Now is the time of year when our garden at last starts to fill out, the gaunt bare days are at an end. Soon the trees will be in leaf, the joyous daffs and tulips will be joined by the annuals, the shrubs and ornamental grasses. Borders will become a riot of colour.
So it’s a good time to just pause and take a good long look at our gardens before this explosion of leaf and petal starts. Because this our last chance to see how important structure is to a successful garden.
What is structure? Ironically it’s quite a fluid term. It encompasses just about everything from landscaping, ponds, trees and shrubs, to paths, walls and terracing. One way to think about it is, it’s what’s left when you strip out all the soft plants and colour.
Structure is what endures
You can change a border planting relatively easily, but a terraced slope? Well, that’s quite a different matter. You can decide to put in a raised veg bed, you might even do it yourself. Fancy cutting down a mature tree? You really want to get structure right, you’re not going to change it very often. This really is a job for the professionals.
Any good garden design starts first with structure. Even though, when the garden is in full glory at the end of May or high August, structure may be the last thing you think about. It is essential in so many ways to the success of the design. It’s like having good cheekbones.
Great examples of structure
Two great gardens spring to mind that show just how important structure is. Both gardens are relatively small perhaps even modest, at least compared to the grand gardens of Versailles or Blenheim. But they make up for this by the sheer quality of design, all built around superb structure.
The key structural concept at Sissinghurst is very simple. Here we meet what has become one of the dominant forms in contemporary garden design – the garden room. Different spaces that you move through separated by structures such as walls, paths and hedges The geometric nature of the garden rooms at Sissinghurst, many framed with high brick walls are the power behind the throne of Vita Sackville West’s romantic, exuberant plantings. These rectangular spaces give underlying strength, rhythm and coherence to what otherwise may have been no more than exuberant foam, delightful but superficial. They echo the promenade one takes through a grand Country House, passing from one room to another, each one themed differently and containing the finest furnishings and objets d’art. As Harold Nicolson, Vita’s husband, who designed the structure, said; it is ‘a succession of privacies’.
Sissinghurst’s interlocking flow of rooms gives rhythm, surprise and narrative. Transforming a beautiful planting design into a garden of the highest interest and quality.
Arches, walls and paths draw you from one room to the next. The garden as journey, as story, unfolding and deeply engaging.
We’ve mentioned York Gate a few times in our blogs. But it’s no surprise. Located in Adel just to the north of Leeds, we are blessed to have this shining jewel of a garden, a miracle of precision and compression. A walk around the garden could take as little as an hour, or you could spend a whole day, such is the subtlety and variety on display. York Gate can indeed hold its own among the greatest gardens in the world.
York Gate takes the brilliant Sissinghurst structure of garden rooms and flexes and varies it in the way Bach would a suite of fugues. It looks with great care at the landscape and key features, and weaves them into the design. The famous sails of the yew trees, the garden and path framing a huge tree beyond. The potting shed artfully joining the kitchen garden and herb gardens.
You can book a slot to visit this wonderful garden on their website
The slightly eccentric and utterly charming Yew Sails. They stand firm through all seasons and all weathers. Visible from nearly every part of the garden these symbols of speed before the wind are paradoxically the main anchor for the whole garden.
The Herb Garden laid out for the almost imperceptible framing of a distant tree. Taking their cue from the magnificent tree a rhythmic succession of verticals, starting with the neo-classical columns of the pavilion, moves through shrubs and trees. Many visitors won’t notice it, but all will feel the strength, the sense of place, such subtle framing gives.
Structure then is often sensed rather than seen. We are swept up by the splendour of the flowers, the scent of herbs, the movement of ornamental grasses. But underlying this, giving it form, pace, flow and firm foundations, lies structure. The unsung but powerful hero of the garden. If you are thinking of a garden refresh or redesign now is the time to take a good hard look at your current structure and think carefully about how to work with it and what you might want to change. This is skilled and significant work. You want it to be right, so we have no hesitation in giving a little plug for ourselves. We are award winning garden designers, highly trained and experienced, this is what we do.
For examples of some of our own work, take a look at our portfolio
If you’d like to get outside over Easter see our blog from a few years ago with some ideas