Should Scottish gardens, like Scottish buildings, be suitably Scottish in character? In the absence of a clear definition of a ‘Scottish building’ or a ‘Scottish garden’, a purely geographic reference to ‘any building or garden constructed in Scotland’, is not very helpful. For clarity, more site-specifi c detail is needed. Thus the general question of what is meant by Scottish character, becomes a more detailed question about the local character of each particular place within Scotland.
In Scotland contemporary architecture has developed beyond the infl uence of international modernism, to reconnect with a site-specifi c sensitivity to place, to local tradition, and to local intent. Even the controversial Scottish parliament building, commissioned as a deliberately international structure, expressive of Scotland as a player on the world stage, employs metaphors of local relevance. Perhaps predictably, the associated landscaping, in effect the Scottish parliament’s public garden, has also enjoyed a mixed reception. Neither the building nor the planting are examples of established Scottish tradition, yet both are world-class expressions of political or ecological ambition, articulated in local language. The integration of hard and soft landscaping, designed by a local firm, reaches out to connect the new building with the ancient crags and the local source of wild plant seed, specially collected to establish this project’s site-specific relevance.
Local domestic gardens should also express their relevance to specifi c place. Each garden’s relationships with its site, with its surrounding landscape, with underlying land-form, with the character of adjacent structures and the fulfi llment of required functions are all more essential considerations than the choice of the individual plants which the garden may grow. Usually, the garden is less permanent than the house, and planting is less permanent than the garden. Over time, the garden may need to be adapted in response to the house. Extending the house into the garden to create an extra room is a common practice. To make way for such architectural intervention, plants can usually be relocated or replaced with relative ease. However there are exceptions, particularly in conservation areas, and architects appreciate that it may be easier to reposition a building than a mature tree. A good integration of an extended house with its diminished garden can be achieved by bringing together garden design and house design specialists.
Ideally, domestic buildings and their gardens should be designed together, seeking a ‘wholeness of place’, a truly site-specific identity. More usually, I am asked to design new gardens for completed buildings, and in these cases, I aim to arrange the garden to enrich the existing built environment. Just as architects should have a proper regard for the local landscape context of their buildings, a domestic garden should have a good relationship with the adjacent architecture, to complement the form, massing, patterns and materials of the established built environment.
Local building tradition or clear architectural style, whether classical, vernacular, or modernist,establishes an urban or suburban garden’s contextual relationship with its site, and even rural gardens designed in response to local land-forms, landscape patterns, and distant views will usually have a building as their major structural feature.
In whichever part of Scotland a new garden is being created, a local relationship will develop. The quality of that relationship will be determined by the quality of the garden’s design.
Douglas Dalgleish Garden Design March 2010