The big picture

Robin Williams was the guest speaker this week at the Surrey group meeting with a topic of ‘Great Gardens and how to achieve them’.  Robin grew up designing gardens and set up the Garden Design School  in 2001 with Moira Farnham, running courses at Painshill Park – Cobham and the University of Bristol Botanical Gardens.

Given his audience, Robin felt that he had to set out his wares at the beginning of the talk.  Although he does grow flowers and vegetables he doesn’t start with the plants when designing a garden.  This is where you need to see the big picture and start with the space – if this sounds familiar, this is the advice also given by last month’s speaker Laura de Beden.

Picking highlights from the talk;

Designers talk about mass and void – the plants/objects and the open spaces of a garden and the balance between them.

There needs to be enough planting to keep the eye within the space and stop it seeing the boundary.  Corners and returns on buildings should be hidden.

The curve always gives way to the straight line – so don’t position a curve right up to a straight line as this will give you fiddly spaces too small for planting.

Measure your garden as accurately as you can so that you can plan it out on paper.

Flowers are ephemeral, consider the leaf shape/colour/texture.  This is certainly true of one of Robin’s favourite plants, Iris sibirica.

Reflective foliage works well with strong colours whereas pastels look better with a dark background or in the shade.

Once you have planned out your shapes, lines of sight and positioning of large trees/shrubs, only then do you get down to the decisions on which plants to use.  It was suggested that we avoid the ‘fruit salad’ and go for the ‘Italian baby leaf salad’ – a different way of saying less is more and we were shown some inspirational gardens from all over the world designed by Robin. One particular garden which provoked a lot of interest was a triangular plot as might be found on a new housing development.  At least half of the site was given over to a pond which looked stark when first created, but with clever planting soon became an inviting and intriguing space and the surrounding houses and boundaries disappeared completely.

To sum up – good design rarely happens by accident and we need to look through the wrong end of the telescope to see and plan out the big picture before we focus in on the detail.

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