I was delighted to be invited to speak to the Bourtons Gardening Club about garden design in the twenty-first century, on 1st April 2015.
My talk was illustrated with many slides.
I began the speech with the question ‘what is garden design about?’ My answer was, about improving our quality of living and providing healthy, enjoyable, restful, invigorating, inspiring places to live, work and visit.
Although my main focus was on British gardens in the twenty-first century, I began with a look at garden design history, to set the context and provide a richer understanding of where we are today.
I looked both at the development of gardens of the wealthy, and the influence of the cottage garden.
I discussed influences outside of horticulture, looking at fine art in particular, including the impact of modern abstract art on garden designers such as John Brookes in the second half of the twentieth century.
Then, I talked about some of the concerns of today’s society and how these are reflected in today’s garden designs. Notable amongst these was concerns about the environment.
I looked at the trend towards smaller gardens, and planting for shade.
I discussed the growing body of evidence showing the positive impact of appropriately designed gardens on our health, healing and welfare, and some gardens designed for hospices, nursing homes and hospitals.
I then went on to look at designing gardens for children, including how to provide stimulating, interesting and varied play environments, which put children back in touch with nature.
Gardens can create many different moods and atmospheres, from dramatic, invigorating and stimulating, through to peaceful, tranquil, romantic and calming, imposing, welcoming, cosy and grand, open, secluded, pretty, elegant, formal and informal – I demonstrated this with a series of slides.
Fundamental to my approach, and that of most garden designers, is designing for the lifestyle of the client, considering how the garden will be used, the practical needs and requirements of the client, and their tastes and wishes. However, the twenty-first century has brought about a diversity of styles and approaches to garden design. The most influential trends include minimalism, using a limited pallet of plants and colours, providing repetition and rhythm in planting schemes, ‘prairie planting’, the ‘new perennial movement’, growing interest in wild flower meadows, immersive environments, low maintenance gardens, a resurgent interest in shrubs, and the importance of learning from nature. I discussed all of these, using slides to illustrate.
I then went on to look at natural environments and how they provide diverse sources of inspiration for garden designers.
Having given quite a lot of consideration to planting styles, I returned to the basic structural bones of a garden. Using one of my garden plans as an example, I illustrated how a garden designer would use elegant proportions and simple shapes, create flow through a garden, use focal points, and aim for a simplicity of design that is not fussy or contrived and has an overall coherence, rather than being bitty or piecemeal.
In my final section of the speech, I looked at the work of some of today’s leading British designers, whose garden designs differ considerably from each other, picking out the merits of each design, but also with a critical eye, finishing with a look at the Olympic Park Gardens in London.
To conclude, I said that now is an exiting time for garden designers and their clients. There are enormous challenges to face, but we are learning more about them all the time. Design solutions can be breathtaking, varied, innovative, and compelling. The garden design movement is growing and evolving and should benefit individuals and society in the future.
I would be very happy to speak to other interested clubs and societies. If you would like me to speak to your club, please contact me.