Symmetry, what could possibly go wrong?

We all learn in lots of different ways, some of us learn by rote, observation or books. Sometimes we even learn from our mistakes but far less painful is to learn from the perceived mistakes of others.

A case in point is the East Parterre at Witley Court in Worcestershire, part of the gardens commissioned by The Earl of Dudley and completed around 1860.

Now there are a myriad of garden design terms bandied about with an airy waft of the hand, especially during the ‘Show Season’. Symmetry, asymmetry, focal point, rhythm, balance, scale, proportion and unity are just some of them.

In your own garden you might not name the principles of design that are present, but, as Ms Capulet so eloquently said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
 by any other name would smell as sweet.” The world of design is dominated by these principles, they are, I suppose the ‘Rules of Design’ and sometimes, like all rules, they get broken. After all, they’re not Laws of Design, merely Guidelines.

Personally, I think the two most important principles are Unity and Balance. Design principles shouldn’t be confused with a design style, they do not go in and out of fashion, they are an enduring element of any successful design. Without them you can find yourself with a jarring design that simply falls short of the mark, sometimes its easy to spot, other times less so. 

Areal view of East Parterre
Areal view of East Parterre

 

On the face of it this French parterre de broderie should work, its perfectly symmetrical, all the elements balance with each other and the scale is perfect given the size of the mansion. However, as you walk around you are left with a real feeling of discomfort.

Could it be that the vandalized fountain of Flora, the Goddess of Spring has been reduced to four Tritons drinking imaginary yards of ale and seemingly worshipping a foot? Possible but actually that whimsy is one of the best parts of this area. 

Make mine a yard of ale
Make mine a yard of ale                            

The English Heritage blurb would have you believe that this Parterre was designed to be, “looked down on from the most important rooms of the house or from the raised balustraded areas”.

You might therefore think that given the grandeur of the ballroom, with its many windows looking over the East Parterre and out to the countryside beyond, its majestic steps, sweeping down to this easterly section of garden, that this would be one of the ‘most important rooms’ of which English Heritage are referring to.

Ballroom
Ballroom

You might also think that given the alignment of the fountain of Perseus and Andromeda, directly with the steps from the South Portico, that symmetry would be replicated here with the fountain of Flora and her Tritons being the focal point of the Ballroom.

Well gentle reader you would be wrong to assume any such thing. It would seem that William Andrews Nesfield (the landscape architect) and The Earl of Dudley considered the servants passageway running between the Dining Room and Sitting Room to be of the utmost importance, as it is the windows of this room that aligns perfectly with the focal point of the fountain. Which although very nice for the servants does result in this section of the gardens being discomfortingly out of balance with the architecture of the house. 

Annoyingly out of kilter
Annoyingly out of kilter

 

As I say, its always nice to learn from others, and should I ever be commissioned to design such a garden, I think I’ll stick to a design that unifies House and Garden with a sense balance. Sometimes its better to bend, rather than break, the rules.

A tale of the unexpected

Here at Vergette we put a great deal of thought into our planting plans. We consider, in detail, plant associations which will work well together. We look at the foliage, growth habit and soil requirements. We also consider flowering times and how the flowers of different plants will work with each other.

Do we want a harmonious feel to our scheme or one of contrasts?

We may use a combination of biennials and annuals to give a scheme a feeling of fullness as we wait for the perennials to mature.

Vergette Ltd Garden Design Hereford and Worcester West Midlands Plant Sourcing UK Perennial helianthusVergette Ltd Garden Design Hereford and Worcester West Midlands Plant Sourcing UK Digitalis Foxy Mixed

In short my Lovelies we take great care in our choices for our clients.

However as actors say ‘never work with children and animals’, perhaps we should say ‘never tell Mother Nature your plans’ as sometimes she most definitely has other ideas.

The following is (I hope) a one time only plant combination.

Yellow and Pink - not my favourite colour combination
An unexpected combination 

Seasonal Greetings

Seasonal Greetings from Herefordshire

I may have mentioned the ‘C’ word once this summer but I think I got away with it. In my defence I was talking about spuds but the internet is awash with people complaining that supermarkets and garden centres are already awash, with dare I say it, christmassy stuff.

On social networks it seems that the ‘C’ Word in August causes mass outbreaks of Edward Munch Syndrome with people holding their heads in their hands issuing forth a silent scream.

Anybody who works in retail, catering or any service industry knows that the countdown has already started in earnest. Yet in the horticultural world we are not just planning for Christmas we are planning for spring and so with that in mind I am getting serious with my September bulb order……Now I wonder if Great Aunt Flo would prefer a pot of prepared Hyacinths in her stocking this year……

Planning Ahead for Spring
Planning Ahead for Spring

Not really a Storm in a Teacup – St Jude

The internet is full of jokes about St Jude, once again photos of wheely bins and plastic patio chairs lying on their sides with the side splitting captions “Utter Devastation” “We can Rebuild”, all terribly humorous.

We were really lucky across Herefordshire and Worcestershire, St Jude tracked further south than anticipated and whereas we got a good soaking with localised flooding we didn’t suffer anything like the predicted damaging high winds.

As a business we use social media, and for us twitter is a major part off keeping up to date with suppliers, trends and just keeping in touch with the rather fab peeps that fill our timeline with snippets of whats going on in their lives. So we have seen and heard from people truly devastated by St Jude and those, who today are starting to rebuild.

Blackmoor Nurseries have lost over 3 hectares of orchards in fruit. The ferocity of St Jude snapped concrete supports and trunks alike leaving a trail of devastation.

Concrete and trees snapped by St Jude
Concrete and trees snapped by St Jude

If you can’t imagine what 3 hectares look like its the equivalent of two Lords Cricket Grounds, Three International Rugby Pitches or, for our American and Canadian readers, Three Baseball Fields.

Storm damaged Braeburn orchard
Storm damaged Braeburn orchard

For a gardener to loose one tree can be really distressing, but we are talking about hundreds upon hundreds of trees. So not only is most of this years crop of apples from these fields lost, but so is the crop for the next three or four years. Multiply this by the number of other nurseries and farms affected and the true cost of this storm does indeed become devastating.

Happily for Blackmoor and for us, their retail section hasn’t suffered in the same way, so they are still very much open for business as usual.

As too are Victoriana Nurseries who awoke to find St Jude had, quite literally, blown thorough their nursery, punching out the glasshouse panes along the way.

Glasshouse ventilation courtesy of St Jude
Glasshouse ventilation courtesy of St Jude

Now I’m sure somebody in Parliament will come up with the idea of a means tested, give us your inside leg measurement and your first born child – Storm Compensation Package, wrapped up in miles and miles of red tape and finished off with a pretty red bow. But as the Great British Buying Public we can all do our bit, by supporting our local and independent nurseries.

So go online, search them out and show them that they may be down but they’re not out. After all St Jude may be the patron saint of lost causes but he’s not needed here!

Space – The Final Frontier?

I was having a chat with a friend today (who’s also a designer). They were just back from Tatton and as I can’t go they were filling me in on the gardens. The conversation got round to spacing plants, mostly because today I’ve been wrestling with a Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum and she’d been looking at show gardens.

I haven’t literally been wrestling with a shrub – well not yet! More wrestling with the problem of what to do with a semi mature shrub which is too big to successfully move and will eventually have a height and spread of anything up to 5m.

Why would that be a problem I hear you ask. Well, at a guess I’d say it was planted about ten years ago and still has some growing to do. That wouldn’t be a problem, if it hadn’t been planted about 30 cm from the edge of the path. So its either curtains or a severe hair cut.

The plant itself doesn’t seem to be bothered by its position and continues to grow happily and was most floriferous this spring. It is as shapely a shrub as you could wish for, just in completely the wrong place.

That’s where the conversation had got to, why would you plant a shrub that was ultimately going to get that big, right by a path?

If you knew it was going to get that big you wouldn’t – would you?

At that point we got back to show gardens and spacing. If for instance you didn’t know how big your plants would grow you might very well do this in your garden.

Vergette Ltd Garden Design Hereford and Worcester HC visit 2013

The problem is, as a Garden Designer I space my plants out. I fill the resulting gaps with annuals or biennials and bulbs to give it a full feeling with space to fill out. However as a Show Designer I am as guilty as the next in creating an unrealistic floral display.

Vergette Ltd Garden Design MalvernSpring Show 2012

So there’s the question, is space the final frontier for show gardens?

Chelsea Flower Show and the Tall Poppy Syndrome

Best in Show 2013
Best in Show 2013

I’m not sure if expectations were higher for this years Chelsea Flower Show because of it being the centenary or whether being more switched onto social media I have come across more criticisms but there does seem to be a fair amount of angst about this years show.

 

Complaints about it not having enough cutting edge design on show, to there being too much emphasis on design and not enough on the growers in the Floral Marquee. Judges decisions being disagreed with by designers, some of whom are also judges. Too much money being spent on large gardens and not following the ethos that it is a Horticultural show. Too much planting in the show gardens, not enough planting in the show gardens. Too many non horticulturally related trade stands. Non seasonal planting and plant combinations that only happen at Chelsea. It all gets very complicated and puts me a little in mind of a sketch from Black Adder.

 

Blackadder : Caroline of Brunswick is the only available princess in Europe.

Baldrick : And what’s wrong with her?

Blackadder : Get more coffee! It’s horrid! Change it! Take me roughly from behind! No, not like that, like this! Trousers off! Tackle out! Walk the dog! Where’s my presents!

Baldrick : All right! Which one do you want me to do first?

Blackadder : No, no that’s what Caroline’s like.

 

So what do you want? Can Chelsea please all of the people all of the time, no, but it does a pretty good job of pleasing most of the people, most of the time.

 

 

Winter Solstice

And so the tipping point of the winter has arrived.

Even though, once more, we are coping with horrendous floods over most of the country and the talk is of the Mayan Doomsday Prophecy, the Sun rose in a clear sky this morning. The birds greeted the dawn with one of the loudest choruses I have heard in a long time and I am filled with the feeling of hope and the promise of things to come.

Sunrising on the Holly and Oak
Sunrising on the Holly and Oak

The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day and the beginning of Winter, not much to celebrate there you might think, well think again. The coldest weather may still be to come but from today until the Summer Solstice on June 21st the days will lengthen and the sun will rise higher in the sky*.

The Oak King
The Oak King

I love the traditions and lore surrounding the Winter Solstice, the battle between the Oak and Holly Kings, with the Oak King winning to rule for the next six months. The Oak King represents a time of renewal and rebirth and growth. The Holly King, by contrast, represents a time of rest, contemplation and learning. Interestingly the Holly King is often described as a having white hair, a white beard, robes of red or green and driving a sledge pulled by stags (sound like anybody you know).

Arum italicum
Arum italicum

No matter what traditions you keep or if the solstice passes you by, the inescapable fact is that the the garden knows that Spring is on its way. The Arums have come to say hello,  the cleavers and cow parsley are now on standby. So whether you wassail or no, the garden may just be starting without you.

Cleavers and Cow parsley
Cleavers and Cow parsley

*For me the height of the sun is hugely important as my garden is at the base of a hill which casts a long shadow in the depths of winter.

Sun rising beneath the Oak
Sun rising beneath the Oak

So Happy Solstice here’s to Spring and the Promise of Things to Come .