In the third of a 12-part series on Designing a Large Country Garden we explore key elements that play a structural role in a garden masterplan.
STRUCTURING A GARDEN
You may have heard someone say that a garden has ‘good bones’. Typically, hard landscaping elements such as paths, walls and steps form the backbone of a garden and give it its skeletal framework, but ‘green architecture’ such as hedges, trees and lawns also play an important role in defining spaces and adding structural layers to the garden.
Striking the right balance between hard and soft materials, open and enclosed spaces and even the light and shade in a garden is all important. The key is to establish a harmonious relationship between each structural layer to create a well-balanced composition that not only feels comfortable to be in, but gives the garden a coherent narrative.
When creating a masterplan, we begin by looking at the architecture and period of the property, including views and vistas from the house and access into and around the garden. The shape, scale and proportions of the building, its facades and the location of doors and windows, are all important influences on the layout of the garden, as well as the local landscape and vernacular.
Introducing garden ‘rooms’ can be an excellent way of grounding a house in its surroundings and creating structure around the building. Garden rooms can create intimacy where once there might have been an open expanse. They can also provide an opportunity to give a space its own unique character and create an exciting journey around the garden as you move through different areas.
Vertical structure adds a sense of scale and curiosity to explore the garden. Without vertical structure, a garden can often feel quite flat and boring, as you are presented with the entire garden at once and there is little left to discover or to draw you out into the space.
Here are some of the key elements that play a structural role in a garden masterplan:
WALLS & STEPS
Creating level changes within a framework of walls and steps can add drama, interest and intimacy to a garden. It can also enhance the narrative of the garden by quite literally elevating one space over another or by guiding you through the garden on a predetermined journey.
Terraced lawns or planted banks can also create level changes with striking impact, while elements such as ha-ha’s, estate railings and gates will help to define the boundary.
Hedges are an important component of traditional English country gardens. At their simplest they provide privacy and shelter, but they also shape and define the space within a garden, creating a sense of intrigue as they tempt you to explore.
Evergreen hedges and carefully chosen deciduous species are never more important to the garden than in winter when flowers are sparse and colour has faded. A beautiful evergreen hedge will give a garden strength and character, providing a permanent vertical dimension in the quieter months. Hedges also provide a softer contrast to walls and other man-made structure, so are an important addition to the garden.
TOPIARY & PARTERRES
Topiary and parterres can be fun and wonderfully creative ways to introduce evergreen structure into a garden. Their pleasing forms make eye catching features and add character and interest to the garden.
Parterres work particularly well with period properties and their symmetrical forms look good all year round. They make stunning features on their own, especially when dusted with a light covering of frost in winter, but look equally good framing beautiful planting during spring, summer and autumn.
While evergreen trees and shrubs really come into their own in the bleak winter months, some deciduous trees and shrubs can be just as pleasing, adding sculptural forms or a dense framework of branches.
An avenue of pleached trees can define an area of the garden by providing a striking link between one space and another or even screening a view. Parasol trees can be stunning when used to create dappled shade over a terrace, while box head trees are a fun way to define a space or add vertical interest.
Pictured here a grove of pollarded Tillia platyphyllos ‘Rubra’ (red-twigged Lime tree), running alongside a clipped Box parterre, are the focal point of this formal garden, enclosed with Yew hedging and a beautiful old wall. Shown in autumn leaf (above) and again in winter (below), when their sharpened silhouettes stand out against the distant views.
MOUNDS & UNDULATIONS
Shaping the topography of a garden with mounds, banks and undulations gives it a certain sculptural quality, creating drama as well intimate spaces. Mounds and slopes are very effective ways to create level changes, especially if space allows and budgets are restricted.
Reconfiguring large formal lawns by introducing sculpted banks and contoured slopes can elegantly frame a house and cast beautiful shadows through the course of the day. In this garden (pictured below) the sculpted banks are accessed via stone steps recessed into the slope.
They also provide an effective viewing platform for the garden and a dramatic backdrop to the herbaceous borders.
Every garden should include structure in one form or another, softened with beautiful planting, to create a harmonious and elegantly finished garden.
Look out for our journal posts on large garden design covering: