Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Landscape Man: Matthew Wilson at Hedingham Castle

Hedingham Castle in Essex was the subject of the second Landscape Man series.The owner’s wife, Demetra Lindsay, a garden designer, thought ‘something a little more formal would be a bit of contrast’. So they converted the swimming pool into ‘formal pond’ and put in a semi-Islamic water channel edged with granite cadged from a sponsor. Granite is of course a traditional material – for tomb stones. Matthew Wilson made the un-profound remark that the grounds were being ‘restored to their former glory’. The owners’ design objective was to generate dosh by letting the place as weddings venue. The estate also contains a really fine Norman keep (dating from 1140) as well as a decent eighteenth century mansion. What should they have done? Something better: less costly, more imaginative, more beautiful, more romantic, more appropriate – and designed to create amazing opportunities for wedding photographers. [See note on wedding photography in heritage gardens]

Bad garden design in America


James van Sweden told Monty Don that ‘Americans just don’t get gardening. Americans don’t go outside. They are frightened of it. Frightened of bugs and wildlife. Frightened of the heat and the cold. They don’t want the work of a garden. Maintenance companies come in and cut and fertilise the grass. That’s it.’ (Around the world in 80 gardens, 2008 p.244) He sounds like a grumpy old man, and seems to have forgotten about California and the Pacific North West, but there are some significant points to be made about gardening in the United States:

  • when it is not too hot and too humid to work in a garden, it is often far too cold
  • though called ‘yards’ much of of the green space around houses is not fenced or otherwise enclosed, partly because a fence would be considered an unfriendly gesture
  • American’s move house more often than Europeans – and pay a higher percentage of the house price to the realtor (leaving less money for the garden)
  • American houses are larger than European houses – so why go out when indoors is so comfortable?
  • Americans have shorter vacations and tend to work longer hours
  • Food is cheaper in the US
  • the American landscape architecture profession continues to regard garden design as an inferior activity

Please correct me if I am wrong – or add other explanations. I am not saying bad garden design is an exclusively US phenomenon, but they do seem rather good at it! The above illustation is from our eBook The Principles of Garden Design. We are of course aware that America has many great public gardens to visit and has long enjoyed a leadership role in world landscape architecture.

Towards a greener London – with help from sheep

London green roofs with flock of sheep to calm bankers

London green roofscape with flock of sheep to calm bankers

In 1992 I wrote a report, Towards a green strategy for London. Many of the proposals are being implemented, but too slowly and with too little drama or imagination. With this in mind, and as my contribution to solving the City of London’s banking problems, I propose keeping a flock of sheep over and above London. They would make a more useful contribution to the sustainablity of the City than any works now in progress but the primary objective would be to restore calm to London’s market traders. With their minds on higher, greener and better things, I believe they would be less frenzied and that we taxpayers would be able to devote more of our savings to our families and a lower proportion to baling out frenzied bankers.

Note: the curvey-roofed building just north of the rooftop meadow, No 54 Lombard Street, is on the site of London’s Roman Forum. So the proposed meadow would be outside the Forum and on an appropriate site.

Seeing the wood for the trees

The Forest of Dean certainly makes you wonder what the Garden of Eden looked like before Adam set about tending it. What elements would it have possessed? And once Adam got to work, I wonder what he would have done to keep the Garden of Eden the way God wanted it to be?

Did theĀ Garden of Eden have animals within it? Perhaps Adam was vegetarian? Was Eve, as Adam’s helpmate, also a keen gardener? In 2004 the Tate gallery explored some of the themes and artistic representations of Eden through the history of art to contemporary times. The Glue Society using google earth produced their version of Eden in 2007. Of course, Adam and Eve need not live in a garden anymore – as they can stay in a luxury hotel in Turkey….

The Landscape Man: Matthew Wilson on Channel 4

The Landscape Man launched on Channel 4 today with Matthew Wilson as host and Keith and Ros Wiley as his subjects. Matthew has a pleasant manner but, judged only from this episode, lacks a feeling for design. His talk was all about operations and quantities (of land, soil, money, water, plants etc). One feature was described as a ‘sort of canyon’ and another as a ‘sort of Mexican parterre with a wooden cloister and hot plants’. They call it the Wildside Garden. I would call it a display garden for a plant centre. Before that Keith was the manager for the Garden House, which is admired. The style of the Wildside planting was described ‘naturalistic’. But why make a Mexican parterre in Devon? – and when were parterres a characteristic garden form in Mexico? And what is ‘wild’ about pond liners? Matthew did not ask. Keith did not say. His main aim is to make money, since losing his previous job. Matthew has adopted many of Kevin McLeod‘s speech mannerisms and it would not be surprising to learn that the same production team is involved. But to catch-up with Kevin he must sharpen up his design judgement. The programme was sponsored by B&Q and I wondered if they had helped with the garden design.

Context-sensitive design in the Middle East and the Arab countries

Should more develoments in the Middle East look like this?

Should more develoments in the Middle East look like this?

HOW to produce context-sensitive design is a very considerable problem – and the Madinat Jumeriah Hotel in Dubai is a case in point:
1. the character of the design is unmistakably West Asian (though more Persian than Arabian)
2. the design style is popular with both Arab and European visitors
3. I would rather stay in this hotel than in an Anywhere Style modern block
4. I guess the idea of building in this style would be condemned in most of the world’s architecture schools, by most of the world’s architects and by most of the world’s architectural critics
5. wind-towers (badgirs) were a brilliant Persian contribution to the art of air conditioning, but the badgirs in the photographs are fakes, probably used for mechanical plant or as storage space for crates of beeri
6. it is completely non-traditional to surround Arab palaces with water – and the Madinat Jumeriah Hotel does not exemplify a sustainable approach to hydrological design
7. the planting design style in the hotel gardens is more authentic than in the great majority of surviving Islamic gardens, though it is quite a way from the tradition of uderplanted palm orchards

So is the Madinat Jumeriah Hotel in Dubai an example to follow or an example to avoid? (10 re architectural design? (2) re landscape and garden design? (3) re use of materials and detailed design?

See note: How should a design project relate to its context?