Garden Storytelling

Honeysuckle reminds me of childhood summer camps in Wales where it grew wild in the hedgerows

Honeysuckle reminds me of summer camps in Wales where it grew wild in the hedgerows

Landscape designs can be as detailed or as basic as you choose. They can identify every tree, shrub and perennial specifying the exact placement and spacing or it can be a simple pencil sketch that shows the approximate location of a patio, paths and the garden shed. As the client it is your job to tell the designer what you need.

But does the finished design – your garden – tell a story? Your story?

That's something I've been thinking a lot about recently.  As a good friend said "gardening is a way of surrounding yourself not only with plants that you love but also with special memories". So very true.

Which brings me back to the opening question – does your garden tell your story?

I wanted to show the color harmony betwen the lavender and my blue container  - just one flowering stem was sufficient

I wanted to show the color harmony between the lavender and my blue container – just one flowering stem was sufficient

Take this simple quiz;

  1. Do your visitors rush to the front door or linger to enjoy the garden journey?
  2. How many of your plants/garden art have been given to you as gifts?
  3. How many of your plants are now in someone else's garden because you shared them?
  4. Do you grow plants  because they were in your parents/grandparents garden and they remind you of them?
  5. Are there plants/garden art that take you back to your childhood?
  6. Do you grow something because it is representative of the country you were born in?

Quite telling isn't it?! I'm convinced that most gardeners are nostalgic and generous and also that we are storytellers. We weave the story of our lives in a tapestry of foliage, flowers and fragrance. I love it when visitors arrive and say "I knew you must live here" as they see the garden and identify it as having the 'Karen factor'.

In this image I wanted to pique your curiosity - is that the fountain I talked about? Where's the water? I have dleiberatly used the meadow-like scrim to obscure the details

In this image I wanted to pique your curiosity – is that a fountain ? Where's the water? I have deliberately used the meadow-like scrim to obscure the details

Here are my top 5 garden stories;

  1. A large teapot fountain pours an endless stream of watery tea (the English HAVE to have tea)
  2. Plants jostle for position, mingling with their neighbors and getting somewhat squished; a strict no-bare-earth policy very reminiscent of traditional English cottage gardens
  3. Lots of great foliage plants create picture frames for flowers and vignettes (I am co-author of Fine Foliage after all!)
  4. We have an abundant vegetable garden reminiscent of my granddad's. I grow raspberries primarily because of the childhood memories of picking them from his garden and this year have grown the British heirloom onion Ailsa Craig – because he did.
  5. I have lots of great containers that are either left un-planted as sculpture or are planted up and displayed for the various workshops and events we hold. (I can't leave them out all season because of the deer).

So it should be pretty easy to work out I'm an English designer with a penchant for foliage and containers.

Here's another way to capture your garden story – through the lens of a camera.

Taking photographs makes you concentrate, discarding what is distracting and distilling the image down to the bare essentials. You are literally narrowing your focus –  to find the story. That in itself give you a fresh perspective with which to analyse your garden.

For those of you within travelling distance of Seattle I have a very special opportunity for you –

a Garden Design & Garden Photography Double Workshop

with David Perry and myself. David has taught me so much about composition, lighting, developing and simply how to use my camera properly! But perhaps the best lesson I have learned from him is to always ask the question 'what is the story that you are trying to tell?'

Here's an example from last year;

I wanted to take a photograph of the bench tucked into one of the borders. This was my first attempt. It was OK but didn't really capture the ambiance. I wanted to give a sense of being partially hidden from view


My second attempt (below) meant coming in closer to remove extraneous details. This was better . I narrowed the plant pallet and got down lower to give a better perspective. Still wasn't quite what I wanted though.


Then it came down to composition and lighting – and becoming part of the story instead of just photographing it. Now I was immersed in the garden and could give a much better sense of why this little corner was a favorite.


Finally I had my story.

If you would like to learn how to capture your garden story with your camera read more about our all day workshop on August 9th held here in my garden in Duvall, WA . I will teach you how to design a garden that has you reaching for your camera and David will teach you how to capture the story itself whether you use your iPhone, a 'point and shoot' or something more advanced.

If you can't make it , we'll miss you but do share what your top garden stories are, either here or on my Facebook page. Think of it as a nice cup of tea and a chat over the proverbial – and virtual garden fence.

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