Writing in his iplantsman blog, a friend of mine, Lewis Normand (of Bernhard’s Nursery) has recently been giving some of his design predictions for 2020. An experienced and knowledgeable plantsman and garden designer, who also supplies plants for many a top garden designer, Lewis is in a very good position to give his opinions on the future direction of garden design. For example, he believes 2020 to be the year of the flowering shrub, an opinion shared with many. The likes of Stephen Lacy (writer & broadcaster) have long championed the return of the much-neglected shrub. Now, I love all plants, and believe there’s a home of aesthetic beauty for each and every one of them, but personally, I’ll always favour the transitory nature and dynamism of herbaceous material over shrubs any day.
Lewis also foresees a boom in indoor gardening (I couldn’t agree more) together with the ever-growing popularity of grow-your-own: food to fork and all that. Whereas in my opinion i’ve always thought that everything I need to know about fruit and veg can be found in the first two aisles of any supermarket. I’m all about beauty, not sustenance!
|Stourhead - A living work of art.|
However, when considering future design trends, I wonder if it might be worth contemplating other aspects of what often brings about change: the social, economic, cultural and political changes that motivate shifts in art and design. Historically, artistic changes have often been social and political reactions to whatever had come before: the English Landscape Movement sweeping away the formality of the renaissance garden; the arts & craft aesthetic that reacted against the mechanistic threat of the industrial revolution, and so on. Anyway, no guesses as to what I’m leading you to here… the dreaded ‘B’ word I’m afraid. Yes, you guessed it – Brexit…!
Now, without trying to get too political - for what is after all, a horticultural blog - for me at at least, Brexit does have a rather inward, ‘pull-up-the-drawbridge’ kind of feel to it and I wonder what implications, in a garden design context, this might have for the shape of our future gardens? I mean, it’s not as though the average domestic garden of the U.K has changed much since we first joined the EU, or the Common Market as it was known back then, but the influence of the New Perennial Movement (coming just a decade following our Common Market membership in 1973) certainly tried to direct us away from a garden style that had been with us for well over a 100 years.
|You can't deny it.... we do know how to create a rather nice herbaceous border!|
For a very long time, us Brits (and the English in particular) have believed our gardens to be worldly superior, and in truth, our horticultural history, does justify this view. Pushing aside the enormous success of the English Landscape Movement, who invented and cultivated a view of England the world still imagines us to be – that of rolling fields fringed with majestic Oaks - the cottage garden style of Gertrude Jekyll & William Robinson created an aesthetic that surrounds most domestic houses to this day. Subsequent dabblers in the crafty arts may have moved the style on slightly giving it the odd tweak and twist, but generally (despite Rosemary Verey, Lawrence Johnson, Margery Fish and Vita Sackcloth-Vest) we still garden in a very similar way with mixed herbaceous borders, layering material from ground cover, up to the herbaceous level, before rising steadily to shrubs, climbers and trees. I guess we all wanted a little of that National Trust look around our homes. It’s a wonder we all didn’t go the whole hog and install gift shops, selling pencils, rubbers and cream teas, with lashings of ginger beer!
In contrast, what the New Perennial Movement offered us was something so very different. It was of course the 1980’s; a time when accessible flights could land you in a German or Dutch town easier, quicker and cheaper than getting to say, Manchester or Leeds. I don’t know about you, but I grabbed that offer with both hands and went in search of something a little more diverse, and horticulturally speaking, I wasn’t alone.
(From the pictorial Arts & Crafts border, to the immersive style of the New Perennialists shown in these two pictures taken at Hermannshof, Germany)
The likes of the newly-published magazine Gardens Illustrated also looked to Europe for something new, and landed upon the likes of Piet Oudolf, Mien Ruys and Ton Ter Linden. At the same time, and writing in the Daily Telegraph, so too did the likes of Stephen Lacy. Top nursery folk also travelled to Germany and Holland, literally filling their boots (of their cars) with enough plant material to bring back home, propagate (usually from division) and begin selling in their own nurseries. Our very own Dr Noel Kingsbury began a literary partnership with Oudolf showing us what could be done when ornamental grasses were combined with clump-forming and well-behaved perennials. In many respects, the design aesthetic they gave us, reintroduced us to the forgotten remembrance of our primordial love and affection of the meadow: a naturalistic landscape. Eden perhaps? A garden that we’ve been trying to return to for a very long time.
|Oudolf's Hummelo. I know one should never compare, BUT COME ON!!|
Anyway, that whole New Perennial aesthetic was, and continues to be, a very European affair. In the eighties and nineties, the whole of Europe was opened up to us by the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair as they increased their European routes and took us to new destinations. What Mien Ruys was doing with her Bauhaus-inspired version of naturalistic planting, or the philosophical musings of Rob Leopold, or Oudolf’s plant breeding at Hummelo, or the grasses of Karl Foerster and Ernst Pagels…. Well, it certainly was a brave new world that gave us and our gardens the kick we both needed and deserved. Almost overnight, our gardens went from the pictorial to the immersive.
So, what now? Will Brexit have any influence on our gardens at all? Well, as I say, although their influence can been seen mainly with regards designer gardens and public spaces, the New Perennialists have had some impact on our garden spaces over the past twenty years or so. However, seeing as the UK domestic garden still rests in its post arts and crafts cottage muddle, it’s not as though Brexit can ever return us to a style we’ve never actually left. More’s the case, I reckon, we might see a re-imagining of something quintessentially English. A romantic re-investigation and celebration of the cottage garden perhaps. A greater interest in growing ‘native’ plants, whatever that means. Maybe roses will see a huge renaissance? Possibly Delphiniums, Peonies and Lupin sales will surge?
|At Pettifers where a New English (New Perennial?) influence is without question. Stunningly beautiful.|
For me, January 31st will be a very sad day. I keep reminding myself that we’re not leaving Europe, we’re ‘only’ leaving the EU, but somehow that doesn’t help me to feel any better. I truly love our horticultural heritage. The English Landscape Movement changed the shape of our countryside and gave England something truly unique, and in doing so, finally released plants from the tyranny of formalism. In a very different way, so did the arts and crafts movement, successfully marrying the formal with the informal, combining plants from all over the world, and always within a framework of ‘right-plant, right-place’.
|A simple carriageway in Utrecht. Why can't we do this?|
Until next time. Thanks for reading.