Tag Archives: Garden Design

Garden graduates from the University of Greenwich

Sarah Eberle, garden designer, receives a Doctorate in Design from the University of Greenwich

We congratulate Toby Buckland on his new role as presenter of BBC Gardener’s World and Sarah Eberle on receiving a Doctorate in Design from the University of Greenwich. Sarah was the second University of Greenwich graduate, after Bunny Guinness, to receive a doctorate in garden design. They confirm our view that education in garden design and landscape architecture can lay the foundations for exciting, rewarding and glamorous careers.

The Garden Rant blog, which I like, questions whether the BBC should have appointed a woman instead of a man to the post. It is a very fair question but not one to be decided on the sex of the presenter. What matters is who will attract the most viewers. Gertrude Jekyll is popular because of the quality of her work: nothing else. I lay claim to the distinction of being a third generation feminist, because my grandfather was a keen supporter of the suffragette movement, but all he, my mother and I ever wanted was equality.

Plant combinations and planting design

Bad advice on the beauty of gardens

Having long believed that good plant combinations are a key to successful planting design, I was pleased to get a copy of The Encyclopedia of planting combinations by Tony Lord and Andrew Lawson (Mitchell Beazley, 2005). They are both expert photographers and Tony Lord, who wrote the text, is a former Gardens Advisor to the UK National Trust. Unsurprisingly, the photographs are excellent – if not quite as excellent as one might have expected. Disappointingly, most of the text is about the individual plants. Since there are many books on individual plants, this could have been omitted. The plant descriptions are followed by remarks on plant combinations and, as one might expect from a pair of photographers, they have a good eye for line, colour and texture.

The most surprising thing about the book is the appalling standard of the introductory section on ‘The art of combining plants’. It reveals the author to have no understanding of garden design as a fine art and somewhat reminded me of books written in the 1920s. Take the opening statement as an example: ‘A garden’s beauty invariably comes from the plants that it contains, the way they work together, and the overall effect they produce’. Does this apply to the Alhambra, to Versailles, to the Taj Mahal or to Rousham? Of course not. A garden is a composition of five elements: landform, vegetation, structures, water and paving. If one element is strong and the other four are weak you will not have a truly great garden.

After this blinkered introduction, the first sentence is ‘Making a successful garden is a question of balancing what is already there with what is required of the plot’. But what IS ‘required of the plot’. The author does not say. The second section (p.13) opens with the sentence ‘Once any hard landscaping is in place, selection of the plants can begin’. Goodness gracious me! You should not employ a gardener when you want your central heating fixed – and you should not employ a horticulturalist when you want a design for your garden. Similarly, the UK National Trust should employ horticulturalists for horticultural advice and garden designers as gardens advisors.

The Principles of Garden Design

The Principles of Garden Design, eBook by Tom TurnerI had an idea for a book on the principles of garden design about 20 years ago. The publishers I offered it to (Mitchel Beazley, Francis Lincoln and Conran Octopus) each invited to me meet them and said it was a ‘very interesting idea’. But they did not sign me up and the idea went on the back burner. Some of the content went into the final section of City as landscape (Spon 1998) and when the idea returned to the boil in 2008 I decided to do an eBook. It is now available under the Gardenvisit.com imprint: The Principles of Garden Design, Tom Turner (ISBN 978-0-9542306-2-3, 45 pages, 130 illustrations, 2008). Comments would be most welcome and journalists can request review copies.

The basis of the book is that Garden Design is much subject to the Vitruvian principles as any other field of design, though they need to be adapted. In short:

  • Gardens should be beautiful
  • Gardens should be useful
  • Gardens should be well made with good materials

These points are discussed with 130 illustrations and I am puzzled as to why they are not already embedded in the literature of garden design. Idle chat about ‘year round interest’, a ‘blaze of colour’, ‘focal points’, ‘specimen plants’, ‘water features’ etc is all very well – but it is no substitute for having a firm grasp of the principles of garden design. To draw an analogy with cooking, we can say that an over-reliance on recipes is no substitute for a grasp of the principles: use good materials, don’t overcook, take care with the sequence of dishes.