Monday, July 21, 2008

Courtyard Gardens

"City Calm" designed by Acres Wild

I love a little garden I think they are a treat they are remarkably easy to transform and this is very satisfying. A little patch of nothingness can very simply and often without tremendous expense be transformed into a place which offers a pleasant environment into which to take refuge, relax and revive oneself whether it be reading a book, sharing a meal, taking a nap or indulging in a little green fingered work.

They are often tricky spaces in that they often have to deal with a multitude of requirements in a very limited space. Not only those requirements of eating and relaxing but also practical ones too such as storage, washing lines, barbecues, sandpits and rain-water tanks.

When I started thinking about what I would write about courtyard gardens my initial thoughts were that it would be a practical discussion on the organization of a space, what works best in a small space, what to keep in and what to leave out and the need often to control one’s lust for plants. However as I’ve started to write I find myself thinking more about how I often find as I leaf through the pages of magazines that courtyard gardens which often require a lot of hard landscaping to resolve the multiple use issues seem sometimes seem to use plants as if they were a hard landscaping material themselves. As a result the spaces feel constrained and almost devoid of natural forms that for me, are conducive to relaxation in a garden space.

English writer Mirabel Osler wrote a book about her garden experiences with the delightful title “A Gentle Plea for Chaos”. Not that she was nor am I suggesting that chaos is suitable for a courtyard garden but I am fond of a little organized disorder if that makes sense. This is not an argument against formality in gardens but personally I love formality in contrast with informality. Courtyard gardens are formal in that they are always very defined spaces and for me the creation of a pleasant environment involves the contrast between the formal and informal or the hard landscaping and the soft.

Colour, form and texture contrast in "City Calm"

One of my favourite courtyard gardens is designed by “
Acres Wild” English duo Debbie Roberts and Ian Smith (who were my tutors when I was studying garden design in London). This design, City Calm successfully combines the formal and the informal into what I consider to be quite an inspired design. Their use of hard landscaping and formal plant forms contrast with the layered textures of looser plant forms such as ferns, bamboos and grasses. This creates a beautifully balanced environment. While Debbie and Ian no longer teach you can still feast your eyes and pick up a few pointers from their beautiful work featured on their website.

Contrast of the formal and informal forms

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