April 2015: What Makes A Good Garden?

The spaces in a garden are just as important as the plants. It’s like when you have a really interesting conversation with someone, the gaps and pauses between words can speak volumes. Itsalsolikethe wordsofagoodbooktheydontworkunlessyouputspacesbetweenthem. A pattern wouldn’t be a pattern without the spaces between the shapes.

The starting point for any garden design is to decide upon a style, be it English cottage, Japanese, Mediterranean, minimalist modern, Victorian, French formal or whatever takes your fancy. How you go about filling the area will determine if it looks good rather than what you put in it. The design principles of balance and contrast are what make any style look appealing but it is not black and white. What it isn’t about is being neat and tidy with everything clipped to within an inch. Some of the most charming and interesting gardens are slightly chaotic and threatening to go wild. Good design is not based on one ingredient; colour, a perfect lawn, acres of space, a show stopping feature can all contribute but the trick to real harmony is balance and contrast. Balance of shapes, balance of spaces, balance of colour, balance of speed (straight lines v winding curves), balance of rest (seats, focal points), balance of garden and sky. The contrasts between scale, materials, leaf shapes and textures, style, colours, hard paving/soft planting are what make us really look at and appreciate each separate element within the garden.

I think the best way to describe what makes a good garden is to imagine a good piece of music. Each note, each silence, each chorus, each crescendo, each anticipated high, each base note, each repetition, each instrument are all put into the right place at the right time. If you consider the plants, paths, beds, sheds, trees, fences and shrubs to be the instruments in your garden and that your job is to make them play a balanced tune you will probably end up with something that appears considered and is pleasing on the eye.