Tuesday, 1 December 2009


Of all the myriad materials used in exterior design (and the list increases by the week, usually at an exponential rate during the show-garden season), timber is easily the most versatile.

At the most basic level, it is structural. Thanks to its flexibility, great tensile strength, ease of handling and durability (when cared for) timber has an essential role to play in the safe creation of many garden structures (and most of the buildings we still live in). In this role it supports decking, stairways, roofs and floors, holds up gateposts and prevents doorways from collapsing.

Beyond this however is the great and inescapable fact of its natural good looks - even beauty - and this quality has been exploited for centuries to embellish the man-made environment, both indoors and out. Whether shaped or left in its native state, wood brings something of the primitive to the garden. As our first building material and the fuel for our earliest fires wood has claim to be as deeply rooted in the human subconscious as the tree is in the earth. Living and dead it has been of critical importance to our survival, sheltering and warming our species since its infancy. In the form of the living tree it continues to be a source of spiritual solace, although paradoxically the forest has also the capacity to inspire fear - the sinister beings of fairytale lurk there.

I think this is the source of its fundamental importance - trees are alive, as we are, and this (despite the fact that they can survive for many times the span of a human life) gives us a kinship with the material that is simply not possible with, for instance, stone. To see trees resisting the force of the wind, growing in the least promising situations, of such varied appearance and habit is to be halfway to imbuing them with personality, character and motives. So far as we know they possess none of these attributes, yet it is hardly surprising that our forebears viewed them as spiritual entities. Even reduced to decking planks wood has spring, resistance to the environment, something of life about it.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article Paul

    Have your considered the specification implications of using hardwood's verses softwood?
    see Are You and Environmentally responsible Designer!