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No School like the New School

Following on from our previous article, we’ll be discussing the ‘New School’ of garden design – how it has been shaped by the current ecological climate, and the aesthetic focus, and how this has been supplanted by the concept of the interactive garden.

As we discussed in ‘Gardens through the Ages’, in the years that preceded the 20th century, there was a very definite idea of what the function of a garden should be, and primarily they were seen as a canvas on a grand scale. Horticulture has always been considered another medium of expression, similar to orchestral music or a gallery of painted works. It was designed to create a visual effect that could be enjoyed on a mass scale. To this end, the design and construction of gardens was defined by its specialisation, however, with the wars of the 20th century, came a focus on practicality, particularly in Britain.

picture of a garden room

It was this obsession with practicality that defined the design principles of our contemporaries in that in many cases, the aesthetic has taken a back seat to the functionality of a garden, effectively bridging the gulf between horticulture and agriculture. What followed was an increase in the potential uses of a garden, either as a space to entertain guests or a cheap babysitter – it became necessary to use what space you had as efficiently as possible and thus the garden became another extension to one’s house.

This new identity of gardens as an addition to our domestic space encouraged the already rising popularity of outdoor catering and hosting, and it was also as a means of family interaction which in turn paved the way for the interest in the ensuing ecological applications. And so we arrived at the greatest evolution of modern gardening and the most obvious example of the art form that is horticulture adapting to its context.

picture of a dining 'room' in a garden

However, this interactive mentality did not only extend to the functionality of a garden, but became integrated to the aesthetic motifs of the residential garden. It became a populist notion that a garden should now represent a journey, rather than just a destination. Pathways  and ‘rooms’ became far more prevalent as symbols of the progression of domestic gardens and, in the wake of this aesthetic revolution, that of horticulture as a medium.

picture of lush tropical garden

This aside, it also became commonplace to integrate the styles of other cultures into our domestic spaces in order, perhaps, to recapture the remembered gardens of relaxed holiday destinations, thus bringing the connotation of escape from our domestic ills – an idea that soon became a counter measure to the stresses that modern living guaranteed, particularly those of urban living. As such, the domestic garden became an environment to epitomise the relaxation of the home, in comparison to the merely survivalist attitudes that surrounded it.

picture of a play area in a garden

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, modern life has led to a detachment from nature, due to its perceived absence of practicality, and a sign of this is the decline of naturally produced food stuffs, which ironically has become one of the most popular, and important, applications of contemporary gardens i.e. the production of one’s own vegetables and fruits. This detachment from nature also means that our gardens can be an important opportunity for parents to utilise as a means of education for children – partially as a means to teach moral and ecological responsibility but also on a grander scale to establish an empathy between the child and other livings things.

picture of seating in meadow grass

In the last twenty years, the defining aspect of gardens, and regularly that by which they are praised, has been the benefit it can offer the environment, with the integration of this ideal and aesthetic originality being considered the defacto ‘Holy Grail’. This idea is further reinforced by a recent introduction by the government of new planning regulations which outline the requirement of domestic and commercial green spaces as an essential element of our social infrastructure.  Previous  initiatives have also included the mandatory use of ‘SUDS’ in new gardens, aka sustainable drainage systems, and the encouragement of  green roofs and living walls (which we will talk about in the next article) to greater integrate the architectural with the ecological.

So, it is incumbent upon to us all to ensure that we each fulfil our responsibility to the planet in whatever ways we can – through our methods and motivations, but above all through our awareness – something that I hope this piece has aided.

By Josh Ellison

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