Formal versus naturalistic
The discussion of formal vs informal, of humanised landscape vs nature untrammelled can be a hotly debated topic in the world of garden design. A wide variety of garden styles and tastes is the spice of life, but to suggest any designer can ‘recreate nature’ is, in our opinion, a non-starter.
What is possible is to seek a representation of it in a garden context. We are a contemporary design practice with a keen interest in modernism - yet our ethos is very much energised and inspired by natural plant communities, and the shapes and patterns that appear in nature. Is this a contradiction in terms?
No. The answer is that we design in ‘layers,’ often with dynamic, naturalistic planting selections, which overlay geometrically rigorous Master Plans. This offers a delicious counterpoint that is endlessly fascinating and complementary. There is also a beautiful tension when one embraces the interplay between designed elements and the un-designed ‘Natural landscape’.
The image shown of the branching habit of the Ginkgo set against timber horizontal is a striking example.
As another form of representing nature within a garden, we enjoy exploring the Japanese philosophy of ‘elevating the ordinary’. This could be expressed in taking a natural element such as a wildflower meadow and formalising it, possibly placing it centre stage within strict lines. In the same way, a grid of trees can be read as a garden interpretation of distant woodland, and elegantly occupies the hinterland between architecture and natural landscape.
Strong geometries are plentiful within Nature. The unique pattern of a snowflake is often cited, the unseen force of gravity, the perceived straight of the horizon against which the irregular cliff edge or the moving cloud forms interplay. Many plants also display fantastic geometric qualities. The simple square stem of verbena bonariensis for instance, the Fibonacci spiral of a sunflower… In nature, order is apparent in the microcosm. It is also apparent in macrocosm as you pull further away. The logic of farm field patterns as viewed from an aircraft, or the perfect globe of the earth if you find yourself up in space!
An often quoted design mantra looking at the interplay between forms is 'straights against curves.'