3-D Gardens: Thinking outside the concrete box

November 25, 2006

in Events

Society of Garden Designers Conference

Report by Anne Wareham

An odd title but a brilliant conference. Every speaker received enthusiastic applause. And every speaker had polished their quotes. Cleve West introduced Steve Martino, landscape architect from Phoenix, Arizona (and if you think that’s irrelevant to us, you clearly missed the symposium on green issues)  as ‘once heretic, now hero’ – for his use of native plants.

Steve offered us ‘plants are incidental to the garden’ and ‘the site the site the site’. He apparently tells his clients ‘that’s what you want; this is what you need’ and he said that it is ‘the power of trees to turn a building from an object into a place.’

Christopher Bradley-Hole: (‘the context is fundamental to me,’ ‘understanding the roots and history and abstracting it’ ) praised glass for ‘capturing light very well; picks up the sunlight’, and told us of ‘the importance of shadows’  and ‘natural rhythm of streets: very comforting’ – so his approach is ‘build up the normal and then add changes.’

All this with stunning images. Followed by excellent expositions of the possibilities of concrete (Kevin McSherry) and glass (Ray Bradley) – ‘could be a provocative intervention in contrast to the organic’.

Finale with Paolo Burgi: (‘children are beautiful minimalists’,) with an intriguing exposition on ‘reinterpretation’ and a reminder of the fruitfulness of dialogue between the arts.

The questioners raised green issues, especially as a challenge to the use of concrete. This was fielded by a very unfazed Kevin McSherry, outlining the strides concrete has made towards becoming environmentally friendlier.

The conference opened up interesting questions, worth further exploration. Paolo Burgi’s juxtapositions of a journey ending in a stunning view over mountains with caricature dinosaurs in the paving, and of a beautiful rail fronting that view, with a range of explanatory diagrams and words to kill it, left the question of how to add words and ideas gracefully unanswered. Christopher Bradley-Hole enquired ‘what is the perfect age for a garden?’ and that was left hanging. And Cleve West finished by observing that the speakers had been all men again.

That was a hot topic over lunch and coffee. After all that architecture, concrete, glass and stone, straight lines and disciplined plants there came a vague but insistent muttering: ‘what about flowers?…. I like a new flower coming out every day…’

Is the next big thing the cutting edge garden by women: the girly garden? Will we somehow flounce our way back on to the agenda?

Anne Wareham

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