Winter transforms our gardens, paring away foliage layers, revealing underlying forms and structures. Autumn gales have blown away the lush fullness of summer’s growth, exposing the garden’s strengths or weaknesses for all to see. At the turn of the year we regain the seasonal power to see afresh, with the sharpened vision of a new encounter. It is useful to take this seasonal opportunity to re-experience familiar ground.
The intense flower colours of summer have been replaced by a calmer range of winter hues. Our winter gardens offer fewer distractions, enabling their fundamental qualities of structure and form to be appreciated. Structure defines all of the garden’s three-dimensional spaces, its enclosed forms and its open voids.
Gardens comprise positive spaces, such as the volume contained inside a hedge or a mature shrub border, or the proportions of a tree canopy, or a garden building, and negative spaces, for example the width of a path, the extent of a lawn, the proportions of a patio or terrace. Structural relationships determine whether we feel exposed, confined, or comfortable in our gardens. The organisation of garden spaces and structures define what the garden is, and how it can be used, so careful forethought is advisable.
The relationships between a garden’s spaces – lawn, patio, pond, path or driveway, and its hard or soft structures – walls, outbuildings, trees, shrubs or borders, control the views within the garden, and affect its character. The spaces, surfaces, shapes, forms, and movement routes all influence the way we experience the garden.
For example, if a standard garden shed is positioned some distance from the house, but connected by a path, the experience of walking through the garden can offer adisappointing climax – a utilitarian tool shed. Our poorly rewarded excursion is unlikely to be repeated soon. It would be better to hide the shed away to one side, as a minor destination off our main route to a more worthy objective, such as a sunny bench, a pond, or a piece of sculpture. Or to create a shed so beautiful that it deserves to become a year-round focus of attention.
The winter garden transformation also reveals structure at a smaller scale. Early winter mornings offer unexpected visual delights of clear light and hard frost. One
feels privileged to discover freshly frosted foliage, ice-laden branch structures, sparkling seed-heads, and waters turned crystalline. At this time of year, the garden may be resting, but it continues to reward and to fascinate the keeneyed observer.
© Douglas Dalgleish, Garden Design 2008