Country houses for sale

Dream Acres week two: Behind the Scenes

* For more Dream Acres and to find out how to create your own Dream Acres please see our microsite which explains  how to create your perfect landscape, gardens and outdoor spaces 

The elements of an estate that operate behind the scences such as the stables, offices, garages, utilities and even compost bins may not be the most glamorous features of any property, but planning their ideal location is crucial to its aesthetics, utility and value. There is much pleasure, as well as convenience, to be derived from getting such essentials right; it’s satisfying to possess a house that presents itself well. And it’s gratifying to know that, behind the courtyard walls, everything is beautifully designed, well conceived and efficient.

Our fictional esate, Dream Acres, designed by Arabella Lennox-Boyd, balances utility with aesthetics. At the front of the house is a courtyard area, containing a side entrance into the kitchen. Motorists turn into a parking area, where cars can be left out of sight of the house. This area holds the garages and offices. An archway leads to the stables and another arch to the service area. Space has been set aside for storage, staff parking, composting, a skip, farm vehicles and horse boxes. A secret door allows passage to and from the kitchen garden and the kitchen wing of the house. Elsewhere, there is a pump house for well water, solar panels, a wood shed and a state-of-the-art wood-fired boiler.

In short, the inner workings of the estate match the charm of the house and elegance of its gardens. When there is the opportunity to put in these fundamental service areas from scratch, it’s worth giving careful thought to the way they interact with each other.


My Cousin Eric became so intolerant of cars that he had the last 100 yards of his driveway grassed over, which means that, now, visitors and residents alike are forced to walk. He has my sympathy, because nothing detracts from the appearance of a house more than cars parked everywhere. Which is why the first and most important challenge when landscaping an approach is to find a place for vehicles that’s convenient yet hidden from view.

Recommended videos for you

A courtyard is ideal, but another option is to create a walled or screened area or build grass banks for concealment if the topography of the landscape allows. You could also create a car-parking area underground (although this is certainly an expensive option, it’s one that’s used in a number of prime estates these days). Clever planting with shrubs and trees can hide a great deal wherever walls or other methods of screening are not an option.

Also, remember that the surface of the drive and car-parking area makes a huge difference to its overall look. Block-paving always looks suburban and unsympathetic in a country setting, but crushed and resin-bonded gravels and other natural materials (stone, bricks, granite setts, and so on) are likely to be good choices, particularly if they reflect the local vernacular and geology. Make sure that there are plenty of lights to welcome visitors, and consider whether it will be appropriate to focus subtle lighting on part of the house.

* For more Dream Acres and to find out how to create your own Dream Acres please see our microsite which explains  how to create your perfect landscape, gardens and outdoor spaces


At one point, there were more than 25,000 dovecotes in Britain. Not because we were a nation of bird lovers (although, of course, we are), but because pigeon was the primary source of winter meat in many country houses until the 19th century, and their droppings make excellent fertiliser. The perfect location for a pigeon house, or dovecote (pigeons and doves are both members of the Columbidae family), is in the stables or working courtyard, so one has been included in the working-buildings area of Dream Acres.

Choose a site out of the wind, with a south-facing roof so that the birds can rest in the sun. Interestingly, for centuries, pigeons were believed to have curative properties. Queen Catherine, wife of Charles II, had them placed on her feet to treat a fever. For classic dovecotes, try Forsham Cottage Arks ( If you want to see a really good example, then one of the oldest and largest dovecotes in the country is at Athelhampton House in Dorset. Built in the 15th century, it contains more than 1,000 nesting holes.

Compost creation

The more garden, animal and kitchen waste you have, the richer the compost you can hope to enjoy. It isn’t, however, simply a matter of throwing it all into a corner of the garden and waiting for nature to do its thing. Compost requires the right balance of nitrogen (green waste) and carbon (brown waste) in order for the bacteria and micro-organisms to break it down at optimum speed. It also needs air, which means turning it on a regular basis.

At Dream Acres, Arabella’s design incorporates a row of compost bins in the service area. Several of these bins are devoted to vermiculture, as worms speed up the process and enhance the compost. Our bins are divided into organic kitchen waste, garden waste and leaf mould. When the compost is ready, we move it to the kitchen garden.

* For more Dream Acres and to find out how to create your own Dream Acres please see our microsite which explains  how to create your perfect landscape, gardens and outdoor spaces 

What would be the key to your service area? Email