren

L: Comedian Bill Bailey

The garden received many visitors, including actors Alistair Petrie & Lucy Scott, comedian Bill Bailey and Call the Midwife actress Judy Parfitt.

Sandstone also built the BBC Countryfile 30th Anniversary garden designed by Ann-Marie Powell; a tiered landscape representing different areas of the British Isles.

Neither of the gardens were judged as they were RHS sponsored feature gardens, but they both received the highest praise.

BBC Countryfile 30th Anniversary garden

In amongst the months of planning for Hampton Court and the company’s private client projects, Sandstone were also busy preparing and executing plans for RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which took place in May. As we mentioned in our last post, we won an award for each of the three trade stands designed and built: five stars for the Chilstone stand for the second year running, four stars for new client Chesneys and three stars for Elizabeth Bradley.

We have private landscaping projects in Sussex & Kent keeping us busy over the next few months and the team are all very happy to be working a bit closer to home during the summer holidays!

If your garden is not meeting your expectations and you have no idea what to do about it, get in touch on 01892 668404 or info@sandstonedesign.co.uk.

[All photos by Emily Brown Photography]

Chelsea? Check! Hampton Court, here we come!

Well that’s another RHS Chelsea Flower Show done. A pretty fantastic one at that! Three tradestands built and dismantled. Three awards won. That’s right, three! We won a FIVE star award (the highest award possible for a tradestand) for the gorgeous Chilstone stand. It’s the second year we’ve designed and built for cast stone makers Chilstone and the second year we’ve won the highest award! The features of the stand included the popular Kew fountain as the centerpiece; three statues designed and created by resident sculptor Admir Sljvic: The Birth of Helen, Leda & the Swan (2017 product of the year runner up) and Aquila the eagle; Kensington planters specially engraved to mark the marriage of the Duke & Duchess of Sussex; and some really elegant architectural stonework.

A great big thank you to Chilstone for giving us the opportunity again. It’s clearly a match made in heaven! We must also say thank you to Addagrip for providing the resin bonded paths, Mumford & Wood for the striking purple door and How Green Nursery for the seriously lovely plants, provided in spite of the terrible weather earlier in the year.


We were also extremely proud to have won a FOUR star award for the sleek and stylish Chesneys stand. Chesneys are the UK’s leading supplier of luxury fireplaces and stoves and were showcasing their recently released HEAT collection: a range of woodburning outdoor heater/barbecue hybrids. We saw these in action during show week and it is astounding how little smoke they give off, particularly when compared with more traditional barbecues and patio heaters. And you don’t have to be James Martin to cook a magnificent burger on one of these (but it helps a little)!

Sandstone owner and designer Ali Dempster with the face of the HEAT range, James Martin.


Thanks to Round Wood of Mayfield for supplying the Clayfibre Chelsea Boxes and the Thermo-Treated Ash Decking and again to How Green Nursery for the plants.

Chesneys were also awarded second place for the Heat 500 for RHS Garden Product of the Year 2018, just pipped at the post by Mr Fothergill’s seeds. Well done to both!

We also won a 3 star award for the Elizabeth Bradley tradestand. Elizabeth Bradley design and manufacture quality tapestry kits. As you can see, a much simpler stand, but lovely and very fitting to the brand.

Although Chelsea 2018 is over, the drawing board is already out for next year – it is never far from our minds. No rest for the wicked!

And on that note, the Sandstone landscaping team arrived at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show site earlier this week to start building for the show which opens on 2nd July. This year is HUGE for Ali and Sandstone. We have the pleasure of building BBC Countryfile’s 30th Anniversary garden, designed by the wonderful Ann-Marie Powell. The garden is inspired by the British landscape and different parts of the garden will represent different parts of the British Isles. It’s going to be a fun build!

BBC Countryfile 30th Anniversary garden

But even more exciting than that (and what could possibly be more exciting than building the Countryfile garden?!), Ali has been commissioned by the RHS to design a fabulous feature garden called the RHS Grow Your Own with the Raymond Blanc Gardening School! That’s right, the legend that is Raymond Blanc has been working with Ali to come up with ideas for the inspirational kitchen garden. The garden will be packed full of ideas to encourage everyone to have a go at growing their own fruit and vegetables in a way that is accessible to everyone, no matter the size of your garden or your purse! Genuine upcycling and recycling will feature heavily in the garden and elements from Raymond Blanc’s garden at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons will be dotted around, including a very special beehive, so keep an eye out for those. Chefs from Le Manoir Cookery School will be holding demonstrations in the outdoor kitchen and classroom during the show.

Not only is Ali designing the garden, Sandstone are building it! Among others, we’ll be working with our suppliers Addagrip, True Grip, Marshalls, Green Roofs Direct and Provender Nurseries to get everything in place for Press Day on 3rd July. So that’s two big show gardens to build in 2 and a half weeks! Did somebody say ‘holiday’?!