Taking Inspiration from Nature.
I took my dog Oliver for a favourite walk at dusk this evening. It was 5.15pm and still just light enough to make out the path which runs high above and parallel to the sandy strand edging the bay. Known as ‘green lanes’ around here they are tractor-wide grassy tracks flanked by dry stone walls and hedges. They criss-cross and meander through paddocks and fields, unseen and away from asphalted roads and used almost exclusively by farmers checking on livestock and moving them from pasture to pasture to graze in peace. From the air these tracks are visible, marking ancient pathways and sometimes leading to stone forts and crumbling ruins of old farmsteads.
This evening the air was stone-still and chill. A sliver of moon rose in the west in the palest of blue skies. The green lane gleamed vividly emerald after a series of sharp showers, while the darkness approached slowly and in discernible waves. The strand below was stippled with silver tide pools around outcrops of rocks black as moleskin. White gnarled trunks of wind-scoured holly and the spidery tracery of bare hawthorn bushes punctuated the cold stone walls at intervals. There were no human sounds, only the fluctuating whistles and calls of wading sea-birds stabbing for fish in shallow rivulets of water and the dull thud of the distant surf at the edges of an outgoing tide. The only signs of human habitation were the tiny blue, yellow and white lights starting to twinkle around the far edges of the bay.
Bright red rosehip and hawthorn berries glowed against the dark bushes and pale, dry stalks of of foxglove seedheads stuck out stiffly from crevices in the walls. Creamy grasses and tinder dry, rust-brown bracken fronds completed a subtle palette of mostly muted colour. A few remaining wild fuschias dripped their tiny magenta and purple lanterns over the path. Over all, the brooding peaks of the mountains were silhouetted against an unusually brilliant white sky left by the setting sun.
What has all this got to do with garden design? Everything. Roaming in the great outdoors in fading evening light reminds the garden designer that perennials, grasses, trees, shrubs and even boulders or any natural stone formation take on mysterious, architectural and often dramatic beauty at dusk. They acquire completely different personalities – in any season and without artificial light. In full darkness of course strategically positioned garden lighting adds another entirely different dimension to a garden landscape.
I am fortunate to live in a recognised ‘dark area’ without light pollution, but even in urban settings surrounded by street lighting it is always worth selecting plants for your clients with a mind to how they will perform at different times of day. Never stop observing and noting the forms, seasonal colours, movement and skeletal structures of all plants large or small, wherever you are in the countryside or city, anywhere in the world. If possible carry a small sketchbook or store images on your phone camera. You will never stop learning.