Straights and curves

I don’t know much about garden design, but I do a lot of thinking about the general shape of the garden. Actually, it’s not so much thinking as contemplating all the things that need doing and then deciding I would rather sit on a stone for ten minutes and do nothing. I can get away with this by pretending to myself that indolence is creative, and hence useful.

The product of this thinking is seldom profound. In fact, the most profound realisation I can lay claim to is that gardening is usually about things that are straight and things that are curved, and that a lot of garden design, and indeed garden fashions over the centuries, boils down to whether you like to have more curves than straights, or more straights than curves.Most of the things that are straight in gardens are man-made, whereas there aren’t many straight things in nature. You could argue that the more hooked on technology a society becomes, the more the straightness increases. Rectangular houses replace round huts; arrow-straight roads replace winding lanes. And so on.

I’m lucky in so far as my garden has a lot of humps and bumps and hillsides, so I don’t have to look far for curves. But what I want to do is to create a kind of constant tension between curves and straights.Conifers are pretty straight, even here, where most trees take on a lean the moment they grow into the prevailing wind. So I largely depend on them to set off the curves of the grass and the azalea bed.At the end of the garden, there used to be a flat, dull rectangular space with a straight boundary dry stone wall. I spent a happy winter re-building the wall into a curve, trying to keep the impression that it had once been part of a curved structure, but at the same time seeking out pointed capstones to make it look vaguely Gothic (I’m not the world’s best wall-builder)The wall of the old mill is another permanent straight line in the garden, so it seems right that the scree bed parallels and reinforces it. The acer palmatum dissectum that I planted between the large stones has grown into a satisfactorily rounded mound to set off the rectangular blocks. In a couple of weeks it will become a glowing orange highlight.Here, I like to think the balance between the straightness of the house and the indentations of the grass, counterpointed by the trees, both straight and curved, is correct. Although those cupressus decurrens at the far end ought to go, useful windbreaks though they are.


25 thoughts on “Straights and curves

  1. I think you’re absolutely right about straights and curves. I’m a garden designer and one of the first things I ask a new client is which they like. It’s a simple question but helps so much in knowing how to start. Of course, the best large gardens mix it up a bit, don’t you think? In smaller garden design, I think it’s best to stick with one or the other as a theme.

  2. Wow Kininvie–what a lot of gorgeous green! It’s like spring. And the great long views of your lovely property, rolling and isolated. The mill site is a wonder and a grand background for gardening.

    The only design issue, as I see it, is that you have way too many rocks. As your friend I could take both those big curved stone walls off your hands– ( But only if you number the stones with little sticky notes so I can get them back like you had them, quite nice.) It appears that those curved walls lead into a deep dark forest. What’s in there?

    • Hi Linnie, Indeed, a deep dark forest lies beyond. Not mine, but owned by friends, so the garden just blends into it without a whole lot of lawyers standing on the boundary….

  3. Dry stane diking is hard work isn’t and you always need more stone …but you’ve done a great job. Andy Goldsworthy, eat your heart out. And the scree is a great addition. Is that were you grow your cyclamen?
    A very Scottish garden with the house nestling in the landscape…..

  4. You have such a lovely garden, I’m particularly jealous of your walls. I’m definitely more of a curves person, but I like straight lines too. I guess, unless your ‘garden’ has no plants there will always be some curves in a garden.

  5. Save the cupressus! I like them there. You posted some beautiful pics of your garden, incredibly green and fresh, only the red top of the bushes suggest fall is coming.
    I’d try some grasses if I was you though. Maybe on the hollows of the bushes beds, like a screen before the pines.

    • OK Alberto, I’ll bite. What sort of grass? I would like something that doesn’t look too alien, that is BIG, that isn’t fussy about soil, and is of course hardy and happy in the damp…..

      • Panicum virgatum. Maybe a straight selection like ‘Heavy metal’ if you like it steel grey. Otherwise ‘Northernwind’ is another good selection with very up pointing stems. All miscanthus sinensis are good for damp too (but not waterlogged). Otherwise pennisetum macrourum could link the lawn to the little woodland of pines you have there (rather weedy though). Descampsia caespitosa is perfect for damp too but I don’t see it there, it’s too short.
        I usually look for drought tolerant plants, must take a look on my grass bible to see if something for damp pops up.

  6. Straight or curved, looks to me like you have a natural ability with design. I have added a picture of your garden and a link to your website in my (Your Gardens) page, If you don’t want this, I will remove it. Alistair.

  7. Fascinating! I love your curved stone walls – I feel that there should be a secret garden on the other end or something magical to find in the forest there. I also like the look of the long rolling lawn with the house at the end and the curved beds on the right.

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