House & Garden February 2019
Art and the Garden as Gallery
The garden can be viewed as a gallery with and without art. We sculpt the space and individual plants, cutting and lopping, pruning and mowing to form rooms and floors, augmenting with architectural, bedding and perennial plants. Cloud pruning, exposing stems and clipping all create this open air gallery.
We work the living gallery throughout the year, and as the seasons wane the collection changes, bringing fresh appreciation for each new look.
As much as this is a joy in itself, the addition of art into the organic must not be overlooked. As a focal point or a discovery, a practical piece or flamboyant, art in the garden serves a multitude of purposes.
Stone and wood are the most common materials for the garden, but also consider colour when choosing art. In the depths of winter, when the dark months and steel grey blankets of cloud are at their most monochrome, a bright and colourful piece will lift the garden. When the year comes round and sunshine and colour return to the gallery, it will compliment the backdrop.
Practical pieces can serve as plant supports, fences, gates dividers and safety features. Growing annuals, whether vegetables or ornamentals, on beautifully designed supports means winter interest as well as productivity. A simple entrance can be transformed into a destination in itself with the installation of a gate as art.
Placing art is as important as hanging a show, and care must be taken to choose the right size pieces to compliment the space. At the end of avenues, or art seen across a parkland setting, is the classic placing; but I also like to discover art on the journey through a garden. It feels like a treat to walk around a corner and find a hidden area that has been dedicated to earned visual pleasure.
Whatever one's taste, and size of garden, the living gallery benefits from art. Treat it as a backdrop that is no less important than the art. The whole garden, walls and floor and structure and art, is a living gallery.
This is the time to dream, to wonder and wander. Embrace the bareness of the garden, throw on a coat, pull on some boots and get out. Plan and prepare. I always find this time of the year is cerebral. It is about distilling my ideas for the garden and mixing them with the needs of the garden. I dig a little. Cut back a little. But until the days start to lengthen I mostly saunter around and when it gets too dark, or cold or wet, pour a drink and pour over the catalogues, imagining all those seedlings breaking the surface of the compost in a warm spring greenhouse with the sun on my face.
And for that reason I love this time of quiet contemplation. Yes, the garden is skeletal, but what an opportunity it is to stand within and see the bones before we immerse ourselves in the business of fleshing that spring involves. We can see the wood for the trees in January.
Driving the country lanes of Dorset I have been struck this season by extraordinary colour. The hedgerows, before the flail unceremoniously rips the growth back to the knuckle, are a colour palette of such variety. The fire of cornus, the purple of hawthorn, the golden brown of hazel, the silver of ash and maple. When the low winter sun is bright and the air crisp they glow, and it seems such a shame to loose last year’s growth.
I feel a pang of guilt that I appreciate the neatness that follows, but this is the time of preparation for the spring and for the growth to come. The hedgerow benefits from this annual trim, producing thick and healthy growth that acts as a sanctuary, home, nursery and corridor for a multitude of wildlife. If there's enough space in a garden, try to incorporate a mixed native hedgerow. Spring will give you blossom, summer a lush verdant vista, autumn fruits and winter colour. And wildlife will thank you for it.
You can dig, turn over, transplant, sharpen, fix, straighten and tidy; all the classic January gardening advice. But take the time to appreciate the present. Sit and think, gaze and wonder. Mentally plan and prepare. You’ll be busy enough soon…