Successful gardens are locally appropriate, have strong character and provide enduring pleasure over many years. They communicate through their vocabulary of land-form, planting, paving, structures and water, to evoke or provoke an emotional response from their owners and their visitors. Perhaps a gentle, serene and tranquil place in which to calmly linger and to contemplate? Or an intense riot of vibrant colours and strong contrasts to provoke excitement and to energize?
Bringing together diverse materials to create a successful garden is a complex process. The increasing range of available plants and materials provides more questions than answers. An excess of choice is confusing. Decisions made in haste may be regretted later, so it is wise to seek advice from an experienced, independent source. While it could be argued that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways to make a garden, and that personal tastes vary, every garden expresses underlying qualities. Although you may not intend your garden to communicate ideas and emotions, it does. But what is it saying, and who hears its message?
Chiefly, each garden expresses notions of quality. It gives passers-by and visitors impressions of ‘like’ or ‘dislike’; subjective assessments of value. But are these individual value judgements truly subjective, or is there a generalized, innate or cultural awareness of quality? We all share an ability to perceive and understand the world around us. Even very young children quickly differentiate their likes and dislikes. There are common themes in our attitudes to our surroundings. Our species has evolved within environments and an ability to recognize places as ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ has assisted our evolution. So, although we may each look at the world independently, we see in a similar way. When looking at the environment of a garden, we can detect the difference between a place which feels good, bad, or mediocre.
How is a good garden created? The creation of a successful garden is not a random process. The outcome of a few seasons of gardening may be larger plants, but it appears that relatively few gardeners have the necessary talent for good ‘place-making’. Some horticultural ability is usually needed. So are construction skills. But the process of deliberately creating a qualitatively ‘good’ garden begins with design.
© Douglas Dalgleish, Garden Design 2008