Sunday, October 25, 2009

No imagination

I do like our front garden. When we first moved here around five years ago, part of the front garden was overgrown with shrubs and trees sculpted into lollipops in an attempt to stifle their growth and keep them under control. The other part was covered in chippings, with a couple of half barrels plonked there; both barrels contained rather sick looking rhododendrons. And there were hydrangeas - they had to go. So did the lollipop shrubs. And the crazy paving path.

A skip was hired and filled. Nice men came and took out overgrown shrubs and their stumps. A blank canvas. And no real idea of what to fill the space with except that I wanted lots of plants, lots of flowers, no lawn. Limited funds meant that a few shrubs (pittosporums, viburnum, smoke bushes) and a few herbaceous perennials (achillea, penstemons, japanese anemones and so on) were supplemented with a load of self seeding annuals (candytuft - I have an absolute love for this plant, with memories of simpler times many years ago when the time taken for these seeds to germinate seemed an entire lifetime, love-ina-a-mist, cerinthe, cosmos, bedding dahlias, californian poppies).

Visits to gardening shows helped fill the gaps. Even when there weren't gaps. What we have now is loved by butterflies and bees. And I enjoy it. The postman enjoys it rather less, as he gets thwacked in the legs by wet foliage as he walks to the door. But it seems like it is missing something, and that something is structure. There is nothing that captures the eye - it slides from plant to plant. No bad thing, maybe - I love plants. But I am starting to feel it needs something more. A little less chaos. A little less variety. A little more order. SomeBeans will barely be able to believe I've just written that - my middle names are Chaos and Disorder.

And so I took myself off to evening classes on designing your own garden, and have been learning. And practicing. And thinking. It's difficult - the other (mostly) ladies in the class all seem to have extremely large gardens, where there is room to experiment with different styles, have different 'rooms' which perform at different times of the year. Some of them seem to have room for landforming, like at the Garden of Cosmic Speculation. I need something that looks good (or at least reasonable) all the year round. And I have discovered a problem. My imagination - or rather lack of it.

I find it difficult to come up with ideas, or at least ideas which will work in the space provided, and with the backdrop of our rather ugly house. I drool over pictures in books - whilst the ladies above exclaim over photos of traditional gardens with sweeping lawns and large ponds looking over open countryside, echoing their own gardens, I find myself drawn to more modern plantings. Clipped trees to give structure, but still with abundant but perhaps more controlled planting with fewer types of plant.

Does anyone have any tips on how to develop an imagination - is it like a muscle, developing the more you use it, or am I doomed?

Just added this - Leee John certainly had some Imagination. Just look at the sequins on that!


Liz said...

I think your garden looks lovely to be honest and would love something like it myself! (long-term plan)

Perhaps have a look at Piet Oudolf for inspriation? He uses drifts of plants, this may help give you more focus? That way it leads the eye and body on a journey through the border...

However, I'm like you, chaos is my middle name and I have exactly the same problem... But I'm slowly becoming more and more determined to plant in groups rather than ones. Remember to keep numbers odd, so perhaps have a grouping of 3,5,7 plants and move onto the next?

HappyMouffetard said...

Hi Liz,
Yes, been considering a variation on prairie planting a la Piet Oudolf, but want to make sure that I get some Spring/early Summer interest too. Tanks for your comments.

Victoria Summerley said...

I think a couple of big pots might do the trick - tall, empty ones that would make focal points amid the wonderful tumbling mass of plants. Put them on a layer or two of bricks to make them sit straight.
Cretan terracotta would be ideal, but far too expensive I should think. I've got a couple of plain terracotta urns that cost about £50 each.

Victoria Summerley said...

Sorry, just found the link I was looking for. Like this ... see pix 4 and 5.

Wendy said...

how lovely! I bet there's all kinds of butterfly and bee action in this beautiful garden - MUCH more imagination than the before photo!

Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

I think imagination just develops by looking at things and wondering "what if I" and taking things a step further all the time ... Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't

I don't think you are doomed - your front garden shows much more imagination than when you first moved in :)

I like Victoria's suggestion - a couple of pots would make beautiful resting points for the eye - I use one in my garden and it looks lovely amongst lush planting. Then is a nice stand alone feature in the winter.

Is your evening course fun????

Arabella Sock said...

I think imagination just needs a sparking point to ignite it and then your cooking! It is probably easier to make the very brave decision to clear the garden and start with a blank canvas than to start fiddling with the lovely design you now have.
That's what I find with mine.

How about an archway of some sort on the bend in the path?

James A-S said...

Leeee John.
What a triumph of cheese. Not just the sequins but the headband and mask on the back of the head and everything.
As to garden design: front gardens always a bit tricky as they are mostly there for walking through and therefore the paths should always be direct and to the point. A path that faffs all over the place going the pretty way will very swiftly become annoying the first time you need to get from car/pavement to house carrying stuff while it is raining.
Get the practicalities right first.
(What a very dull piece of advice).

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

I think it looks pretty good right now, but love Victoria's idea of a couple of large pots. What about a single something a bit more statuesque as a plant as well? Big euphorbia, elegant shrub? I am not great on the imagination front myself, so not the one for any kind of advice!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Garden sculpture is one option, something big, bold, simple & modern, possibly steel. As for developing an imagination, the only advice I can give is to visit gardens, art galleries, look at lots of books about gardens and landscaping, and look at images on the internet. Sometimes just talking things over with someone who's familiar with your problem area can get your mind rolling.

Anna said...

When you have found that imagination commodity will you pass on some to me please ? Your garden looks great already as far as I can see. I hesitate to give you any advice - my whole garden needs to go back to the drawing board ! I think though that Victoria's suggestion of a couple of large pots is an excellent idea. Good luck with whatever layout/planting you decide on.

easygardener said...

I'd go with the idea of large pots or a garden feature (if you feel the garden needs it). Something like a large shrub etc can be a problem in a smaller space - they always grow too big or the wrong shape.
I too find the concept of garden design very difficult - I see the trees but never the wood :-)

Nutty Gnome said...

It does look lovely, but I see your point about it missing something!
If it were me, I'd have a rock or three - yes, I know I would say that given the amount of time I've spent with rocks recently, but they give some 'grounding' and solidity against the softness of the planting.

It's quite hard to tell from above what kind of height differences you've got in the planting scheme, but perhaps you need one taller but non-dominant plant to catch the eye and give a focal point ..... an Acer P. 'Ornatum' or 'Emerald Lace' possibly? Neither grow taller than 150cm and both are stunning at all times of the year. If it were planted in the right hand bed near the bend of the path, you could choose one with a long shape to match the garden. It would then complement, but not overpower the rest of the planting.

Failing that ....Victoria's idea of pots(but use an odd number!)or one stunning piece of garden sculpture would look good!

Bay Area Tendrils said...

No advice from this quarter. But I relate to your desire for modern plantings. I read this as bringing a clarity to the plant marriages. Anyway, it's started me pondering similar aspects in my garden, so thanks for that!
Wish I had room to configure the terrain for my own Garden of Cosmic Speculation. But then I'd need to hire someone to install it, and I don't bring in outside help :~D

HappyMouffetard said...

Victoria - good idea and thanks for the link, I had forgotten about Newshoot's posts on design.

Wendy - thank you. Yes, there's lots of insect activity, which is great and something I don't want to lose.

Karen - thanks for the comment. What you say about imagination makes sense. The course is good - common sense, but it gives me a launching pad, and has got me using the excellent library at work, taking out loads of gorgeous gardening books - hopefully they'll get the imagination going.

Arabella, a clear slate is a possibility - it's something I'mm working on with the design I'm developing as part of my evening course, but brave (and expensive) to do in reality.

james - you're not charging for that designer's advice, are you? Not sure I could afford you!

Elizabeth - thanks. A statement plant - good idea.

MMD - good advice, thanks.

Thanks Anna.

EG - a good way of putting it - not seeing the wood for the trees, just how I feel.

NG - some good ideas there, thanks. I think the problem I have with stone is that the house is dull nondescript brick and much as I love big chunks of stone, I fear they would just look 'dumped'.

Bay Area tendrils - glad to be a catalyst to your own thoughts!