The house next door is going to be demolished next week. The neighbours are building a house that covers almost the entire block and there will be none of the original garden left. Paved areas will replace it with a controlled minimal planting design reflecting the present obsession with low maintenance. While everyone is entitled to build what they like on their own property, what makes me sad is that many people give little thought to their own and their children’s creativity when designing a new garden. A garden should be something that we treasure as a place to learn about the environment and use our imaginations.
Ellie and I have found that since childhood we have used our garden and those of our grandparents, as inspirational and creative spaces. As children we built cubby houses out of whatever materials were available: old doors and corrugated iron from the woodshed; bamboo poles and old branches from the garden. Ellie was the master builder and I was the interior decorator. We learnt how to put things together and come up with our own solutions, as well as creating our own stories in play. There was a wilder area at the end of the garden where we could imagine ourselves in a jungle or the bush and several shady trees to safely climb. As we grew older we started to grow our own plants and contribute to the shape and nature of the garden. We still have a reasonable sized garden and use it as a place to express ourselves and get ideas.
Our garden is constantly changing. We need to pave an area outside our family room, add new plants to the garden beds and replace some trees. It is not perfect but nor should it be. The main thing is that it is a place where we can be experimental with ideas, just like in our studio.
The fernery adjacent to the section that needs to be paved is our “wild” area. It contains birds nest ferns, tree ferns, fish ferns, aralias (fatsia japonica) and some Japanese grasses and is shaded by a walnut tree and a large Yeddo hawthorn shrub. The fernery is densely planted and sheltered and is the lowest point in the garden where the rain water runs. It has coped with drought conditions in summer and the colder temperatures of winter. It’s microclimate gives a cooling effect in the summer and the nearby table is a pleasant place to sit and a place to create. I have often used the tropical looking foliage in my drawings and other artworks. Having a variety of landscape areas in a garden can stimulate your imagination in many different ways.
It is fun to be quirky with what you place in the garden. As in the house I like to create found object arrangements. For example, I made a small table out of an old upturned concrete pot with a circular concrete paving stone for the top. On this are interesting rocks, a shell and a tea light holder made from a terracotta pot, with a glass insert that came from a broken hurricane lamp to keep out the wind. Another still life of rocks and shells hangs above in a wire basket. Together with an Italianate garden statue and lots of pot plants, this forms an attractive vignette that can only be seen when you turn a corner from the main lawn area of the garden. It is a contemplative quiet spot to sit on a sunny day.
Having a variety of pots for plants can allow you to change an area of the garden and create interesting groupings and vistas. Pots can be moved around depending on the season and the movement of sunlight. For instance, we have a large concrete driveway in the back garden that was rather bleak. To make this area more visually appealing we have used a variety of pot plants to break up the space. We are not obsessed with having every pot matching, as this can look too “designed”. Instead a mixture of sizes, colours and textures is more individualistic and repetition of shapes can link the pots together. In this area there are a pair of low blue pots, a taller blue pot and two identical cream concrete pots, all of a similar rounded shape. In addition there are several terracotta pots, most of which have an inverted conical shape. Filling the pots with the same or similarly shaped plants also creates visual harmony. We have used spikey plants that include a native silver grass with yellow flowers, prostrate and standard rosemary, some interesting bromeliads and a pointy apple tree.
Sitting against a wall of the house near the driveway is an old rusty Victorian pot plant stand, one of a pair, which came from our great grandparents home. It holds an orchid, some bromeliads and a spider plant amongst others. The raised pot plants give colour and surface interest to an otherwise blank brick wall. If you do not have a pot plant stand you don’t need to invest in an expensive plant wall feature. You could fix inexpensive chain store metal brackets and shelves to hold light weight pots. Or you could use old metal brackets and wood and paint them any colour you wish.
If you have limited outside space like a balcony or courtyard, it is still possible to use these outside areas creatively with pot plants and interesting objects. Just use a smaller scale than in a garden. If you have no outside space, some municipalities have community gardens where locals can contribute to the care of plants, grow vegetables and create sculptures and landscape features. In contrast to the increased destruction of private gardens, community gardens reflect that there is a still strong need for gardens. It makes you feel good to be out in the fresh air enjoying the greenery, digging around in the earth or making a new outdoor item.
With so many regulations and laws about what you can do in public spaces, it is wonderful to be able to create what you like in your garden. Gardens keep us in touch with the natural cycles and foster our need for free self-expression.