Making the Gardens Step by Step


Making the Gardens Step by Step

Step 1

I start the process by deciding which emotions I want the finished garden to evoke, then I assess which features of the space I can't change such as the amount of visible sky, large trees, boundaries, and buildings.  Next I build these into imaginary places in my mind's eye, and wander around in them to see which emotions I experience, how many lines of sight the layouts generate, what the journey around the garden and through the seasons will look and feel like while walking along the paths.  I change things around in my head until the garden triggers the desired emotions - its a bit like building and then visiting your own private Narnia. 

Anything that has provoked the target emotions in me gets included at this stage - music, films, poetry, fiction, paintings, people, animals, plants, places, myths and fairytales, legends and belief systems, landscapes or just my own memories. They are all thrown into the mix and woven into the thousands of tiny choices that go together to generate the finished place. Once I have something that works emotionally, I fix the entire image as a visual memory of a place I haven't actually been to yet. 

This part of the process goes on in the back of my mind while I am doing other things, particulary repetitive boring things, driving long distances, and walking the dogs in the countryside and forests, and it's innate, automatic, and relentless.

If you were making a movie, this part of the process would be writing the core of the story told by the film, and deciding on the style, themes and sentiments that will be used to tell the tale.

Step 2

The next bit is the factual, methodical and detailed part, which involves analysing the image from all aspects and working backwards to decide on the components needed on the ground to generate the same place in reality.  This usually takes a couple of months of research and planning and is best described as compiling a parts list to build a real life reconstruction of the place I haven't actually been to yet.  By the end of this process I have made a scale plan of the new garden with all the plants and features marked on.  Once the scale plan is complete, it is too late to make small changes as the elements of the design are interwoven and interdependent. 

 If making a movie, this would be the time to write the script, cast the actors, source the locations, build the sets, props and costumes, lighting, etc.  In a movie, making changes past this point would cause continuity problems for the rest of the film.

Step 3

The next part of the process is actually building the garden on the ground, which requires lots of organising, planning, lugging, digging and determination to turn a scale plan on paper into a scaled up reality on the ground.  This is also the stage to actually source or grow the plants.  The planting part of the process usually involves me stomping about with a clipboard, talking to myself, pacing about a lot, waving garden canes and string all over the place and meticulously positioning what look like dead sticks all over what looks like a field of mud, which is unfortunate as this is also the first time that the project's existence becomes apparent to anyone else!

If making a movie, this is the actual filming stage, where the director is obsessing about apparently inconsequential details, no-one knows what he's talking about and the actors walk off set after 33 takes and no lunch.

 Step 4

After about one year, the new garden starts to show its true colours, and now all that's left to do is hoe, mow, and wander through and watch the show! 

If making a movie, its finally time for the popcorn!