Landscape Informs


We have recently been presenting a new garden talk – ‘What Do I Do With This Space?’ – to a number of gardening groups in Essex. (To find out where we are presenting the talk next, please visit the Talks page.)

What looks like a simple question has turned out to be incredibly complex to answer, and in a one hour talk of free form ideas we barely have time to scratch the surface. What do people do with the land around them? How does the landscape inform their lives and the choices they make?

For example, some people have enough money, time, skill and labour to make their garden into whatever they can dream of. They can prove their dominance over nature – think the way the Bawa Brothers gardened in Sri Lanka…

Or there are places where nature wins, and the people who live there shape the lives the lead and the way they garden to the pulse of the wild. The gardens of Scandinavia look the way they do because of the weather…

Between talks we are still asking this question, still researching in the hope of finding further similarities between each new answer we discover. The latest notes we have made, and we will try and work this into the next talk, is from a book we have just finished called ‘Gossip from the Forest’ by Sara Maitland.

Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales

It is a beautiful book about our relationship to fairy stories and woodland – exactly what we are wanting to read about when trying to answer the question ‘What Do I Do With This Space?’ – and its form is unusual too; each chapter is about a forest she has visited, its history and relationship to a theme or character from fairy stories.

These chapters are then followed up by a retelling of a fairy tale – her ‘Seven Dwarves’ is composed of such strong, elegant images it becomes hard to stop thinking about when finished (we read it again, enjoyed it again, like a piece of music that has got into your ear and travelled through your body, taking up residence under your skin) while ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is a story that leaves you uneasy, glancing into the dark corners of the room wondering if there is more to the shadows than an absence of light.

We want to quote from her here – quite a long quote – so please forgive us, but it seems important to capture something of the wonderful ideas she offers us about our relationship to the landscape…

“… landscape informs the collective imaginations as much as or more than it forms the individual psyche and its imagination, but this dimension is not something to which we always pay enough attention.

It cannot be by chance that the three great monotheist religions – the Abrahamic faiths – have their roots in the desert, in the vast empty spaces under those enormous stars, where life is always provisional, always at risk. Human beings are tiny and vulnerable and necessarily on the move: local gods of place, small titular deities, are not going to be adequate in the desert – you need a big god to fill the vast spaces and speak into the huge silence; you need a god who will travel with you.

It cannot be simply accidental that Tibetan Buddhism emerges from high places, where the everlasting silence of the snows invites a kind of concentration, a loss of ego in the enormity of the mountains…

I am just trying to give some better-known examples of how the land, the scenery and the climate shape and inform the imaginations of the people… I believe that the great stretches of forest in Northern Europe, with their constant seasonal changes, their restricted views, their astonishing biological diversity, their secret gifts and perils and the knowledge that you have to go through them to get to anywhere else, created the themes and ethics of the fairytales we know best.”

As a garden designer we must constantly ask the question – What Do I Do With This Space? – and it is from books like Gossip from the Forest that we learn the landscape, not just the space we are working on right then, but the landscapes we have lived all our lives in, have been influencing us and the stories we tell from the very first day we were born.


Save Ryton Organic Gardens!

There seems to be some underhand shenanigans going on here. Bob Flowerdew is threatening to resign. We face losing the UK’s cornerstone organic garden. So please take a look at what is going on via the Facebook group…. go on! Go Now! Save Ryton Organic Gardens!


Garden Design Trends 2018

shed garden trend

Today we will be looking at Garden Design Trends in 2018. Just so you are in the know about what is cool and what is not cool in the 12 months ahead…. For the past like, million years I have shared my thoughts on what the gardening industry tell us the latest trends are going to be. If you are interested, you can see here the garden design trends for 2017. Or take a peek at my favourite of all the posts I have written – Alternative Garden Design Trends. This is my individual take on what the latest garden design …



Northern Forest – UK Plans For 50 Million New Trees

Well now, this is interesting…. UK Plans 50 Million New Trees in Northern Forest Likely? See the pitfalls? We love the idea and wholeheartedly support as much tree planting as possible. But are seriously doubtful that this is more than a sticking plaster solution to England being so vastly ‘under-treed’…. or should that be ‘overfelled?’ Yet whether this idea happens or not, all we ask is that you please make sure you plant as many trees as you can in your garden!