November 2014: Size Doesn’t Matter

Autumn and winter need not signal the end of the gardening year. Indeed, in contrast to the thrill of spring and abundance of summer I look forward to the bareness of winter. This is the time of year when I see things completely differently. Gone are the bright distracting colours of spring bulbs, the shiny lime green of new leaves and the sweet summery scent of flowers. Instead there is a naked space in all its bare glory with nothing to distract the eye from the basic layout and structure of the garden. Seeing the bare bones of a garden in winter and applying some constructive criticism (often helped by taking photographs which you can study in the warmth and comfort of your armchair), can pay dividends next year.

Practically any garden can benefit from a thorough examination of the framework upon which the stylish clothes of spring and summer will hang next year. An annual critical revue can give the perfect excuse to visit larger, grander, older gardens when they are quiet and to ’borrow’ ideas that you might never have thought of yourself. It never ceases to intrigue me how some of the basic grand design principles established 300 years ago by people who had huge swathes of the English countryside to mould and change to their liking remain relevant to us today. If you have never been to Stourhead in Wiltshire or Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire you are missing a treat. In these gardens you will see lakes, rivers, vistas, huge mature trees and an entire village all moved and remodelled to make the perfect picturesque English Landscape Garden.

Did you know we have the finest example of an English Landscape Forest Garden right here in Gloucestershire? Entry is free almost every day of the year to Cirencester Park, an incredible Grade 1 listed example of design and forward planning. In the Park you will see some superb examples of design principles such as symbolism, borrowed landscape, focal points, tactical planting and ways to visually link the house to the garden. And guess what? All those design principles are still relevant today and are achievable in our own more modest corners of the English countryside!

At Blenheim the huge Triumphal Column is the grandfather of all focal points. However, you can easily place a more suitable statue, mirror, building or feature in a corner of your garden to make the most intriguing focal point.

A small forest is used as tactical planting at Stourhead. It hides a thrilling vista from view until the very last moment when you round a bend in the path. You can achieve the same effect with just one tree or medium sized shrub, and the vista can be a simple ornament, specimen plant or anything that takes your fancy.

The most common design trick used by the grand designers to link house with grounds was to place a three acre lake where it would reflect the house, thus giving twice the impact of its splendour. We can easily enhance the visual value of our homes by using plants such as climbers to frame the house or planting styles that associate with the era or style of the property.

Borrowed landscape is the art of linking your garden to the bigger outside picture, by either framing a distant view or using similar planting styles to those visible outside your garden. Cirencester Park has done this on a grand scale by making the distant Coats Church appear to be within the grounds of the Park as seen from Pope’s Seat. I have used the same design principle to great effect in a tiny town centre courtyard. Three small trees were planted that matched three much larger trees in a distant garden, the visual effect of joining the two gardens together had a very positive impact on the smaller space. Size does not matter when it comes to getting bang for your buck in the garden.