Talk about serious re-calibration. Through a lot of laughter. We’re one week into our first Travelling Masterclass involving the hungriest group of gardeners I’ve ever travelled with, and we’ve had all our preferences and prejudices undermined and unglued. It’s a total reframing. And a very welcome one.
As mostly home gardeners, private gardens have a special resonance. So wandering through Tom Stuart-Smith’s own garden, or around Dan Pearson’s garden, with Dan as host, is really powerful. Curiously it’s their highly personal nature that presses universal buttons in the visitor. Even if you don’t want to replicate what you’re seeing in your own garden (and we’d all happily have done so), there’s an implicit permission granted to garden as you damn-well please – a nurturing of the conviction that the most important person to please in your own garden is yourself. And that doing so will, paradoxically, maximise your chances of delighting visitors.
Teaching gardens mightn’t be so emotion-laden, but there’s loads of lessons to be gained from them. We headed to Wisley to compare the use of perennials in the traditional borders to those in the naturalistic styles of Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart-Smith, and I confess that it was my intention to demonstrate – effortlessly – the superiority of the latter two. We were taken aback, then, by how much we loved the traditional borders (in their late summer volume- and floral- peak). We didn’t like the work of PO and TSS any less for that. We really enjoyed them all. But it’s a great spot to check out how many of the same plants can appear as fundamental contributors to several different styles, and how the variety of treatment can result in widely varying effects.
And then there’s the public spaces. Nigel Dunnett’s planting at the Barbican was very late-summer-satisfying. It’s much quieter now than at its spring/early summer peak of turgidity and colour intensity, but it’s still working hard. And well.
The Queen Elizabeth park planting of James Hitchmough, Sarah Price and Nigel Dunnett was also good, though very variable in the legibility of the designers intent. Parts of the North American section of planting were dominated by invasive species, but the other sections read clearly, and provided strong lessons in repetition and varying floral density – all the stuff we have to get a grip on if we’re going to work successfully with an Australia-appropriate flora to achieve similar outcomes.
But it’s as much about the discussion as it is the visual stimulation.
We’re teasing it all apart together. And there are few things I love more.
I’d love for you to join me on my next Travelling Masterclass to New Zealand, November 16th – 23rd, where we’ll tease apart some of the best home garden designs in the world. Click here to find out more, and be quick, registrations close this Friday 6th September!
Click here to register your interest in my ‘2020 New Naturalism’ Travelling Masterclass. Dates and tour launching soon.