When you’re mapping out a garden in your head, or in your dreams, or with hoses snaking around on the ground, the single most influential bit of information to keep at the forefront of your consciousness is that good gardens are about spaces, and not about visual features. Now stay with me on this one.
I love flowers, I love rare plants, and I love well-designed garden structures. I’ve built a career on knowing a large range of plants, and am obsessed with mastering their use for best effect. But none of these important aspects of garden design take centre stage when I first put pen to paper, or when the garden is taking shape in my head.
The underlying question that I’m asking of my imagination, from the very start, is not how this garden is going to look, but how it is going to (eel as I enter it. What do I want rry deepest, gut responses to be? I’m currently of the belief that these initial feelings are heavily influenced by the scale and proportions of the garden’s spaces, and how enclosed or exposed they are.
In fact, I go so far as to believe that we have almost bat-like capabilities to detect our boundaries, and therefore the shape and size of the space we’re in – and we can make an instant assessment of how safe or otherwise we feel in it. After all, there was a time when our survival depended upon these senses! I’m convinced that this assessment is done and dusted before we’ve really registered what we’re actually looking at.
For me, planning a garden starts from the front or back door, or a major window. The simple enquiry is: what size space do I want to enter, or look out into, given the space I’m stepping out, or looking out from? There’s no formula, so follow your intuition.
You’ll certainly know when it’s wrong. You don’t, for instance, want to step out of your back door into a space the size of the MCG. The size of the area you enter should be scaled in line with the room you’ve left behind, and the size of the garden.