Angus Thompson Design House Style: Why do people choose an Angus Thompson Design (ATD) garden above the myriad of options out there?
A good and important question, and whilst I’m probably on a hiding to nothing in trying to define a house style – since there are so many variables and one is never standing still – it is an interesting exercise none-the-less. Here goes!
I’ll start with one of my favourite comments from a visitor to Chelsea flower show in 2009. She described our garden, “Nature Ascending” as a “beautiful woman in a corset” – she had a point! – the crimson roses, the lush watery plants, the iris blades pushing up through the boardwalk, and the general riot of flowers, brought to mind a beautiful woman, ripe and luscious, falling out of the tight bondage of her structured dress. Such a sexy image, and apt. The garden was primarily about nature’s abundance and about the balance of human intervention. Nature’s ebullience, set off by the man-made structures that attempt to contain it.
Similarly, while recently reading Lucy Hughes-Hallet’s wonderful novel, Peculiar Ground, which is set partly in 1663 about the laying out of the park and gardens of Wychwood Estate. I found another description that goes further in capturing those key characteristics of the ATD house style.
I had taunted Norris (the landscape designer) telling him he was a man all made of straight lines and right angles. I meant to make him laugh and unbend a little but he took me seriously and led me to a portrait of a court lady masquerading as a nymph. “See” he said, “how her hair, her shift, her very flesh, are all in disarray. And see how the painter has placed a column there, a four-square altar there, to prop her up and contain her draper, and see how the placing of all that voluptuous tousling within the right angles of the frame, with its exact repetitive decoration, has saved the composition from chaos. I plant avenues with set-square and rule” he said “because I know my trees will spread waywardly within them. Vitality and order. They need each other, as man needs woman”.
This interplay, tension, juxtaposition, is endlessly fascinating to us. What brings us delight in every new project undertaken is the opportunity to explore how, as a practice, we respond to the individuality of each site. There is undoubtedly a ‘the tool kit’ that any designer will use to manipulate constraints and opportunities, along with the artistic themes and narratives one is enjoying, but, this is a far cry from the idea of shipping in a preconceived idea or design – a one size fits all approach. At ATD we prefer to take the attitude of a continuing search.
Among our visual inspirations would also be Rothko’s “Multiform” period – this was the series that would assure his place in art history. Deceptively simple rectangles and boxes of pulsing colours, reminiscent of doorways, frames or entrances – possibly to other realms. These are abstract, raw and emotional paintings. But, no matter how inspirational these ideas are to us, as garden designers we are certainly not attempting to “reinvent the wheel”. What really fires us up is the chance to expose layers of thought – to refine and perfect continually.
Our gardens offer a hinterland between architecture and wilderness. A human space where we can interpret and negotiate the transition between the two and acknowledge our more primal urges and senses, perhaps especially, our desire to be connected to the earth.
We all, to some degree, crave some order but also all delight in random serendipity. We certainly don’t create ‘stage set’ or exact reproduction of nature but explore a version of “formalised nature” and varying balances within this. This seems ever more relevant and deep felt within the current climate.