Garden Design, Topiary & Dead Dogs

Gardens exist at the intersection between humans and the natural world. We create them for many reasons. Sometimes for shelter and sometimes for show, but always in some way or another as a celebration, not only of nature or humanity, but the relationship between the two.

Like people, gardens come in many shapes and forms. Some grand, some tiny, some ramshackle, some immaculate. To me, this is irrelevant. What I find most intriguing about gardens are the way they express the personality of their maker.

This connection is expressed in so many different ways. Take Versailles, for example, designed by Andre Le Notre for Louis XIV in the late 1600’s. This massive garden was built purely as an expression of power. You can feel it as you walk through the space. It’s obvious. I can’t say I felt a positive connection to Versailles, but I did feel something of the connection between the garden and its maker. A celebration of power is still a celebration, I suppose.

I’m a landscape designer but designed gardens don’t always excite me. Because often the designers hand is more obvious than the owners. If I had the choice between sitting in a vast, immaculate, and obviously designed garden created to fulfil an idea of what a beautiful garden should look like, or a completely incoherent suburban space overflowing with plants, but made with love, the ramshackle suburban madness would win every time. Gardens made with joy are a pleasure to be in.

By no means am I suggesting garden design is unnecessary. I am suggesting, however, it’s not as important as an owners connection to the garden. Design can only go so far….The rest is up to the owner and the way in which they inject themselves into the space. To me, this is where the beauty lies. Gardens made with joy, with love, and with respect to the natural world get me hot under the collar.

Last year I spent a few days visiting a range of well known gardens in the south of England. The most enchanting space was not one of the big name gardens like Great Dixter, Sissinghurst or West Green House, but a rambling garden tucked down a country lane somewhere in Kent.

It was the last garden visit on our two day botanical extravaganza and even I, as a mad green thumb, was nearly gardened out. Until I met Charlotte Molesworth.

Charlotte is an artist, gardener and topiary expert. What I loved about her garden was that it was so joyful. It was so obviously a big part of her. It was eccentric, unpretentious and fun.

A farmyard of oversized topiary figures emerged from the tops of tall hedges (even the family dog, who died a few years ago, is immortalised in green). Long avenues with views to adjacent paddocks, overhanging trees and wild perennial plants intrigued me; I wanted to explore, to see what was through the gate at the end of the garden, and also just to sit. I wanted to stay and drink in the beauty of the space. I also wanted to move in. Permanently. I didn’t tell Charlotte that, I was trying to be all cool and professional garden designer-ish.

Charlotte’s garden was a great reminder of what a harmonious relationship between a human and a landscape looked like. A little bit wild, very inviting, and a pleasure to be in.

The moral of the story is this: MAKE A GARDEN! Whether its on your balcony, in a vacant lot, or in your bathroom, it doesn’t matter. Explore your thoughts and ideas about nature through gardening. Celebrate with plants. If they die, commemorate their life by composting them and start again. And think. Think about plants and their role in your existence. You will learn plenty about yourself and the world around you.

Also, if you are visiting England you should probably visit Charlotte’s garden. Whilst I was there she was in the final stages of converting an old barn into self contained accommodation. Stay there. It’s called The Potting Shed and is in the small village of Benenden. You can thank me later.