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Make the most of the room outside

PUBLISHED: 12:33 31 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:39 20 February 2013

Make the most of the room outside

Make the most of the room outside

The style and feel of the garden is every bit as important as our homes' interior design says Nick Newton

The style and feel of the garden is every bit as important as our homes interior design says Nick Newton

In my last article, I cautioned against the perils of falling slave to the fickle whims of supposed latest fashions in garden design and gardening.
Whilst clothing can, if it must, be changed with the seasons, a new garden is rather more of a commitment. Indeed, there is a strong argument for making the garden that one area of our lives that has an atmosphere of timelessness and consistency.
In rejecting passing fashion, I shall also be avoiding any thoughts of a throwback to the past and the much documented works of gardeners like Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville West unless the project is one of straightforward restoration. And neither will I be advocating a modernist, avant garde approach, although that is a valid stance in the right context of certain situations.
If there is any looking back to be done, it will be simply to pick up the traditional notion that style is born out of context and setting. Inspiration should come from our surroundings. From that baseline the subject can be taken forward to a contemporary interpretation. It is time to look at new ways to inject character and atmosphere into a garden.
There can be little doubt that where successful gadgets are concerned, it would be true to say that function will dictate form. In other words, the design of the product must be governed by its intended purpose, and at a basic level that is also true for deciding the layout for a garden. Decisions must be made about who will use the garden and their needs; children, adults, flower enthusiasts, vegetable growers, seekers of tranquillity or al fresco diners.
Whilst taking these factors into account will create very useable space, it will not necessarily create character; that magical ingredient that will trigger the emotional response and alert the senses. It is the character and style of the garden that will take it beyond the purely functional.
There is a close parallel to be made with interior design, where we have clearly come a long way from the very utilitarian post-war kitchens. Today there must be as many kitchen styles and designs promoted and advertised as there are days in the year.
We can create a different stage in each room inside the house to act out our fantasies, and yet there is one room that we repeatedly ignore when it comes to design and styling the room outside. It may not have a ceiling but it is part of the property and it deserves as much intelligent consideration as the kitchen or living room.
So what determines style; how does one create character of space?
There is no doubt that there are many approaches that could be taken but I would suggest that one of the strongest influences should be the immediate surroundings and setting of the garden.

We live increasingly in a world of uniformity and standardisation and there is a serious danger that we will lose our regional identity; those special features that are essentially of our place of Suffolk.

We should resist the everywhere garden, reject nationwide uniformity and respond to our surroundings, the local soils, vegetation and vernacular architecture, and fully acknowledge local distinctiveness.
Im not suggesting that we should all have wildlife gardens comprising purely native species, although that is one option; but there is no reason why we shouldnt take inspiration from our setting. We live increasingly in a world of uniformity and standardisation and there is a serious danger that we will lose our regional identity; those special features that are essentially of our place of Suffolk.
It is right that our gardens should at least hint at the difference between fen and boulder clay plateau and between coast and wooded valley. We clearly live in a region of low rainfall, so our plant choice should reflect the drier growing conditions, unless of course it is a river valley site when plant selection can reflect the riparian setting.
For much of the region soils are mostly chalky boulder clays so to try and grow acid loving plants such as rhododendrons is to fight against the local spirit of the place, and indeed horticultural common sense. Yet where opportunities to grow such plants do arise such as the coastal heaths, their presence marks a variation in the prevailing nature of the area. The whole concept of style is greatly strengthened by the use of local materials, which will ensure a strong link with the setting and blend with surrounding buildings.
In urban areas, where there may be less of a strong natural regional influence, choosing a style becomes easier particularly where the garden is fully enclosed. You allow your imagination to take over and let the interior and exterior cross over and blend together to the extent that there is a blurred distinction between the two and you gain a wonderful extension to your living space that is a very specific indulgence of style and character.
Whatever the style you choose, above all else keep it simple, maintain a sense of scale and proportion, and seek inspiration from your surroundings. Then you will have arrived in a gentle landscape imbued with your own sense of place.

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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