It is a long time since I published a piece on the folly of allowing garden openers to write their own descriptions. Even then, discretion won out and I only published it on a UK gardening site I was contributing to at the time. This explains why I couldn’t find it on my own site when I went looking for it. A not-unrelated situation arose this week when we were asked to describe the style of our garden in a single word. Apparently, this helps garden visitors.
As a seasoned garden visitor myself, I am as wary of garden owners getting to declare their own ‘style’ as I am of getting them to write their own descriptions. But just in case you need some assistance in interpreting garden style, I offer the following explanations. Some, but not all of these ‘styles’ were offered as a suggestion to help us in defining our own garden category.
Japanese – three rocks, some raked gravel and a recently planted dwarf red maple.
English – buxus hedging, garden rooms, a Japanese cherry tree and pretty flowers because in NZ, the English garden style begins and ends with the Arts and Crafts movement seen by so many at Sissinghurst and Hidcote.
Italian – more likely ‘Italianate’, similar to the connection between a ‘dinette’ and a banqueting hall, or a ‘kitchenette’ and a caterer’s kitchen. Terracotta pots, a clipped bay tree and hard landscaping carried out in concrete and ponga* logs or tanalised timber on account of a dearth of skilled Italian stonemasons here.
Designer – in theory a garden created by a name designer and executed with attention to detail and a big budget but more likely to be a recent garden designed and planted by the owner, a younger woman in her 30s or early 40s who is a magazine subscriber and who bought some graph paper, large paving slabs and black mondo grass.
Tropical – a naive gardener who does not realise that nobody has a tropical garden in Taranaki owing to us not having anything like a tropical climate. More likely to be three palms, either hardy or half hardy, and ten bromeliads.
Cottage – If you are expecting something like Margery Fish’s iconic cottage garden at East Lambrook Manor, you may be disappointed. More likely to be packets of wild flower seeds scattered on bare soil, struggling to germinate, let alone flower. And a clipped camellia and maybe some common purple foxgloves.
Plantsman’s – this is a difficult one. To those in the know about open gardens, it is often used as code for a garden lacking in design, prettiness or charm that may appeal to those who take a magnifying glass with them when they go garden visiting in order to view the close-up of an obscure native orchid in bloom. Occasionally, this is a descriptor adopted by an ambitious gardener with over 30 different plants in their garden who is unaware that in the rarefied atmosphere of upper-level horticulture and botany, the term ‘plantsperson’ is an honour bestowed by peers and colleagues, not self-awarded.
Courtyard – 80% paved or decked with a very expensive outdoor dining suite, sofa with all weather cushions, lighting, a very (very) small water feature and a narrow border or two on the periphery planted with clivias and a Kentia palm.
Vegetable – featuring a splendid broad bean crop in spring, some small tomato plants and a worm farm.
Sustainable vegetable – as above but mulched in cardboard or old woollen carpet.
Potager – another vegetable garden but this time with rainbow chard and fancy lettuces corseted in clipped buxus hedging and featuring a fancy insect hotel.
Woodland – you may be envisaging an open scene of deciduous trees, perhaps white barked birches – with a sea of snowdrops beneath. More likely to be over-planted trees which need thinning and limbing up, underplanted with a few hostas and clivias that are struggling with root competition and too much shade.
Coastal – windy. Trees growing at a 45° angle, ice plants, gazanias, some wind burnt succulents and a defoliated copper beech.
A friend who has extensive experience in plant sales contributed the ‘Low Maintenance Garden’ – griselinia hedges, yuccas and Agave attenuata for structural focus, with Coprosma ‘Hawera’ groundcover, all surrounded by black stained bark chips.
The idea of defining our garden by a single style defeated me entirely.
*Ponga – NZ tree fern trunks which are widely available, relatively long lasting and usually inexpensive or even free.