THE MODERN MINT BLOG
Fernando Caruncho is a garden designer from Madrid. I am always inspired by his work – his clean lines, ‘green architecture’, sense of proportion, balance and minimal plant palette. This seems to bring out the atmosphere of the garden, the space, intensifying its… spirit.
But recently I have discovered a few more interviews with him, so thought I would link to his words as he always has something interesting to say, the opposite of prosaic.
This first interview from the Society of Garden Designers will give you a great overview of his whole career, alongside wonderful quotes from Caruncho himself. Especially worth noting his obsession with the sunlight, but I want to share with you a few parts from near the end, that I have not heard him speak about before.
It chimes with my thoughts on topiary design, the teaching of it, which I have been thinking about a lot recently – that topiary technique is easy to learn, but topiary design needs more thought.
Here is what he says about garden design, that so inspires me when I read it.
“Designers need not just technical and botanical knowledge, but an understanding of the arts. They should also travel as much as possible, and have a depth of experiences to draw from.
You need to fill your soul with memories – memory is the mother of the muse. Without memory and knowledge, it is impossible to create and transform reality, and that is what we do as designers.
When you create a garden, you reveal your interior life, and without this filling, any garden you design will be a banal experience.
Design is too mental now. It needs to be more unconscious… take time to be in the place, maybe for days. Have the discipline to hear, see, understand. Don’t project your thoughts onto the place – when you do this you violate the place.
Let the place be, and take action only when it is absolutely necessary.”
This thoughtful approach probably doesn’t fit in with our culture, to take action only when necessary… we want to see things happen, get results.
There is also a need to stand out, to be seen and heard amid such noise and so many platforms to speak. It has led to a coarsening of the rhetoric (Trump/Trump Junior?) for sure, but also a lack of nuance and empathy in what is made – we want the slick, the fast, the flash, the twisted, the new, the shiny… whereas the classic, the quiet, the calm equates to boring and easily overlooked.
I must say I am uninterested in the new. I want a twist in connection with something deeper, like the way designer Arne Maynard uses native yew in his garden designs. It links us to the past, to our landscape, yet by designing a topiary shape from it that has a clean form you give it that contemporary feel, updating it to a modern sensibility.
That to me is where garden design works best, claiming territory in both the present and the past. The work of Fernando Caruncho does that for me, which is why I am drawn again and again to his work and what he speaks of.
I also love the need to design more unconsciously, to open yourself out… a favourite writer of mine, Alice Oswald, speaks about this… and I try my hardest to do it myself when I work on a new topiary, or am asked to create something new.
There are technical aspects to think about, practical ones too, but drawing on memories and ‘forgetting yourself’ as you work is jsut as important. This happened on a piece of my work recently, where the Covid year of 2020 changed what I made with a particular boxwood topiary.
Big changes in style from one year to the next!
The second interview is jsut as interesting…
He speaks of light, geometry (proportion/balance/scale) and water being enough – plants are an addition to the garden – as well as his favourite gardens, inluding Ryoan-ji in Kyoto (a favourite of mine!)
Do go through and really enjoy what he is saying, study it. It is intense, a little mystical, but worth getting into your thoughts about how to look at a garden.
It has certainly inspired my topiary.
Making a new topiary out of the large, dull facade of a Taxus blob… My work was to change it up from a ‘jelly drop’ shape and give it texture, open it out and let the light through, and make it a sculptural feature in the background of the garden in summer… yet a major part of the garden in winter. A few more years before it becomes something special, but there was far more leaf and growth inside the plant than I thought and so it will not take too long for it to gain in character and become …
Two weeks ago I was invited to teach topiary at the garden of Griselda Kerr, the author of The Apprehensive Gardener. I love teaching and sharing skills, but I was placed on the spot in the afternoon and asked to show how I would make a new topiary from an existing shrub. So below is a speeded-up video of me creating a cloud-pruned topiary from an old boxwood tree. I particularly love the ending when the class get involved….! See the video here. One hour was all it took, and though it needed a little tidying-up, it was made by …
Charlotte Molesworth, my topiary mentor, and I are running our popular topiary workshop again in 2022. You can email me for details – or go here for information, your ticket and to find out about dates. Book A Spot On A Topiary Workshop, September 2022