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Plant writings, gardening thoughts & observations of Paul Hervey - Brookes, Award Winning Garden Designer & Plantsman.
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Monday, 29 March 2010

Plants & Then More



I am going to nail my colours firmly to my flag pole.  Recently I have been delighted to be invited to a number of really fun gardening clubs and societies.  Talking about plants with people who really enjoy their gardens and the collections of plants they make is endlessly rewarding.
It makes me feel very strongly that firstly I am a gardener.  It was getting my hands in the soil which got me hooked and it was growing some dreadful plants in equally unpleasant combinations during my teenage years which make me know that this was for me.  Later when I developed taste, and learn’t how plants work I became increasingly aware of how they make you feel.  
(Photo: Arley Hall, a garden I love to visit) After studying plants I went to work in Europe.  I was quite lucky to work in large estates and in all cases the garden’s were about feel.  This sense of place and mood cannot be created without the key ingredient - plants!
To my mind you cannot successfully design with plants without knowing them intimately.  The equivalent would be like asking someone to build a house without knowing the components or who they work with each other, their lifespan, durability etc.  
With plants its more than simple training. An untold desire to be around plants is needed, to know them as seedlings, young plants with juvenile foliage and later in their maturity.  I don’t believe any beautiful garden can be created by landscape material’s alone.  They play a hugely important role but they are the framework from which the garden will hang, if you will - the stunning model without the Channel dress.  Once you combine the two you have something near perfect.
That ‘perfect’ is always a rather relative and sometimes very private thing.  Often we walk past gardens, particularly at some of the great summer shows and think hideous!  I am sure some of us will do that this year and there are some golden rules which apply to aid us in deciding what is truly hideous and what is truly inspirational. 
However in my opinion the really beautiful gardens will be created by designers who are plantsmen first, who can combine plants in a way which appears effortless and is a joy to behold.  They will have the magic touch which makes our mouths water and want to take the garden they have created home with us.  Hopefully not in those irritating small plastic cube trollies however you can’t have everything                (Irritating because I seem to have a habit of standing backwards into a passing cube or am shinned by them in copious numbers). I must stress here that by plantsman I don’t mean simply having a qualification, I mean something deeper than text book knowledge.
Even if you only use an extremely limited palette of plants in a scheme the choice and they way they relate to each other will tell a story, good or bad.  

(Photo: Bryan's Ground, extremely exciting open after being closed all of last year)
Plants which appear jumbling, jar in colour and confused will highlight all that is wrong elsewhere with a garden.  Its instant, somewhere in a gardeners brain with or with out design knowledge, they will know why plants don’t work together and why ultimately the garden as a space will fail.
Don’t get me wrong good design will always shine and should be sought out, however the plants used will make that good design, if used well, just shine that little brighter and that little bit more joyfully.
I am rather looking forward to seeing some truly stunning gardens, private through the Yellow Book and in the ‘Show’ setting this year.  I have avidly gone through the said Yellow Book and marked gardens which from the description alone sound like a plant heaven and we shall set off in the 2cv for countless jollies across the country - can’t wait!

6 comments:

Ted said...

At last you are right gardens are about plants! I like to go to shows and people's gardens to look at plants and get ideas.
Last year I saw some stunning combinations which I am trying in my garden this year. Eryngium with grasses and Dahlia, it looked stunning in a garden I saw at the end of summer.

I go to a few plants fairs to look for new plants as well. There are some good ones near us in Derby.

patientgardener said...

I agree totally I think we get too caught up in the design and see the plants as supporting it rather than making it work.

Out of interest where is Bryans Ground?

Teza said...

Paul:

Perhaps you could shout this from the nearest mountain-top? This, coming from a designer [who I can positively vouch is a plantsman first!] is music to the ears of all plantlovers the world over! You've done a fine job nailing your colours to the flagpole, and need to wave that flag for all to see! I was thrilled to see mention of Bryan's Ground - discovered it after devouring an anthology of writing from Hortus - a true plant-person's periodical - something else that is sadly lacking!

As a collector I have discovered that the plants come first, and whether or not a recognizable design is the end result - doesn't really matter to me..... I am too busy being enthralled with the plant material.

Anonymous said...

A designer who thinks about plants - I am delighted that you now join a list of designers who are aware of how vital this is in the scheme of a garden. Well Done, I hope that you and a few others will to champion a return to horticulture and real gardening over this 'lifestyle make over' that seems so popular.
J. Chambers

HappyMouffetard said...

So true. Plants are what make a garden,and it shows in the finished design if you love plants and understand them.

Paul Hervey-Brookes said...

Thank you everyone for your comments about this post. Patient Gardener, as Teza has said Bryan's Ground is the home of Hortus, a journal which I adore and he is right its a one off in the garden writing world. The garden is in Stapleton (Nr. Presteigne) its more than just a garden being thought provoking and uses plants in wonderful ways. Its really nice that you all agreed and are all plant crazy too!

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