Gardens as a door to the soul
“Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are”. So said Alfred Austin, poet laureate, in 1896.
Great gardens are those that are created from, and which express individuality of spirit.
The planning and execution of garden creation must identify and harness a closeness to the soul of its owner. This is one of the first processes in garden design that some younger garden designers, keen to replicate gardens seen in magazines or at shows, fail to include.
There is no wrong or right garden solution – only those created without thought. For some with busy urban lives an ordered garden offers sanctuary where the stresses and chaos of modern life can find some boundaries. Here topiary, reflective water surfaces and a muted palette of plants and materials creates breathing space for the soul and space for the mind to put some order on the pressing matters of the day. Order rather than formality may be the key driver.
For others respite involves escaping to another place perhaps recalling happier times from the past. This could involve a garden that evokes the freedom derived from exploring nature or wading through wildflower meadows, whether the memory is real or not. The scene has an element of visual chaos but it nonetheless brings balance to the soul through selective memory recall.
In fact there is much to be said for gardens ability to take us back to childhood. As adults, tinkering about with hedge clippers or growing vegetables is about as near as we’re going to get to play time. Those who are already avid gardeners will be all too aware of how lost in time you can get once you start tying up some stray climbers or admiring the perfume and forms of a rose. For that brief moment in time nothing else matters.
Despite the social context of gardens as places for family activity or entertaining, I believe the best gardens offer most at an individual level. Where a couple are involved it is important at the early stage of design to identify what it will mean to each, which can often be very different. And though one person may have a stronger vested interest in the outcome it is nonetheless important to recognise the needs of the less dominant – if only because delivering a harmonious solution in such cases helps encourage a better understanding and mutual respect between each half of a relationship.
Gardens that encourage both client and plants to flourish start with horticultural knowledge and spatial empathy. Like people, plants need space. If placed too close together they will compete – some will survive, others will perish. An approach where sufficient space reduces competition for nutrients, water and pollinators, whilst friendly neighbours offer support so that those with weaker stems do not flop over in adverse weather creates harmony and reduces maintenance. Gardens created with an understanding of their owners can provide equal levels of support.
So when you look out at the blank space of lawn, get creative and let your individuality speak volumes about your view of the world.