Girly Gardens – or not?

February 11, 2008

in Articles, General Interest

NOT by Bridget Rosewell

I was interested to compare the report of the November 2006 Garden Design conference in the February issue of Garden Design Journal with the featured garden. The garden is designed by Ann Pearce and is clean, simple, modern.  It uses a limited plant palette and a lot of hard landscaping.  I couldn’t make up my mind whether it was wonderful or rather arid – maybe you have to visit to really get it.  I looked on Anne Pearce’s website, and all the featured designs have this starkness, and a focus on ‘built’ elements as much as on plants.

Then I discovered that at a recent SGD conference the emphasis on lines and landscaping was disturbing those (apparently mainly female) who wanted some flowers, and they saw themselves as ‘girly’. Is structure and line masculine, while flowers and curves are feminine?  Is this the Yin and Yang of gardens? (I’m not sure these are in the right order, as I can never remember which is masculine and which feminine.)

Of course, in Chinese philosophy we require a balance between Yin and Yang.  So a really successful garden could both be appreciated for its structure and for its flowers. I want to reject the concept of a girly garden but I want to embrace that of a balanced one.  A balanced garden has bones and structure but also decoration, whimsy and wit.  Structure is necessary but not sufficient.  I think that to reduce these contrasts to concepts of masculine and feminine devalues and distracts.  I am not interested in girly – give me gorgeous though. I would describe the Ann Pearce garden as ‘impressive’ and ‘striking’ but not ‘gorgeous’.  Gorgeous implies something more?  Does anyone agree with me?

Bridget Rosewell

Bridget Rosewell’s website

Comment from Benedict Vanheems


In response to Bridget Rosewell’s comments on the need for a balance between structure and the looser floral elements of a garden, I think she has made a very important point. Balancing the two will bring harmony to any garden

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Comment from Ann Pearce


I would like to begin my reply to Bridget’s response by quoting Stendhal…‘what we find beautiful is the promise of happiness’.  As we all know, the pursuit of happiness is not only a deeply personal one but also highly elusive and ever changing due to the complex world we live in. Therefore there are as many styles of beauty (or gorgeousness!!) as there are visions of happiness.

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Comment from Anne Beswick


I first saw Ann Pearce’s garden in The Times of Jan 06 and thought it was great.  I took the article in to an evening class I was doing in garden design.  They had learnt to look at things other than bright flower colour and were now happy with ideas of balance and proportion in the garden.  But they didn’t like Ann’s garden.  ‘It’s all right, but not for me’ was the general consensus.  Leading people out of their comfort zone is difficult.
I confess that I was a bit disappointed.

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Response from Bridget Rosewell

When I was a resident of West Oxfordshire – flat Thames plain – I became very interested in the hortus conclusus perhaps as an escape and contrast to that boring agricultural landscape in which Didcot Power Station is visible from practically everywhere.  And I wanted detail, planted order and planted cornucopia to give me variety.  Now I live in London and Monmouthshire amid very different landscapes…

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Comment from Noel Kingsbury

Girly Gardens…some thoughts on gender…and a plea for gorgeousness

I’ve had a look at the Ann Pearce garden, and for I’m afraid me it sums up so much of what I really hate about modern garden design – subjectively I found it sterile and unfeeling; objectively unsustainable and wildlife-unfriendly. Sorry, I hate saying this about people’s work, but we are meant to be engaged in a debate here, and I am just going to say what I think. Give me a girly garden full of flowers. Or for that matter an old guy with loads of petunias and French marigolds at 330mm intervals. Or a load of weeds…

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Comment from Sally Gregson

We’ve been here before…

I read the ongoing debate about ‘flowers’ versus ‘design’ among garden designers and commentators with a knowing smile. I remember the self-same discussion when I entered horticulture 25 years ago.

The perceived conflict between hard-landscaping, ‘designed’ gardens and flowers is I feel, just that: one of perception. To define it as a matter of gender difference is entirely subjective, and I fear fuels the dumbing-down of the art; the craft; the skill of gardening.

As a nurserywoman, as well as a garden-writer,…

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