The essence of a garden is all about generosity, as Vita Sackville West confirms in today’s title quote. Garden, generosity is not only about the blooms and plants but also the space, the size and the scale of a garden and its location; the width of the paths, the height of the trees, arches, pergolas or sculptures all combine together with the generous spirit of the gardener.
Recently I took a side step from gardening to attend a Principles of Garden Design Online Symposium with Michael McCoy and his lineup of speakers, including; Andy Sturgeon, Fiona Brockhoff, Barbara Landsberg, Annie Guilfoyle, James Basson, and Andrew Laidlaw. It was a treat to hear these exceptional garden designers talk about their work, key design principles, and favourite garden design books.
It was a morning full of lightbulb moments that have continued to present themselves in my head all week. The discussions were stimulating, like a shot in the arm of motivation and energy. I was amazed at the generosity of the presenters and their candid conversations that imparted so much knowledge to us as participants.
Returning to the garden after such an overload of inspiration, I’m seeing everything with fresh eyes. The only issue is balancing new ideas with a humble submission to nature in one’s own garden environment. Being in a rural location, there are different parameters to consider and other elements to be incorporated into a garden that are not usually needed in a suburban area but are necessities in a rural location. These are a challenge; any alternatives are difficult and expensive, so they must be embraced as part of the innate character of a working rural farm.
When everything one puts in the garden combines, it will naturally embrace the personality of the key gardener and become uniquely one’s own. The garden experts verified a few of my current ideas, including; being sensitive to the property and the structures I cannot change, having the confidence to simplify and know what needs to be taken out, and being aware of cohesion.
As seasons come and go, we can never predict how plants will grow and the overall outcome of the garden. No matter how we manipulate the landscape and attempt to create those natural-looking places in the garden that will really sing, there are always areas that don’t work.
How do we create magic spots in the garden? Some are created intuitively or by accident; sometimes, mistakes can create an outcome over and above what was planned. Using the principles of design, one can verify our intuitive choices and know why that placement looks perfect. Or understand the enticing feeling of walking through a well-designed garden that makes you feel comfortable being there and has a certain sense of rightness.
The endless possibilities of the play of light and the creation of shapes, colours and textures and how the light might fall across the garden at dusk, the first rays of sun on a rose bloom, or the reflection and shadows across a wall from the leaves and trees. These are fascinating and a great source of joy, whether a large estate, the most humble of gardens, or simply pots on a terrace or balcony.
As the seasons turn around, the changes to colours and light are remarkable and distinctly alter the landscape each time. Being part of these changes is one of the exciting aspects of gardens that draws the eye and entices us to explore. It can sometimes take your breath away or cause you to do a double-take from the individual elements’ interaction with nature; the shadows, the dappled light and how it changes over the day. The constant is that nature will always hold the upper hand, no matter the time of year.
Although I have thinned them out this year, one can never have too many roses. My task heading towards Spring is to focus more on the shapes and forms to fill the gaps in the garden and, at the same time, continue my pared-down plant palette with a selection of plants that work here in this climate. Rather than adding one of the various plants, I’m focused on a few plants but adding many, 5- 7-9-12 or more, of the same, repeated around the garden to create a theme. Odd numbers of plants usually look best. They create repetition, cohesion, balance, wildness, fullness and unity throughout the garden.
I hope you have enjoyed the up close and personal photos of some of the roses in the garden. They are rapidly dwindling in the mornings’ heavy frost of late, but some refuse to give up and are still in bloom. Bring on Spring!
Title quote by Vita Sackville-West
Content Di Baker
Images Di Baker 2023