Design ideas: The gardener's gaze

In the last of her design series, Sarah Price encourages us to look carefully at the world around us and store ideas away for our future designs. 


In this series, I’ve ranged across a diverse set of subjects, choosing some because they’re important to my own work, such as pattern, wildflowers and designing with trees, and others because they’re overlooked in more conventional approaches to garden design, such as colour, local crafts and movement.

A thread that runs throughout the series is the habit of looking. But there’s a big difference between ‘seeing’ and ‘mindful looking’. Paying full attention from the widest perspective to the smallest detail, then analysing and understanding what you see and storing it away so you can draw on it in the future. Here are eight inspiring design elements to spark new ideas. 


1 First sight I used photo collages and drawings to compose the designs for the Olympic gardens at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, in east London. These mood boards were invaluable in communicating our vision for communities of plants sourced from across the world and never before grown together in the UK on such a scale. This view is of the North American garden (co-designed with James Hitchmough) where prairie plants Echinacea pallida and Echinacea paradoxa dominate in early July.


2 Drawing the eye A collage of carefully selected images (photographs and drawings), such as this sketch I made for a new garden at the Chapel café in Abergavenny, can more easily capture the spirit of the design and be a more powerful way of communicating a design’s atmosphere than a computer-generated 3D walkthrough.

3 Long view Creative exchanges across the visual arts often spark innovation. Architectural practice Studio Weave’s designs are diverse, playful and open minded. Here, dunes form a dynamic backdrop to the sculptural twists and flashes of colour of their designs for The Longest Bench at Littlehampton, West Sussex.

4 Associations Even the most illustrious locations have inspiration for observant, down-to-earth gardeners. The autumnal shades of this vine, contrast with the peacock blue of the wrought-iron gate at Rousham House, Oxfordshire. This complementary colour association would work just as well in an everyday setting.

5 Field of vision Subdued views can be just as inspiring as those that shout attention. The plants growing here at North Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, are not ones you’d necessarily want to grow in your garden even if you did have the same wet, marginal conditions. The subtle range of colours, pattern and composition, however, could be recreated using plants with similar visual qualities, such as grasses.

6 Timeline This well-worn footpath within a hazel coppice suggests the passing of time. It’s a detail that could easily pass unnoticed yet this subtle change in topography increases the sense of intimacy within the plantings.

7 Seeing patterns Looking attentively at our everyday surroundings will reward us with a wealth of design ideas. These herringbone cobbles in the estate yard at Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion, are still a striking sight 200 years after they were laid. Patterns of historic paving designs can be originally adapted using contemporary paving materials such as narrow Dutch bricks, sawn stone or concrete pavers.

8 Looking to art Inspiration stems from many visual sources: Albrecht Dürer’s detailed renderings of the natural world, inspired the intricate plantings of my 2012 Chelsea garden for The Telegraph. Like in his famous watercolour The Great Piece of Turf, painted in 1503, native grasses, such as Melica, Agrostis and Deschampsia jostle with commonplace ‘weeds’, such as meadow buttercup and herb robert.






Further reading
Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West
(Timber Press, 2015).
A book that captures the excitement of looking to nature for planting inspiration.


• This article appears in full in the June 2016 issue of Gardens Illustrated - issue 235




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