It has been written that you can spot a well designed garden even in the depths of winter. This assertion is usually made in a posh garden design book and accompanied by smart pictures of strategically placed and immaculately clipped box, or an expensive looking piece of sculpture at the end of a classically laid York stone path.
There is much debate about the principles which guide garden design. For example there are those who prefer ‘garden rooms’ where each smaller garden has a particular theme or planting style. I have seen this done even in quite small outside spaces, where a secluded rose or herb garden is tucked away in a peaceful and sunny spot, or a gravelled area gives the owner the opportunity for some trendy minimalist planting perhaps with some Yuccas or Euphorbias. Two of the great gardens which use this style beautifully are Hidcote and Sissinghurst. There have, however, been some new development in keeping with concerns for our planet. To quote John Brookes, an acknowledged expert on the subject:
‘There is now, without doubt, a concern for a reappraisal of the principles of making a garden merge into its setting, and this is today linked with an ecological awareness. The wildflower garden in Great Britain and the Prairie garden look of the United States are good examples’.
Using the landscape surrounding your plot can be a really good way of making your garden look more spacious and more natural. We have a field running along the back of our garden which we can see some lovely trees well into the distance. So we have deliberately not obscured the view too much, and kept to native plants on the boundary such as fruit trees and hollies to blur the transition a little. If you have an ugly hedge or building close by, that’s another matter. Even then there are several things you can do to brighten up that kind of aspect, perhaps with climbers, or a strategically placed tree or shrub to take you eye away from the offending view.
While it can be hard to find the time and money to create a beautifully designed garden set beautifully in its surroundings, there are some simple things you can do to improve the look of your outside space:
• Think about what you want from your garden. Don’t plant expensive and precious plants where the children and going to play football or the dog is going to wee. It may sound obvious, but some thought before you start is almost never a waste of time.
• Get to know your garden properly – where is it sunny for most of the day and so good for a seat, where is it damp, what direction does the prevailing wind come from? This will help you to make wiser and more successful planting choices.
• Use repetition. I bought some cheap Cordylines from Moores nursery – their spiky leaves planted at intervals now weave through the border, breaking up the monotony of the rather flat surrounding planting .
And remember, blow convention or fashion, it’s your garden, so if you are happy with it, that’s all that matters.