Monday, March 30, 2009

Garden Design in times of Recession

"The Greenhouse by Joost" Installation Summer 2008/2009

More than 5 years ago now I submitted my doorstop of a Masters thesis which analysed the subject matter of garden columns in British newspapers from 1900 - 2000 and examined why their primary focus was on plants and gardening and not on Garden Design. It emerged that over time what had influenced subject matter was socio-economic - a huge influence being World War I and II and the economic privations that occured around them.

Pre-war, between World War I and II and from 1990 articles on Garden Design became much more prolific. So the question has arisen - now the recession has hit will the trend swing back towards the more practical garden? I think the answer is probably yes. I don't think design will die a complete death but I suspect people will focus more on the design of vegetable gardens, sustainable gardens, permaculture gardens and the like.

Prior to our economic dive people were already considering the use of their land based on environmental considerations. Global warming has had an impact on the way people think and here in Australia drought has highly influenced thinking. Even the bushfires have had an effect - people seem to be re-considering what they need in their lives and I would suggest that the thinking that led to the rise of the "outdoor kitchen" is on the wane.

I've noted that on free-to-air television we are now down to about one program a week on garden makeovers. The stalwart "Gardening Australia" on ABC remains and this program has always had a very strong gardening and food producing focus as well as looking at design. Newcomers to the block include "Guerrilla Gardeners" but this is about improving our collective environment through garden design as opposed to the individual.

Prior to Christmas at Melbourne's Federation Square there was an installation by Joost Bakker"The Greenhouse" a cafe and bar designed as a temporary construction made entirely from recyclable materials. I think Mr Bakker has hit the nail on the head with his installation as I think it very accurately reflects where many people's thinking is headed not only in terms of less impact on our environment but now also with considerations of budget.

Certainly anecdotally I have found a lot of people are installing vege gardens despite the difficulty of water restrictions. I have recently joined the group "Permablitz" which sees groups of people getting together and providing the labour to turn people's gardens into productive permaculture gardens.

This week from Wednesday is Melbourne's International Flower and Garden Show - while no doubt there will be the usual array of horticultural displays, materials, plants and associated paraphernalia I hope that it will also reflect some of the aforementioned currents. In the past it has addressed drought and water conservation issues. Displays may not be the cutting edge there but they certainly reflect ideas that are catching onto the mainstream. While this is a difficult time for many I do think that adversity is often the mother of creativity. No doubt I shall post my findings.

Greenhouse Chair


camellia said...

An interesting post which triggers a lot of thoughts. As a Swede (we are traditionally very pragmatic ;-), I guess I have always seen an important part of design being creating something both beautiful and functional, and as such, also being a design of "its time" – and different times naturally have different focuses. Also, designers (in the pursuit of finding that novel idea) are very keen to pick up the currents, and just as often creating them (!). Making both political and environmental garden solutions today seem to be a way for a designer to get ackknowledged in media, the latter which responds by emphasising and repeating this content, perhaps at "the cost" of focusing on design itself. But, why would it be a design problem, or even a threat to design (if I read your post correctly) to incorporate vegtables, or making sustainable garden solutions? For me, it's quite the contrary, it all creates an exciting set of challenges for garden designers. The last decade has shown an amazing width - and depth – of I'd say 'revolutionary' garden thinking, and it has all been designer led. I have a feeling, though, that in yet another decade, the tide will turn back towards the decorative... What I know for sure, is that good design will always be a contender and a great thing!

Tina said...

Thanks Camellia for your thoughtful response. I agree with your thinking I didn't mean to convey that design was to be the casualty of the changes we are experiencing. But my study did indicate that historically during times of recession in the UK newspaper commentary on design completely fell away. I don't think in this design conscious and very visual age that this will reoccur. But I do suspect that there will be a broadening of design - as you suggest to incorporate the sustainable and more functional aspects of gardens, some of which I think had been set aside in recent years in favour of creating the low maintenance "outdoor room". And I agree good design will always be a contender!

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Hi Tina, what an interesting area to do a Masters thesis on! Horticulture and garden design go hand in hand with the economic, environmental and cultural circumstances of their time, but there is not enough written about this yet. I would love to read your thesis. Anyhow, gardening has been so obsessed with design for the past 10-15 years that even without the economic crisis, there would have been some kind of a change. I think that this is why the media is so obsessed with kitchen gardens for the moment; it is the variety and newness of them. I hope they don't overdo this, though; kitchen gardens are fantastic and I would love to have one, but not everyone has possibilities and time for them. At the same time, I think that the ecolocical issues are here to stay, and I hope we can get more thinking and design on that area; smart gardens with great style.

ryan said...

Interesting. My partner and I had talked about how some of the magazines became more design focused during the 90's. It's interesting to hear that there is documentation of that.

Bill Kisich said...

Very interesting article. However I must admit I’m a bit of a new-b here and I would appreciate some clarification. What exactly do you mean by “design”, “obcessed with design”, and “design focused”?

Conphuesed in Phoenix

Tina said...

Thanks Bill - what interesting questions. I bandy about these words without thinking about them. I've had to really think hard about this in answering it - I hope it makes sense ...

When I talk about garden design I mean that someone has given conscious thought to how the garden will look as a whole. The goal being to create a visual composition much like a painting. This includes all elements of the garden - "hard landscaping" - paths, walls, pergolas etc and "soft landscaping" the plants.

What I found when I did my research that in tough times, newspaper columnists wrote about individual plants and how to grow them, whether this be begonias or carrots but as the economy rose people began to reconsider the bigger picture in a garden and the overall look.

In my opinion it seemed though in the early 90's and 00's the concept of the garden as a natural refuge became overwhelmed by decking, and pergolas, and barbecues and outdoor kitchens. I stress though that I'm referring only to the portrayal of gardens in the mainstream media - TV, magazines, newspapers and the like.

So I guess "design obsession" and "design focus" refers to the treatment of the garden as an accessory to your "lifestyle". A showpiece in a way. In a sense for some people the plants became much like a lamp or a picture and the fact that they are living things a little bit of annoyance as they require care & maintenance otherwise they "messy up" the picture.

Of course this is a simplification and a stereotype but there is some truth to it!

Garden Beet said...

great discussion

- perhaps we should embrace the garden as an accessory to a lifestyle - I suppose it brings bling but we are using our spaces more wisely - its a real luxury to see the garden as only a place to escape too