We are plagued by garden designers in the UK. They are everywhere, telling us what to do and how to do it, and what plants to buy.
Especially what plants to buy. (Magazines love that) Now, don’t get me wrong, many of them are really nice people and one is a very good friend of mine. But they have taken over, as I have pointed out before. So how do most of us, not terribly well off, manage without them, as we must? Some of us amateurs have managed to make a garden from two empty fields, some people competently re-landscape their plots, and in reality this is closer to ordinary than Gardens Illustrated would have us believe. And then:
Well, you are actually the critical and important garden designer.
Here’s my case: practically every time you venture into your garden without a drink in your hand, you contribute to its design. And when you do have a drink in your hand you probably are contributing to the design, as you contemplate and critique your efforts. Like it or not, you are a garden designer. Trained or not. (And who decides what you must learn in order to do it well?)
Recently I’ve been going daily to contemplate a bed which is full of pink Japanese anemones and some late pink roses. I’ve added a beautiful eupatorium which complements the pink, being a deep rosy pink itself in flower. I’ve added some crimson to give it a little contrast, but when I look I think it needs more. A clematis Princess Di manages this a little, and so does a crimson Persicaria and a crimson Japanese anemone. Is this enough, I wonder, every day?
A friend suggests adding an ornamental grass with that touch of crimson, which is an interesting idea. Having a friend help you design your garden is the happiest thing (unless their suggestions are awful). And that is what it is – garden design.
In the shorter and more temporary term, it’s possible that you plant annuals in your garden and may be considering what to use next year.
You’ll be thinking of the particular plants, their colour, size, and how they work with the rest of your plants and garden. That’s garden design and that’s quicker. Same with those bulbs which you’ve bought far too many of. (Yes, I have bought over a thousand – sorry Angus)
You may be thinking you’d like a pond in your garden, so you can watch the newts eat the baby tadpoles. (How are we to keep our tadpoles alive???!) You’ll think about where to place it, what to do with the soil you dig out to make it, how to marry it with the rest of the garden. Or you may need to make a path to get dry foot to the bins. That’s garden design.
You may just go for a wander round your garden, which, as a good gardener, you do tool in hand. That may enable you to deadhead a flower which might otherwise seed too much. Or cut off a stem which is about to flower, so that you can have the plant flower later and lower. You may remove a weed, or alternatively you may see it’s actually rather pretty and popular with bees, so you leave it. That’s garden design.
Is a plant too vigorous? Should it go? Or maybe you need a lot more of it, so you order a lot more of it? That’s what the internet is for and that is garden design. What height will you cut that hedge? Or will you shape it differently? Yes, well, you get the message. That’s garden design.
Alternatively, you may move to a new place, look at a rather derelict or distasteful garden – and call in a garden designer.
That will also be garden design, if you employ them and let a landscaper loose with their plan. But when the designer and landscaper leave – even if the designer should return next year to see progress and assist – in the meantime, you will be designing the garden. Things will grow – some more enthusiastically than intended and you may need to remove them. You may find you hate one plant and remove that. A tree may grow too big and you may coppice it. That dinky parterre may get box blight or moth and need a change of plan. Some plants may just die and need replacing with something that may be happier.
Gardens never stop. They grow, weather brings change, your taste changes, garden styles change. Every decision you make, whether to move or hold back, all of them start a process of change. We are all garden designers, for good or ill.
“First you need to learn your plants and have an eye for placing them. You also need to see what’s wrong and edit it. I visit my gardens every two years and still there are mistakes.” Piet Oudolf.