For several totally disconnected reasons I’m back in the zone of thinking about plant-driven gardens vs design-driven gardens. If you were here, I wouldn’t be able to resist telling you each of the reasons why I’m back on this, as I have a very firmly entrenched and irritating habit of wanting to explain all the thinking that led up to the current mind-set. The fact that you’re spared reading it all is not so much an act of mercy as an act of laziness. I just can’t be bothered writing it all. Just trying to be honest…
I’m no personal fan of gardens that are simply collections of plants. I’m very glad they exist, as there’s no better place to find new plants, or to find or compare the best forms of plants you already know, but I don’t want such a garden myself.
Even as something of a plant nut, my pleasure in the plants I want to grow/feel I should grow/am trialling/can’t live without is very heavily swayed by the design context in which they appear. So whether I’m looking at my own garden, or one I’ve designed for others, there’s often only a fine line between the design-driven and the plant-driven. Both are absolutely designed. And both – I can’t stress this enough – use the best and most carefully chosen plants for whatever task is set for them. Botanically minimal gardens require as much plant knowledge to execute effectively as do botanically diverse gardens. If you’re only going to use four different plant species (for instance) in the whole garden, there’s a real imperative to make sure that they’re the very best four plants for the job.
Though the line dividing these two garden types may be fine, it’s usually pretty clear whether any garden is ‘about’ plants, as such, or about a bigger design idea – whether the design is serving the plants or the plants are serving the design.
Some pics below, illustrating what I’d consider a plant-driven design, in this case for a plant-loving client. Still very designed, but the design serves the plants. It’s also pretty entry-level from a diversity point of view. The idea was to give a relatively simple (though planty) matrix which could then carry off the inclusion of all sorts of other plants, which this client has no-doubt since seen to…
Some pics illustrating a distinctly design-driven garden, for a client who views plants as a means to an end..
My position taking the above pic makes it hard to understand the scale. The hedge in and those dark flat-topped shapes in the centre (which are palm-tree bases used as sculpture) are about 20m away from me, and are approx 2.4m (8 feet) tall.
And hence, partly, the dilemma I’m constantly facing in developing my own garden (as first discussed nearly a year ago here, and will probably still be discussing a few hours before I cark it). I love the idea of plants very carefully selected to outwork a big – and quickly interpreted – visual notion. But I also love the idea of celebrating the plants themselves, and an outlay that allows for diversity.
I can’t shake the conviction that it’s theoretically possible to do both, possibly with layers of scale ie an apparently simple and high impact large-scale structure which wows in its own right, opening up on closer inspection to reveal a large range of interesting plants. But the possibility remains largely theoretical. There are precious few gardens worldwide that demonstrate the principle.
Actually, on that point – what are the gardens worldwide (if any) that tick both boxes for you – that are satisfying/stimulating both in their design and their planting?