I have had a thing about big plants ever since I can remember. When I was small (although I never seem to have been that small), my brothers, sisters and I were regularly sent down to pick fruit or vegetables in the market garden run by my mother. I liked picking the tomatoes, because of their heady smell, viscid foliage and the sensation of being enveloped in a jungle where large red fruits hung down waiting to explode across T-shirts.
As winter’s chilly embrace beckons, the balance in the garden and landscape has changed. We now see more bark and branch, more underlying structure and less froth. At home, the hedges loom large. They become like the walls of rooms where the party is over and the space is now populated with more or less graceful decay.
When I began making a garden at our barn home in Hertfordshire fourteen years ago, the site was completely bare, with not a single shrub or tree on the place. This was a daunting void - but also a wonderful opportunity to make sense of a blank. I planted a framework of hedges in hornbeam, box and yew which interlock and partially enclose a number of interconnecting spaces.
Airy plants have a special place in the contemporary garden. Not the neat hummocks of the rock garden but the delicate grassland and woodland flowers that move in every breeze and seem to inject space into every planting. Ragged robin, cow parsley and tufted hair grass are the sort of familiar prototypes that many of these plants relate to.
Three years ago I commissioned some modest but rather beautiful oak posts from the sculptors Martin and Dowling. They are totemic, tapering spires gouged into series of horizontal ridges, with the crests of the ridges charred black as if for some pagan ritual. They remind me of narwhall tusks, satisfyingly primitive, and I had this vision of them in the garden rising from amid a sea of grasses and Echinaceas.
We are all conditioned by our enviroment, and I think that if I had spent the past fifteen years gardening in north London, the Scottish highlands or the Marlborough Downs, rather than five miles north of Watford, i would approach things differently from the way I do. Much of my garden making at home has been to do with relating the abstract structure of the garden to the little morsel of Hertfordshire countryside that surrounds me.
The information explosion in gardening has made the job of designing gardens both more exciting and more difficult. Twenty years ago it was an uphill struggle to inject some semblance of modernity into a garden composition - now it may be the other way round. We are crowded with images of pink plastic decking, post-modern gazebos and brushed stainless steel.
I was asked recently if the current craze for naturalistic planting isn’t just a passing fad. In ten years’ time, will we be shaking our heads and wondering how it ever caught on, as we chuck our clumps of time expired miscanthus on the compost heap? I, for one, don’t think so. It seems to me that this planting responds to a desire many of us share, to connect with nature at a deeper level.
Five miles south of Stoke-on-Trent, Trentham lies on the bank of the riverwhose name it bears. It began as a royal manor and priory and was acquired by the Leveson family -later to become Leveson-Gower. As the family became ever grander, the house and the garden were greately enlarged, and many of the great names in English architecture and gardening worked there - including Capability Brown.
“I rarely listen to music while I’m working since I cannot concentrate. But instead, some musical phrase takes up permanent residence in a chamber of my mind and accompanies me through the day. In one very facile respect music is like a garden, with its contrast between form and content. The formal structure of music is often quite rigid, as with sonata form, which is then contrasted with the embellishment of detail.
Weinheim is a prosperous, rather sleepy, town near Frankfurt, with several picturesque castles clinging to rocky outcrops. Charming, certainly, but cutting edge? Surprisingly, yes, if you walk two minutes south of the town square to Hermannshof public garden, where the curator, Cassian Schmidt, has developed extraordinary experimental plantings using American prairie plants.
It is hard to belive that five years ago the walled garden at Broughton Grange was just an idea. In its place was a slightly scruffy and empty paddock, blessed with lovely views over the Oxfordshire countryside but nothing much else, Now it is brimful of flowers, fruit and vegetables, and seems to have been there for decades. You come across the garden rather by surprise, almost as though a huge tardis had landed in the next door field.
Anthony Glossop, the head of St Modwen (joint owners of Trentham), and the brains behind the Trentham project, suggests the idea of a garden at Chelsea to pubblicise the opening of the first major phase of the garden in 2005. I am keen on the idea, but wonder how I can possibly do something on such a tiny plot that can evoke the scale and history of Trentham.
Brockhampton Cottages lie some five miles north of Ross-on-Wye, with views over deep Herefordshire valleys, perry orchards and game coverts. It’s a richly patterned landscape of fat hedgerows bursting with hazels and oaks, and warm soil the colour of fresh liver. Peter Clay inherited the cottages and the surrounding land from his grandfather, and he and I began making a garden in 2000.
Tome Stuart-Smith describes the garden he created at a farm in north Norfolk, a formalised reflection of the dramatic and unpredictable landscape of its setting.