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Beware of the trendy garden

PUBLISHED: 12:59 23 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:03 20 February 2013

Beware of the trendy garden

Beware of the trendy garden

Don't always follows the advice of the gardening style police, warns Nicholas Newton

Don't always follows the advice of the gardening style police, warns Nicholas Newton

Elsewhere in this magazine theres a look at fashion through the age ranges but is there a place for fashion and trend in the garden?

Every year during Chelsea Flower Show week we are told what is this years must have plant, and more frequently than that the life style magazines tell us what plants and garden ornamentation are in and which are out (who decides anyway?)

But surely this is all folly; to maintain such a transient approach must mean that what is in today will be out tomorrow, the equivalent of the 20 second attention span for children watching television.

Arent our gardens meant to do just the opposite, to make us slow down, stop even; to stand and stare? Indeed to compare with the childrens television of my childhood and the story book programme Jackanory which required you to look at one person for ten to 15 minutes reading a story, perhaps interleaved with illustrations from the book but certainly not a constant barrage of ever changing images. The quality of the story had to be good enough to hold our attention especially if it was a familiar one that wed heard many times before. Likewise the content of our gardens also should be good enough to do the same.

So if our instinct is to reject the trivial, then what should be our guiding influences in creating a garden of a more timeless appeal?

A well designed garden can never be just a collection of garden features. There has to be a step back to what is essentially a blank canvas. There certainly needs to be an acute appreciation of the context and setting of the garden.

Here in East Anglia we have so many well preserved old buildings with the timber-framed cottage or farmhouse and the red brick or Georgian rectory being perhaps particularly characteristic. To go into a property such as this with preconceived ideas of the latest fashion would be to fly in the face of decades if not centuries of the perceived spirit of the place.

Thats not to say it has to be all roses round the door, and walled gardens, because there are many contemporary materials and styles of planting that could be used. But there has to be a degree of sympathy and understanding of the setting, and one of the main dominant influences on the garden is the house itself. It pays well to learn to read a house and to develop an eye for its scale and proportions, and the balance and nature of materials in its make up. The setting also surely includes the wider landscape beyond the garden fence. This has to be a factor simply because it can be seen at every point at which there is an outward view.

It is also inextricably linked to the garden in so much as the underlying soils and geology influence the range of plants that can be grown there. These are elemental factors that cannot be readily changed on a permanent basis.

Also critical in influence are the people who live there and who will use the garden.

They will also have emotional requirements that may include a need for peace and serenity, grandeur and awe, secrecy and mystery, and possibly most basic of all, security together with privacy. There are many others; formality, wilderness, prestige, intimacy, the list goes on.

What it reinforces is the key point that not only is every garden site unique, so too are the people who live there and they must be treated as such. This can never be a rubber stamp exercise. If it were, surely we could simply erase our gardens and restamp them when told to do so by the chattering garden experts. But we seldom do.

I think we have an instinct for a degree of permanence; of timelessness. Perhaps it is that which we yearn for above all else.

Nicholas Newton is a Registered Member of the Society of Garden Designers and may be contacted on 01728 638903 for further information or


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