A Room With a View

I have written before about the native falcon which wreaks havoc on Mark’s poor innocent pigeons. Four ring necked doves on about their third day of freedom was the worst incident recently. But Mark, in a desultory sort of way, has been encouraging the dog to take an interest in protecting the birds. When the dog unleashed an intense volley of barks the other morning, we both rushed out to see what was upsetting him. Sure enough, he was warning of the falcon perched in the silver birch tree, waiting for his breakfast to make an appearance. How is that? An ornithologically abled dog. I was impressed. Mark did admit that he doesn’t always get it right and that he will sometimes woof at the odd suspicious looking seagull flying over but for a skittery Sheltie to be able to identify a falcon with any degree of accuracy is fairly remarkable and in fact beats many humans.

But back to gardening. I have only ever been into a couple of private gardens without a house. Generally these happen because the owner is dead keen to get the garden established but is not yet ready or able to build the house. And there is an odd feeling of something missing, especially when the garden is quite well established. Private gardens are different to public gardens in part because somebody lives there. It was for this reason that we argued strongly that Tupare and Hollards needed a residential presence maintained even though the original owners have long since shuffled off their mortal coils. The residence gives a heart to a garden.

Noted English gardener and writer Rosemary Verey (she of Barnsley, as in Lavatera Barnsley, fame) was fond of saying that “the garden should curtsey to the house”. It does help to have a house that is worth curtseying to (naturally Mrs Verey had a splendid English manor house of considerable charm and stature). It is somewhat more problematic if what you have is a characterless box which comprises the majority of this country’s housing stock. But the principle of integrating house and garden remain. In modern parlance, it tends to be referred to as indoor outdoor flow but that only tells half the story. That ability to move freely and with convenience from the living areas and often the master bedroom through to outdoor living areas is pretty much the norm with modern house design and where renovations take place in older houses.

Having been raised in a succession of older character homes and now being a current resident of a house which was designed before the whole concept of indoor outdoor flow became mandatory, my experience of that flow has largely been going out the windows (fortunately the downstairs windows are quite low in the current house). And when I think about it, I can recall our children climbing in and out of windows too. It doesn’t always do the paintwork and the window latches much good but it sure beats trailing around to one of the distant doors at times.

But the constant joy of our home is how well set it is in the garden, and for this we give all the credit to Mark’s parents and their study of the English gardening traditions. All the rooms in this two storied house command wonderful garden views and no matter how long we live here, I am sure our eyes will always be drawn to the garden vistas out of every window.

In terms of drawing the eye outdoors, it doesn’t matter if you live in a colonial mansion or a modest Beazley. It is only looking back the other way (from the garden to the house) that you notice what the house looks like. And with winter here and the nasty cold, cutting wind of last weekend, it is not a bad time to take a few minutes to stand indoors at each window in turn to contemplate the outlook.

There is a tendency in New Zealand to keep vegetation and garden well clear of the house so that it stands in splendid isolation on an apron of seal and grass. By contrast, the English country tradition is to garden right up to the house which gives intimacy and charm and allows greater integration of house and garden. .

We have never gone as far as attempting to match the garden colours to the interior. Personally I think that is getting just a little bit precious. Besides, I am not a great fan of green, orange, scarlet, shocking pink or lemon yellow as indoor furnishing colours but I am quite happy to use them in the garden. By chance we have one room where the soft pink and blue interior tones are echoed in the pretty garden outside its windows but truly, it is not the colour continuity that establishes the flow and draws the eye outside but the design.

Where possible, the long vista does more to attract attention and draw the eyes to look beyond. And of course the aforementioned Mrs Verey, being an English country garden specialist, advocated those longer vistas to attract people out to explore. A path leading to a destination which is not immediately visible is an obvious example. Gardens need some elements of mystery and surprise where not all is visible at first glance.

On a typical town section, the long vista is not as easy to achieve unless you can borrow the view from your neighbour’s property or you adjoin a reserve. But this does not mean that you can’t achieve an interesting outlook in most situations. The bedroom window which looks out to a tall boundary fence two or three metres away is more problematic but with creativity, espalier and a focal point to attract the eye, even this can have a view of sorts. The focal point does not have to be an ornament or pot. It may be a clipped plant or a splash of colour.

All of this presupposes that most people do look out their windows. If you are of the net curtains or venetian blind persuasion, you may focus your attention indoors from preference. But if you enjoy looking outside, take the time to stand awhile and look from all the windows in the house. It is not so much a matter of the garden curtseying to the house perhaps, as the garden delivering views from all the windows. If you can achieve this, it is a daily delight and even more so in winter if you don’t like to be out in the cold.