Or rather texture in one garden
since we are focussing on
a garden by Thomas Hoblyn at Chelsea Flower Show 2012.
His garden was love at first sight!
It is a sensible show garden designer who creates descent in a show garden.
Us common punters could thus see more of this urbane sunken space from the edge.
And so we could more successfully create an imaginary world which we could inhabit and take ownership of.
So you must just imagine yourself attending a party in the hills above Rome – at least that is my spin on it.
The money is new, but the taste is good.
There are Italian princes, the odd cardinal, a maffia lord without doubt And a starlet or two for some added sex appeal.
And this is the place in which to to be seen.
To saunter with the driest, coldest martini imaginable in your hand and gaze across The Eternal City. Sure there are the references to the Italian renaissance, Villa This and Villa That, not to mention the Golden Section. But in microcosm this is a contemporary landscape – almost ‘Giubbilei land.’
In microcosm of course, because we’d want more space. Whenever Lesley and I visit gardens we are always saying ‘I like that but I’d want more space around it’. But hey this is a flower show. Let’s not hang Tom Hoblyn on the spatial limitations of a show pitch!
What we would not change is his use of texture.
Hard landscaping first, since it happens first and holds the garden design in place:
Smooth and cool, honed and tide marked travertine is used for paving slabs and walls and seating.
By way of contrast fine pale crunchy gravel is used for the broad areas.
A rear wall of roughly dressed travertine adds another texture and defines the origin of the dressed stone.
Thus are space and verticality within the garden texturally defined.
So is travel.
You cross coarse gravel and then walking across water, for the stepping stones do appear to float, you contrast the cool, smooth yet solid feel of stone with the smooth ephemeral cool of still, reflective water.
In the long stone bench backed by its trough, into which water jets descend, Tom grasps the essential comfort that cool smooth stone brings in hot places.
Remarks about urinals and the inability to slump back as in a chair are best ignored. And perhaps it also says something about people’s poor posture!
This is the perfect place to sit in the stifling heat of a Roman afternoon with cooled air wafting from the water jets behind. Its just the place too to rank battalions of dark green bottles of liquor to chill and keep the party rolling!
Behind you parallel hedges of feathery yew, dense box and intervening fine sprays of water successfully juxtapose three more textures in the photograph frame.
In the beds and borders Tom carries on the textural game.
Aromatic buns of dry foliage and stubby spires of bloom evoke the native italian flora.
Towering up out of this uber cool the tree bark is rough and earthy.
The hummocky sea of perennials is pierced by the coarsely architectural Artichoke, a classic of mediterranean food.
To one side in the gravel the furry delight of Salvia argentea is a studied piece of casualness.
Texture can of course be both felt by the hand and perceived by eye – you don’t touch everything!
You see sage, rosemary, thyme and helichrysum, imagine their feel and mentally release those archetypal scents. Then of course you do all that physically. And picking out one sense alone (touch) is pointless because they are all related in some way and do overlap.
You hear water tinkle and imagine its cool and silken touch and then lean forward to touch it.
You perceive the stipa as light, feathery and soft and see it sway and hear its whisper.
The cool, smooth travertine will receive bare feet as an audible whisper and stilettos as a pistol crack.
Gravel is visible texture, but physically crunches, and is as satisfying a sound as it is as a feeling.
All the changes in surface quality also affect light reflectivity and hence our overall vision and sense of atmosphere.
All this interconnectedness is part of what gives sensory gardens their enduring and delightful appeal.
So texture is a key warp and weft in the garden tapestry. It can define space, journey, verticality, add atmosphere and interesting detail into the design. And by exploiting it thoroughly in landscape design you can construct a garden which sings even without flower.
An enduring opera rather than a cheap forgettable pop song.
And what of this garden? It only got silver gilt. Well, we would certainly have had 3 cypresses rather than the five which places them too close to the leaden fountain. And we didn’t like the ramps down in.
But enough of the minor caveats! Hoblyn had the confidence to keep so much central space clear and created so memorable an atmosphere that despite its faults this was our favourite Chelsea garden.
Someone give Tom Hoblyn a Chelsea Gold – he’s been knocking on the door long enough!
The Hegarty Webber Partnership
Now please follow on to indulge yourselves in all the rest of the textural treats provided by our garden design colleagues in the States: