What Is A Garden?


The Garden Defined

This question is so fundamental to learning about design that it is worth looking at the instant image in your mind’s eye of a garden.   I believe that on this design learning curve you will shed many of  your pre-conceptions and open your mind and your eyes to a myriad of new and exciting possibilities.

Gardens have been created  all over the world for many hundreds of years, arising from many different cultures. They have served and continue to serve a multitude of purposes including  the provision of shade, cool air and the conservation of  water in desert climates, as an expression of wealth and opulence, as a place of contemplation and meditation, a restorative space, a means of providing food and increasingly as an extension to the living space in the home, incorporating some or all of the above.

Alhambra, Grenada

A garden can be any exterior space that has been made by humans rather than occurring naturally in the landscape. The famous American garden designer Thomas Church observed that gardens are for people. In essence, gardens demonstrate man’s ability to impose order on and thereby control nature.

A garden is always artificially contrived, whether or not it attempts to recreate nature and even if it uses entirely natural props such as plants or boulders, because these are selected, chosen for inclusion.  It may use entirely artificial materials to achieve the ambience and style desired by its maker.

Or it may redefine an existing natural landscape, manipulating and enhancing it with the lightest and most sensitive of touches.  It may be high on a rooftop, deep in a gulley, in the middle of a desert, on a housing estate, or on a beach. It may be formal,  contemporary, naturalistic or traditional.

Derek Jarman’s Dungeness garden

It may be wholly or partially contained and does not necessarily need to include plants, depending on its function and aims. There is no minimum or maximum size to qualify as a garden. It can be made on a tiny balcony, or in a miniscule courtyard (even in a stairwell, with some light).

Or it may comprise several acres of managed and cultivated land. It will frequently reflect the ethos, aspirations, interests, priorities, culture and lifestyle of its owner.

Ian Hamilton Findlay’s Scottish Garden

There is no limit to the possibilities for interpretation of the notion of a garden.  It may be well or badly designed, more or less pleasing aesthetically or functionally, but it is still a garden, very often crying out to be rescued with the help of an empathetic and sensitive designer. We can explore later how important your contribution will become.

Topher Delaney roof garden

A garden may have multiple uses or a single purpose for its existence.

The successful realisation of any garden depends significantly on its aspect, soil conditions and position. It may be dry, damp, wet, shady, sunny, exposed, or all of these things. A well-designed garden draws on every factor and turns them to advantage wherever possible, accentuating the positive and minimising (sometimes eliminating) the negative.

Every garden is completely unique in its aspect, soil conditions and position.

A garden can evoke many moods. It may be relaxing, calm and peaceful, exciting and vibrant, mysterious and thought-provoking, witty and humorous.

The role of the designer is to make the absolute most of a given space, whilst being realistic about its possibilities, its limitations and potential costs, carefully respecting the client brief while guiding your client towards the best possible outcome.

That will usually delight him or her as you will be introducing ideas and solutions that they never would have thought possible. The making of a garden is a challenge. It is not easy but it is always exciting and you will never stop learning.

Gardens may aspire to recreate to scale elemental natural forms such as mountains or waves, or they may, less grandly provide a more intimate oasis of tranquility away from the bustle of the city, the buzz of traffic and the tensions of workaday life.

An area of  lawn edged by flower beds, a brown, timber garden shed in the background, with a bike propped up against it, some sort of path through the middle and maybe some children’s toys, a football,  and a small sitting space with a table and chairs. The whole contained by fences, hedges or walls. This is just one of a myriad of examples of  what might be thought to be ‘the garden fence’.

I think it is exciting to explore and research how and why gardens have been made and doing so will inform and inspire your own progress into the amazing and challenging world of garden design.

Oxford College of Garden Design
Oxford Science Park,
John Eccles House,
Robert Robinson Avenue,
Oxon OX4 4GP

T:+44 (0)1491628950
E: info@ocgd.org

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