I was at the Society of Garden Designer’s
autumn conference yesterday – having seen that Dan Pearson was talking on the subject of “What Are Gardens For?” I decided I couldn’t miss this conference. What I hadn’t been prepared for was the quality of the other 3 speakers – all superb and very different to each other.
The chair for the day was Lucy Huntington, one of the earlier members of the Society and practicing designer for 45 years. To hear her speak with such passion and obvious joy about her career was a delight. She spoke briefly on what gardens meant for her – in the beginning she belived they were for growing plants, but four decades on and her sentiment had changed. Now she believes that gardens are for people (to coin the title of Thomas Church’s famous landscape book “Garden’s Are for People“) and that she, personally was moving towards creating gardens that were calm, quiet spaces – perhaps for meditation. In general she was coming across many more clients wanting and designers providing more ecological spaces that include wildflower meadows, areas for wildlife, green roofs, natural swimming pools and energy and water saving installations.
The first speaker of the day was the Australian born landscape designer Bernard Trainor, now practising in California. His talk made reference to the fact that he had been inspired personally by some of the gardening greats – having been offered a job by one of the 20th Century’s most influential designers, John Brooks, he turned it down to work for Beth Chatto, which he said was fundamental to his understanding of designing with plants. He also recounted a story of introducing himself to Rosemary Verey at one of her book signings and asking if he could visit her when he was next in the UK – extraordinarily she accepted and invited him to stay! He spoke about how nature influences his work – about how he has learnt to ‘Embrace Extremes’ working with them and not fighting them – which is crucial when dealing with the harsh Californian terrain that he showed us. He reiterated what Lucy had said about wanting to create calm and peaceful spaces. The designs he showed us were utterly stunning – and certainly enhanced some of the breathtaking landscapes he has the good fortune to work on.
One of Bernard Trainor’s landscape designs
On a completely different note, Wendy Titman, gave a very moving and inspiring talk about her work creating landscapes for primary schools. She has some impressive credentials to her name in both research, teaching and having been an advisor to the Education Department. Some of the statistics she produced were shocking to say the least: Time spent outside by a trial group of 2 year olds = 10 hours a week (a week?!!): Goverment guidelines stipulate that organic chickens must have access to 10 square metres of outdoor space each – there is NO such guideline for childcare facilities: Increasing numbers of children are spending 10 hours a day in childcare (places that do not have to make them go outside at all) – I realise that this in no way is representative of many childcare facilities or that children who are at home all day spend any more time outside – but it is a worrying situation nevertheless.
However, she had plenty of positives too – glorious photos of children in their new playgrounds – one gently cupping a strawberry whilst inspecting it through a magnifying glass, another offering newly picked daisies to all the grownups (a look of dilemma when handing one to the male teacher – was it ok to give a man a flower?). A moving story about a little boy on the verge of expulsion form primary school – with bad behaviour noted every day – until the school put in new outdoor facilities and he was given the job of head ranger (complete with hat). With immediate effect, his behaviour went from strength to strength, not getting any more black marks against his name. However, all who were there, will be left with a depressing image of a little boy pressed up against a 2m high wire mesh fence – not a hint of greenery, grass or anything other than grey tarmac.
During her talk I came up with a project that I could rope the family into to highlight this issue – more on that in a later blog!
Moving on to Jane Owen – Chelsea Flower show gold medalist last year, Financial Times journalist, historian, TV presenter…the list seemed to go on. She gave a zappy, thought provoking, intellectual talk on what has been going on in garden design over the last 30 years. How politics and the the world of finance had a bearing on design and what people want and do. She highlighted an interesting point that I hate to admit, I had been unaware of – the plight of the allotment holders who had been forced off their sites to make way for the Olympic village ( I believe they are able to return post Olympics in 2014) – her point was that what a wonderful British showcase they could have made to show the world – we are, after all, a nation of salt of the earth gardeners! She also showed us a wonderful image of Stefano Boeri’s verticle forest in Milan – you can see more about this in a current exhibition at the Garden Museum in London “Going Green in the City: From Garden City to Green City on until April 2012. Rather strangely, she finished her address with the Chinese National anthem (I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not we should stand…) but I guess being embroiled in the world of the Financial Times must make you accutely aware of where the money is!
Finally, Dan Pearson talked about his work and his own gardens and what they meant to him. He is renowned for producing tranquil, thoughtful, therapeutic gardens much like the way he comes across as a person. He has produced some incredibly inspiring gardens, but his knowledge and understanding of plants is what I find awesome. He also seems to be forever learning – even after working at some of the most prestigious gardening establishments in the country. I am currently reading his book, “Home Ground, Sanctuary in the City” about the making of his garden in London. A fantastic read and something to learn on every page. However, it really struck a chord with me when he spoke about the new home he bought just over a year ago with some land in the country. Having looked at his land for the last year – surrounded by stunning rolling countryside, he said he really wasn’t sure whether he wanted to do anything to it. I have often had this feeling looking at a garden (if surrounded by beautiful scenery) and have had worrying moments where I wonder if, in fact, I am in the right profession, when I look at a space and think – I’m not sure I can improve on this….
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