The wild garden

People often tell me they dream of having a more natural garden. I wonder do they genuinely mean a wilder garden, with all the ‘letting go’ that implies, or are they aiming simply to evoke better a sense of the wild within the order of their outdoors space?

The right design response very much depends on your appetite for order versus a bit of messiness. It’s one of the first things I probe clients about when I meet them. Some people can’t stand a leaf out of place nor a single blemish on their paving, whilst others are quite happy for a little disorder at the edges.     

Shaping a garden involves finding the right balance between Man’s desire for order and Nature’s exuberance.

The garden at Gravetye Manor, a luxury country hotel in Sussex is a case in point. It was created in the late 1800s by William Robinson, the pre-eminent garden maker of his time and author of many books, most famously ‘The Wild Garden’ (still in print).

Today, the Gravetye garden is breathtaking, probably even more settled and magnificent than in Robinson’s time. He created it in reaction against the Victorian habit of using bedding plants. And to be a test bed for his ‘wild garden’ philosophy.

It’s a masterful blend of permanent structuring shrubs and ornamental grasses, with more ephemeral perennials and bulbs.  I’ll let the pictures (taken in late Summer) do the talking….

Ironically, for all its wildness and apparent embrace of nature, Gravetye today is a high maintenance site employing no less than 6 full-time gardeners.  It’s a big garden.  But in making gardens for the 21st century the trick is to evoke something similar without such a high maintenance burden…

Learn more about Robert Wadman, author of this post, here.