Recently I have been looking at the posts for a lot of other garden-bloggers. Some are far better known and established than I am. From what I have been reading I detect that people are wanting change. For now I’ll just deal with in the gardening sphere.
This is something that I have been thinking about for some years myself now. It would seem that I am far from being alone in this. But what kind of change? If what has gone before has largely run its course, what’s next?
At the moment there are several ongoing strands in UK garden culture. They are some of them of historical origin , and some very much recent developments. For me, many of them have exciting aspects, and great potentials. However, none ever seem quite to fulfil them fully. It’s a bit like gardening books. Most have saving chapters, but none quite do the job.
There are no doubt others, but the ones I will look at seem to be the main ones. Modernism and minimalism seem to be too much about paving and materials. Empty spaces, and none of those untidy living things. I think I can leave these areas to trendy show garden-makers. For most of us they offer little or nothing. So the categories are broadly as follows:
Edwardian style gardens- Inspired by the great houses of the late 19th & early 20th centuries. Highly-cultivated, high-maintenance. Typified by the works of Gertrude Jekyll and her collaborator, the architect Edwin Lutyens. Very much alive in many of the well-known National Trust gardens. Considered to be quintessentially English. Amongst still exisiting examples; Great Dixter – former garden of the late Christopher Lloyd; Hestercombe and Hidcote
Sunken Garden Great Dixter Summer 2010
Potager and Kitchen gardens. There are some truly wonderful examples out there. The cult of Grow Your Own, and the current fashion for vegetables and allotment-holding is very much tied in with this. Possibly the best UK example is at Cambo in Scotland, in the walled garden. But there will be others.
The Hardy Perennial Style. Typified by the work of Piet Oudolf, sometimes called the Dutch Wave; and the New American Garden in the US. Lot of perennials, some grasses. Big blocks of any one species. Coming to a peak mostly late in the growing season. Spring bulbs and a few selected early perennials for earlier in the year. Internationally admired, adopted and imitated. But actually now getting to be rather dated. This style is into its third decade now. No longer new.
Wildflower Meadows. Hard to do on a small scale, and actually quite hard to do period. An on-going maintenance problem potentially if the soil isn’t right. Too fertile and weedy plants like nettles take over. Undisturbed, the more showy species such as moon daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare), often die out all together. Restricting grass growth is another problem.
Urban Gardens. The size of gardens still decreases, so less has to become more. Incorporating such innovations as living walls, vertical gardening and green roofs, and many ideas taken from some of the other categories mentioned here.. This is an area with great potential, and relevance to our largely urban gardening public. Making more out of less actually gives great scope for innovation. Hydroponic living walls will come down in price and improve in reliability once they are modified for a wider market.
Sustainable style @ Knoll Gardens – Miscanthus, rudbeckia et al
Sustainable Gardens. Are these cottage gardens with a more wild twist? I think it could be argued that way. However, cottage gardens cut across a few of thse categories. They incorporate potentially hardy perennial, period and sustainable as well as kitchen garden style – or can do.
So sustainable style? To some extent this is being driven by a lack of funding in public spaces. Local authorities spending less on parks, verges, embankments etc. Much of the work here is being done by a few influential landscape practitioners. Mostly in the UK James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett with their associates including Noel Kingsbury – wh0 by the way – has a great blog I have only just discovered. Basically plants and plantings that look very much after themselves. We are not talking hedge-trimmed-to-death awful car-park shrubs either.
Of these categories, I think the Edwardian garden will always have a romantic resonance – even though most of us lack sufficient space for them. Nationally and internationally it is still highly revered, and people continue to flock to Hidcote, Hestercombe and similar properties.
Potagers have enormous scope as many grow more of their own food. The trick with it still seems to be how to achieve this and produce a beautiful garden. Lots of scope here and a opportunities for creative development.
Wildflower meadows need space. The place for these is largely in the public realm, on roadside verges, public parks and the like. Here they offer low-maintenence and low-cost, wildlife-friendly landscaping solutions. There is also a place for those developing spontaneously – without human intervention. The most successful forays into this seem to be the annual cornfield-based – plus non-native flower – mixes. The Pictorial Meadows mixtures developed by the landscape dept of Sheffield University seem to be the best source of seed mixtures for these. Many local authorities seem to have taken to them. Certainly I admire the examples I see in my local parks and public gardens.
Phlomis chrysophylla, sedum and Panicum virgatum SHENANDOAH
Hardy Perennial Style needs space too. Not a good solution for a small garden. It is also not as sustainable as it is often claimed to be. A problem in the UK is our winters,. They are often wet, soggy and windy. The dead stems and seed-heads, upon which this style relies for winter decoration are flattened. Not many of these seed-heads stand-up to our winters. The palette of those that do is quite small.
I will add though, that the palette of plants that lend themselves to this style can have advantages. Mostly lack of high-maintenance requirements. Staking is not required. Nor is much feeding.Useful to modern gardeners with less time and smaller plots. There isn’t room for plants to flop over one another.
Sustainable gardens are definitely the way forward. Water is becoming too expensive to use on watering more than limited areas of our gardens. Plants do need to be able to grow and thrive without too much intervention. One of the problems here is that what works in a more continental climate, doesn’t work in the UK. Weeds can grow here most of the year. We have a very competitive native flora. So bunching/clump-forming grasses get invaded by weeds, and weed grasses. Experimental work and research here is being carried out. Mostly at Sheffield University’s Landscape Dept. A palette of plants that work for us is being trialled and tested – as are management techniques that deal with the weed problems without herbicides and high levels of maintenance.
The future will be an amalgamation of all of the ideas above. Reliable perennials with selected shrubs. Vegetables and annuals. Fruit-trees and other edibles. Which sounds like cottage gardens – but without the very fertile ‘vegetable’ soils – perhaps? Due consideration of site and increasingly difficult weather conditions. The right plants for the right conditions and level of maintenace and inputs. Sustainable, wildlife-friendly, adverse conditions tolerant, decorative, easy to grow and beautiful.
It’s not just economically that we are living in interesting times.