Want to make the most of your garden? Don’t forget to look up
When landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith decided to create his own garden, he chose a location across the alley from where he was born and raised. He converted his family’s old barn into a home, acquired a nearby wheat field, and set about doing what he recently described as a “mini sham” of his ideal life.
It is a garden in which he can focus on “all that is good in the world”. But, as he talks about in a new book, Tom Stuart-Smith: From the Earth by Tim Richardson, in his 30 years of dealing with space, he never wanted it to feel like a sealed box.
Although it acts as a refuge, it is also a point of connection with the sky, the nearby forest and the general landscape beyond. This is something he encourages all country gardeners to think about.
Stuart-Smith’s Garden is in the hamlet of Serge Hill, in the Hertfordshire countryside, 40 kilometers north-west of London – with 600 millimeters of annual rainfall, mild summers, cold winters and gritty soil – but he says he takes the same “permeable outward influence” wherever he designs a country garden. Its urban spaces, like urban gardens everywhere, tend to be more closed and exclusive.
At the recent Australian Landscape Conference, Stuart-Smith spoke about the benefits of focusing on a larger landscape of the sky and surrounding countryside and how being ‘parochial’ can help you do so. ensuring that your garden reflects local traditions and character. It’s about connecting with place, a topic that is often discussed – Andrew Laidlaw and Fiona Brockhoff each touched on the topic in their conference presentations – but one that can be elusive.
“The word parish implies narrow-mindedness and reluctance to embrace bigger ideas; it has become a bad word. But without this parish culture, ultimately there can be no culture at all, ”Stuart-Smith told the conference.
It was, however, an inward-facing Chelsea Flower Show garden that first brought the Stuart-Smith name to international notoriety. He designed his first Chelsea garden – a relatively formal flowerbed – in 1998 and followed it with a series of other exhibitions that increasingly tipped the balance between person and plant in favor of the plant.
Stuart-Smith is now most often associated with large-scale naturalistic landscapes in which plants – often perennial herbaceous plants – invade the entire space so that the garden reads like an immersive entity, with points of connection with the countryside beyond.