Is garden design in a rut created by the way we are taught to approach it?
Perhaps it is the result of the scale of modern-day gardens that we think in terms of boundaries and what we can place within them that is partly the cause. Inspiring gardens and landscapes of the both the past and present are on an altogether different scale and tend, as a result, to be designed from the inside out – or am I fantasising, I wonder.
As someone who spends a great deal of time thinking about the opportunities designed landscapes can offer us, I am frustrated by the manner almost all gardens are designed and I am probably no better than everyone else.
Designing for others is easy, you can be logical and focused in your design decisions, but for myself the ideas become muddled. I want to try everything, all at once, and it is so difficult to throw plants away which, just maybe, I might need in the future.
I am currently making a lot of changes in the garden and have been particularly interested in learning more about trees and shrubs over the past year. Such plants are difficult to work with in a small domestic garden and one tends to focus upon dwarf plants to squeeze in as much variety as possible. The books about these plants are written by people who are either wealthy, with vast acres to fill, or professionals, who are again working on a larger scale than most of us. Most plants described as medium sized are very large in my garden and the issue as far as trees is concerned is even worse. Whereas perennials tend to reach a predictable mature size, trees and shrubs just keep on growing.
Much of this rambling has been triggered by my desire to give more structure to my perennial planting schemes and hence my current obsession with shrubs and trees. The one thing I want to play with in the future is how to bring them together in a sustainable and manageable way. At the moment I tend to separate the two, placing the shrubs in separate beds to break up an otherwise large expanse of perennials, as the minute I mix them I hit problems with maintenance in which perennials are more difficult to tidy and shrubs need regular pruning to hold everything in balance.
I don’t really have any answers yet, but it is this problem that brings me back to the point about inside-out design. For too long shrubs and trees have be relegated to filling out the boundaries and edges of our gardens to provide the setting for other garden features; and the American practice of foundation planting relegates them even further. Instead I aim to make them the backbone upon which to hang everything else in my designs. Anyway, this will be my aim in any new year projects, but will it actually alter the way I approach my own garden? – probably not!
Coming soon, my other new year resolutions.