Warp and weft
I love fabrics. When dress making, I can happily day dream for hours about how to best use a piece of cloth, thinking about patterns, colours, the feel of the fibres and drape. As with making a garment, when I'm designing a garden, I'm looking for a nice balance between several components, including colour, form, function, and of course texture.
Artist and landscape architect, Catherine Dee, in her go-to reference book, ‘Form and Fabric in Landscapes’, highlights the many elements to be considered in landscape design and says of texture that it ‘animates landscapes and enables people to connect what they see with their sense of touch’. Like warp and weft yarns, plants and hard landscaping bring different textural elements, triggering various sensations both from the whole garden and its details.
When looking at plants, I enjoy observing the tactile properties of botanical features such as stems, bark, leaves, seedheads...etc. Flowers, usually associated with colour, will also play their part. Think of the lusciousness of tulip sepals, the spikiness of ornamental thistles like Echinops or the frothiness of Alchemillas.
Dee helps us to understand texture further, pointing out that it ‘is intimately related to light and changes in light’. As well as the surface of plants, their form and number will impact on how light is reflected or let through. A single specimen can create a playful element shining in the sun, while some en masse planting can provide a matt backdrop.
Box (buxus sempervirens), like a Yorkshire melton wool, always delivers on texture. This garden stalwart is a particular favourite of mine, and not just because I’m French (think catholic upbringing rather than the parterres of Versailles, in my case). Belgian landscape architect, Jacques Wirtz used their textural properties in masterly fashion, combining the fine but solid weave of their leaves with their bolder mass in block planting and shaping. Wirtz died a couple of years ago but his landscape practice remains, and you can see his work at https://wirtznv.com/home/ .
Plants can also provide textural change through the seasons, thereby adding to the dynamic of the landscape. Although an evergreen, box is able deliver on this point with a trick up its sleeve. Spiders love it, and so at this time of year box plants are often donned with ethereal cobwebs, like discarded lace pieces draped on the leaves. To see it for yourself, visit the Whitworth art garden designed by Sarah Price. There, the borders including box balls have definitely given me a visual feast over the past months. With regular visits, I have noticed the evolution of plants’ textures . The swathes of pyrenean valerian are a real treat, their flowers developing from pin cushions to clouds of fluffy seed-heads.
The tapestry provided by the garden is also a reminder of the excellent textile exhibitions curated by the Whitworth, including these towards the end of last year:
The gallery is planning to re-open in September, but in the meantime I look forward to the summer viewings of its garden subtly ever-changing exhibition.
Whitworth art garden, Manchester
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All photos and artwork are my own.