Friday, 19 March 2010

Gardening with heart, soul and mind

It has been a good week for mingling with the acknowledged greats of the garden design world.  Following the study day with Dan Hinkley last week (see below) the Oxford Botanic Garden yesterday hosted a lecture by Tom Stuart-Smith.
With a formidable reputation for creating sublime gardens, Tom Stuart-Smith is also a gifted communicator, lucidly conveying his philosophy of the place of the garden in the the context of human existence and within the wider environment.
For this designer, the garden is an intercessor for humans with the world outside, relating to both and a conduit for the emotions we project onto nature and our locality as well as a means of creatively elucidating the key features of the location in its form and style.
These key themes of Tom Stuart-Smith's work are revealed in gardens of great beauty, with his signature detailed plantings adopting the forms of underlying geographical features, locally significant flora or the history, purposes and associations of the site.  Evocations of the environment are contrasted with calm, cerebral spaces that offer relief from the overwhelming variety and volume of plant material elsewhere, or are graded towards an almost oriental clarity via structural elements that provide continuity within a changing continuum: chaos to order, order to chaos.
With a profound understanding of the historical context for his gardens, Tom Stuart-Smith and his team create spaces that appeal visually - the first reaction to a Stuart-Smith planting in full fig is usually overawed amazement - but that, with layered meaning, offer intellectual stimulus and an opportunity for the viewer to explore the complexities of the site. 

The images were taken at Broughton Grange in Oxfordshire last summer.  This garden is notable for the large walled enclosure at its heart, designed in 1999. There are also great views of the countryside around - countryside that I have been familiar with since childhood and representative of a type of perfect English landscape - intimate, human in scale, productive, varied and never better than on a summer afternoon approaching harvest.  The garden was the first big commission for Tom Stuart-Smith, but it exemplifies his approach - rich plantings within a framework of walls and evergreens, on one terrace adopting the vascular patterns found in leaves of the local trees, on another clipped into upright forms that populate the garden and symbolise our place in nature.

See images in greater detail on my Flickr profile and on my website.

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