The place you want to be

Garden designer Sarah Price gave an insightful and motivating talk at Botanic Garden Wales ‘Inspirational Women in Horticulture’ series. It piqued my curiosity about the role of aesthetics in gardening, and the wider, age-old framing of form and function.

Hanging white flowers of a Hellebore, wet green foliage
Hellebores in the freezing rain, on the day of the talk

Sarah Price gave a magnificent talk for the Inspirational Women in Horticulture series, tracing her professional career as a garden designer, whilst simultaneously stimulating key questions about what and how a garden is and does.

Entitled ‘Plants First’ and billed as “plant-driven design”, I was actually struck by the humanity of the designs, their empathy with people, plants and the landscape.

Because of the compression of so many of her gardening projects through time, it felt as though I was watching someone’s professional life flashing by, with a sense of impending convergence and moving toward a definite yet undefined point. The quote that resonated most with my feelings about forest gardening was

“We’re at a very exciting point in horticulture where so many different disciplines are colliding.”

Exactly. And a forest garden is at the intersection of grow-your-own, wildlife-friendly gardening, sustainable practises and beautiful outdoor spaces for people. So many forest gardening practices are applicable across the gardening board.

And when she said that she found it easier to “get people to buy in to my vision” when presented with her photomontages of designs, I had a flash of realisation. If people can visualise the application of your ideas, then your ideas are more likely to be adopted. Similarly, if you can make your garden “the place you want to be”, then you will spend time there, in an increasingly virtuous spiral.

Which is why the aesthetic has an important function in the forest garden. Like a flower attracts a pollinator, the garden attracts the person. As Sarah said, “If you’re working in the naturalistic style, it can look messy” and “You do need to create this visual clarity and organise it”.

Forest gardens already have an inherent and functional beauty and it doesn’t take much to have a visual sensibility that can work with the forest garden palette of multi-functional plants. This is why I’m really excited about our Ornamental Forest Garden. I am designing it to be a flower of a forest garden.

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