Danger in the Garden: A Garden Designers Round Table Post

| October 23, 2012 | 18 Comments

Danger in the garden?

Dangerous plants?

You mean the spikey jobs?

Or the poisonous jobs?

Or slippy flagstones?

Are we talking health and safety?

Please say no!

So we have decided to concentrate on ‘a sense of danger’.

And this is a shameless reprise of a post which we published in April 2010 entitled:

Fear in the Garden

How I loathe psycho-babble.

‘She’s in a really dark place’ said my friend about a mutual acquaintance. It was said in the hushed tone and with the certain knowing expression which always accompany that banal cliché.

‘No, actually!’  I thought, ‘SHE’S  just a bit hacked off. THIS is a really dark place’:

We put ourselves in the way of fear in life. God knows driving is bad enough, and watching horror movies at night is a deliberate attempt to feel fear.

But do we do it enough in the garden?

The unfathomable well.

The footpath above the long drop.

Do we have enough opportunities to be sucked into a whirling vortex?

Design wise, in the garden, fear has the drama of bungee jumping and the stomach pitting quality of the Rollercoaster at Alton Towers.

Sure there are health and safety aspects and it’s installation would come with some ‘backside covering’ paperwork!  But according to the office of statistics it’s a bit of a risk stepping into your jeans in the morning.

And it can in any case be merely a palpable but harmless atmosphere. Darkness and closeness might be enough:

A doorway in a hedge at Rodmarton has mystery, but leads merely to a rather decrepit nursery area.

The sombre yew walk at Sissinghurst – its harmless enough but it gives me the heebie  jeebies. I bet if VSW stalks around as a bad tempered ghost, full of vengeance for the lost romance of Sissinghurst, its there.

And as for Andy Sturgeon’s Black Holes you can’t even get near them, but they are fearful.

Unease in the garden draws on or perhaps even feeds our innermost, primal fears. The darkness is of the coffin, death itself, or the bogeyman coming out to get you.

If all this seems a bit too dark for you, think of it as a change of pace:

 The contrast of light and shade.

A bit of mystery.

A frisson.

We know there’s nothing behind it, but we still have that ‘Psycho’ moment:



Please click on the links below to see the thoughts of some of our fellow Round Tablers on the subject:

Loree Bohl : Danger Garden : Portland, OR

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Category: Design Bites, Reviews of Gardens and Shows

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Comments (18)

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  1. I actually like all these examples, maybe there is something wrong with me, lol.

  2. James Golden says:

    Wonderful! Let’s have more fear (and other unexpected feelings) in the garden.

  3. Lesley says:

    Think there some thing wrong with most of us!!!!!!!!
    No, seriously. What is interesting is when you do something different.
    Best Wishes

  4. Lesley says:

    Yes, the whole gamut of emotions!
    Seriously, the impact of the unexpected is extraordinary. Like the italian villa, can’t think of the name at the moment, where you think that you are going out into the garden and there is just a balcony and a really steep drop!’
    Nice to get some fun bits too.
    Thanks for you comment.
    Best Wishes

  5. Those Black Holes are magnificent! Your concept of contrast is spot on. While we talk about contrasting colors, texture, form not many talk about contrasting emotions. Love this!

  6. The scariest thing in the garden? Bad design. (Love your examples, as always!)

  7. I love your take on the topic and you’ve got me wondering just how to incorporate this element into my garden. Lot’s to think about…thank you!

  8. More fear, more chances taken? Sign me up. Especially when it’s not my money, because in the end it is my money…so we designers gain skill in traversing the steep hill. Now I know the reason I got on the wrong trail mountain biking again Sunday…and here I am to tell of it! Thanks for looking at this a different way, your way.

  9. Great gardens are all about atmosphere – your post is a fun reminder that sometimes mysterious with a touch of danger is the way to go.

  10. Pam/Digging says:

    Eek! Those are indeed spooky garden images. I’d get the heebie jeebies in the yew walk too. Thanks for a provocative take on the subject.

  11. Robert says:

    Hi Rebecca,
    Yeah it is exciting if a garden can run the full gamut of emotions. But of course without being theme parky!!!
    Thanks so much for your enthusiastic comment

  12. Robert says:

    Hi Jocelyn,
    Yes I suppose in 2 senses: it is bad design and can be dangerous!
    Thanks for your comment

  13. Robert says:

    Hi Loree,
    That is the great thing about these postings: that we do always make each other think!
    Thanks so much for your comment.
    Looking forward to reading the posts when I get a moment.

  14. Robert says:

    Hi David,
    Yes the easiest track is not often the most rewarding and no pain no gain.
    You are Mr Adventurous out in the Wild West there I think!!
    Great to hear from u

  15. Robert says:

    Hi Susan
    Yes, I was with clients the other week who are determined to open everything up visually.
    No mystery=boring!
    And no need for a journey!
    Thanks so much for your comment.

  16. Robert says:

    Hi Pam,
    Interesting that the yew walk got you too, because it is not the darkest.
    Thanks so much for your comment and for being such an efficient DJ yesterday!

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