So why do we have so many ugly gardens?

July 4, 2009

in Articles, General Interest

So why do we have so many ugly gardens?

“I’ve chosen these particular plants because they are remarkably easy to look after and will all flourish and grow strongly with minimum attention. Once the last flush of colour is over, cut back everything in the border. And why not plants lots of tulips and other spring bulbs to give joy until the whole cycle of bloom starts again?” Gardener’s World, June 2009

by Anne Wareham

Maybe garden advice like this from one of our leading garden magazines? (see above) This was planted up as an example for poor benighted readers to learn from…(poor patronised people).

I know it’s new and the plants haven’t bulked up. Apart from that:

The bed has no apparent relationship to its surroundings: it looks totally arbitrary

Why has it got an ugly, meaningless shape? Why the dreadful lawn edge, cut as if to ensure eternal apartheid – plants one side, grass the other, rigidly kept from cosy conversation.

The colour balance is awful – the wishy washy purple is killed by the stronger colours, which could have wowed with a really powerful contrast.

The size is totally inadequate for a mixed border – and why a mixed border? Why not, say, two or three plants which look stunning together instead of a mess of dotty plants?


Why do we have so many ugly gardens - Image 2

Why do we have so many ugly gardens - Image 3All comments gratefully received… (email:

Anne Wareham

Veddw House Garden website

Response from Jenny Woods

From Dr. Jenny Woods, who:

“reaches for Sylvia Crowe, who says these things so much better than me –‘Certain [design] principles remain constant…perhaps the greatest of these, and the one most lacking in many gardens today, is a sense of unity.‘ She points out unity comes from limitation of materials and strength of purpose. This bed appears to have no purpose other than to contain the multitude of random materials (i.e. the collection of plants) placed within it. It is a meaningless blob.”

But then – reluctantly I told who had done it, knowing that that would be difficult as it was a friend of hers. This is the second reason why gardens are so ugly: no-one will tell anyone about stuff like this because the garden world is small and no-one likes upsetting people who they know, who are friends or who may be in a position of influence. And indeed, this was Jenny’s reply to me:

“I’ll be honest here, it does make me feel awkward knowing that it’s X – someone who has supported my very fledgling writing/reporting career (as have you) and promoted me to the RHS even though he actually hardly knows me. He is extremely supportive of lots of developing designers in all sorts of ways. I do know that this little plot here is nothing like the quality of his professional work… But I am a creature of principle and still believe its not a good flower bed. However if it inspires just one person to plant their own bed for the first time, and gets them thinking about space, colour and placing – what does it become then?!”

Hmm – I think a piece like this would do more to get people thinking about space, colour and placing, but you won’t ever find this kind of thing in a garden magazine.

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