RHS Chelsea Flower Show, RHS Malvern Flower Show, RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, RHS Tatton Park and all the other garden-related shows give us plenty of opportunity to see current trends and latest garden fashions. Indeed, as the creations seen during London Fashion Week will make their way to high street clothes shops, albeit in diluted form, so will the new fashions of horticulture make it to our gardens via garden centres, magazines and garden designers’ plans. With so much inspiration to play with it can be a confusing task when thinking about how to fashion your garden. Unless, of course, you don’t want to be a dedicated follower of fashion but want to do your own thing, whatever makes you happy.
However, in my opinion, there are some basic rules that apply whatever style, theme, fashion or new idea you may want to apply. I believe that a successful garden is not all about colour and plants, it’s also about how we use paths, views, focal points, sculptures, water features, lawns, etc. in order to harness the scale, proportion, balance and harmony.
When looking at an outside space for the first time I will not necessarily be looking out for the skilful use of plants. I can usually tell a garden that’s been made by someone who’s passion is plants rather than someone who understands space, volume, scale, order, proportion and balance. However, the garden that combines plant knowledge with design skills will, at the very least, sit easily on the eye and bring a moment of calm and order into an otherwise chaotic and fractured world.
So, when I am considering a design for a garden I probably won’t start the process with the planting design. When you are thinking about your perfect garden in your own mind’s eye you may easily picture a full-on English cottage garden or a wild flower meadow that’s bursting with colour but this is only a cultural concept. One of my favourite gardens is at Rousham House in Oxfordshire, made during the 1700’s by William Kent. It is four acres of entirely green planting and it is a master class in garden design which relies on texture, tone, reflections, views, shifting light, playful use of sculpture and symbolism. It is kept in its original design condition, no flowers except daffodils, well worth a visit at any time of year.
Once you have achieved structural order and balance it is then time to start thinking about flowers and whether they have a place in your garden. Because colour appreciation is so personal I believe there is no correct or wrong way to use it. You can, though, use colour by imagining a flower bed is a firework display that’s going off from spring to autumn in super, super slow motion. The garden is slowly shifting its points of emphasis as one firework dims and another bursts into life. The trick the gardener has to pull off is to orchestrate, manage, conduct and order the display so that it flows beautifully throughout the year. The key to doing this successfully is to divide the bed into lots of smaller beds each containing one of three types of plant; early season, mid season and late season. Order will ensue.