I'm showing a picture of Rousham, because Arne told us this is the one garden he constantly returns to for inspiration, as a point of reference and is the place he always learns from or visits if he has a problem to solve. He loves its pared back simplicity and explained there's no guidebook or signage for visitors. Instead, there's an 'invisible thread' William Kent (the designer) used to draw the visitor through the garden.
Arne likes the garden's subtle contrasts such as uncut vs. cut areas of grass, flowing vs. still water and perhaps most important of all, sun vs. shade. It's this latter contrast in particular which helps to draw visitors through the garden. He reckons most of them take the same route as they are constantly beckoned on to find what's around the corner or to see what lies beyond the next pool of shade. There's always a surprise or discovery lying in wait for them.
He explained water is also used as a thread and doesn't necessarily end in a grand design gesture as shown by the simple source of the garden's rill. Another design trick is the use of the widening or narrowing of a pathway, with the latter used to slow the journey.
Kent also worked with the landscape, unlike Capability Brown who worked against it. By this Arne meant Kent didn't move things around to suit his purpose, but instead worked with what he had. He also placed distant objects so the surrounding landscape is drawn into the garden.
Like Kent, Arne says he's a 'sense of place' person, so his designs are informed by the context of their surroundings, the area's history and the buildings (see this part of his website for more on his approach to design). The final piece of the jigsaw are the clients themselves and he tries to deliver a garden that's 'the biography of their taste and lifestyle'. He'll use their furnishings, ornaments and state of the house as inspiration. Thus the owners of a rigidly tidy house will usually be offered a formal design rather than a loose, unstructured one. This is tricky if the house is a new one or the clients don't really know what they want. His answer is to take them to Rousham and see which parts of the garden they respond to.
With the key elements from Rousham in mind, Arne then showed us a couple of his designs for private clients. I won't go into these in detail because I don't have any images to show you. Luckily one of them is shown in the Portfolio area of his website, so you can see for yourselves. My overall impression of both of these gardens were strong, architectural lines and a predominance of green. My other thought was these gardens are right at the top end of the market!
It was interesting to note that where his clients aren't used to gardening, he suggests they grow vegetables as a way to quickly gain their interest and to reward their efforts. He strongly believes the importance of connecting his clients with the soil.
Finally we had a quick tour of Arne's own garden, Allt-y-bella near Monmouth. He recently moved there, so he's still working on the final design. He described it as his 'Desert Island Discs' garden where the plants are his favourite ones, each having a particular meaning or association for him. He's aiming for a minimal style based on the key elements of topiary, fruit, wild flowers, vegetables, roses and bulbs. The Welsh landscape doesn't lend itself to his preferred formality, so he's evolving a new way of designing, such as randomly placing topiary.
At the end I asked for a sneak preview of Arne's show garden for Chelsea next year. He laughed and said It's top secret. However, having looked at his website I see he was particularly impressed with Ann-Marie Powell's show garden for the British Heart Foundation. So I wonder if we can anticipate a lush green garden with very strongly contrasting hardscaping from him next year?
You may like to read some of the other garden talks I've attended, or come a-garden visiting with me :)
Copyright free picture obtained via Wikimedia, credit: Grahamec