Landscape Design

Opposites attract

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EmanBella Alladio of Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited considers the art of combining contrasting textures in our outside spaces.

There are a million different shades of green in a garden. And when it comes to plants, many of them share at least one similarity – be it colour, form, shape or size. Yet in a successful garden each contrasting element – whether it’s a plant or hardscape – is able to contribute towards creating a sense of space, a certain mood and an excitement that sets the garden apart from any other space and draws eyes in.

Exciting gardens know how to play with opposites, and how to successfully combine contrasting textures.

The key to the art of combining opposites relies on providing enough variation to create intensity without letting chaos settle in. A series of successful contrasting combinations in a garden introduces a layer of visual textures that lets our eyes ‘see’ each and every one of its elements.

The most obvious tools for creating texture in gardens are their building blocks – hardscape, plants and colour – constantly combined and rearranged until ultimate finesse is achieved.

Just like a chef would create a dish choosing each and every ingredient in the right quantity and introducing interesting flavour combinations by contrasting clashing ingredients, a garden designer sets out to create a garden by striving to achieve a very fine balance of all three of its main building blocks.

At the bottom of the pyramid is, of course, the hardscape – paths, patios, planters – key structural elements forming the backbone of visual texture, each material carefully chosen for its finish, that might contrast or absorb the texture from surrounding plants. A sleek, large, porcelain slab patio surrounded by soft linear and light reflecting grasses is a good example of contrasting textures and forms.

A step up is colour, to be found not only in flowers, but in bark, fruit and seeds, and in leaves too of course, to create a balanced backdrop of harmonious shades with peaks of interest in the form of contrasting colour combinations. Good examples of contrasting arrangements could be a blue geranium with a hot pink rose, or the lime green flower of alchemilla mollis against a purple heuchera or a black mondo grass.

And, of course, the key building blocks to create good visual texture are plants, through both their form and their leaf texture. Just think of how many habitats a plant can have and how important that is to the overall story a garden tells – a spiky plant is contemporary and sleek, it’s a full stop, because it commands attention making the viewer stop and look at it. Phormiums, with their upright and spiky form, are an emblem of confidence and showiness, while a trailing or spreading plant is much more informal, perfect to create an intimate atmosphere – think of a trailing nasturtium against a brick wall, or a billowing geranium spilling out of a border. Mastering clever contrasts between two opposite forms can produce stunning results: an upright allium or a spiky eryngium emerging through the soft fronds of a tall grass, one rigid and sharp the other softly arching in the wind.

Foliage textures are all important too. In general, leaf types can be divided into four main categories and they too look stunning when contrasted between each other:
Simple leaves – these could be oval, round or heart shaped etc – are provided by common plants such as bergenias, brunneras, foxgloves, tiny thyme or box. They form the base of any planting composition and can look stunning when contrasted between each other – not only in terms of proportions, but of hue too.

Linear or strappy leaves – these can be very upright as the rigid swords of astelias and phormiums, or more gently arching and soft, such as the blades of most grasses. Again, a sharp contrast between a phormium and a stipa tenuissima draws us in, forcing us to stop and feel the texture, running fingers through the grass.
Feathery and dissected leaves (ferns typify this group) introduce a layer of complexity. They are stunning against simpler leaf shapes, for example, a hosta and a fern next to each other, nothing is more beautiful yet so simple and so contrasting, or a fennel against a foxglove, bold form next to delicate and fine fronds.

And finally the true visual delight of exuberant leaf shapes – be it very dissected, such as those of geraniums or very frilly and deeply lobed such as Japanese maples – they are perfect to accent a scheme with the right amount of frilliness and bling. Imagine a red Japanese maple underplanted with the strappy acid green leaves of hakonechloa and next to a round leaved vivid green or purple cotinus. These are true opposites in terms of textures and shapes, and yet so elegant and refined together, adding a real punch and making a unique statement.

Nothing like contrasting visual textures sets the mood of a garden, creating a sense of place and adding finesse to a design. The key is to master the art of combining opposites – too much variation and it’s a muddle, too little and there is no excitement.

Garden 2Jon and Emanuela in the show garden they created for the Istanbul Flower Festival in 2016

Profile: Alladio Sims

Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Ltd was established in 2015 after Jon Sims and Emanuela Alladio collaborated on a Silver Gilt winning show garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The two directors continue their collaborative approach throughout their practice with Jon’s background in interior architecture giving distinctive spaces and Emanuela’s passion for plants and photographic eye adding great texture and contrast.

essence info
Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited
Unit C Willow House, Dragonfly Place, London SE4 2FJ
Website: www.alladiosims.co.uk
Email: hello@alladiosims.co.uk

How to get from A to B

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Emanuela Alladio and Jon Sims of Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design look at the aspect of circulation in a garden.

Circulation is a key element when designing a garden. Expressed through paths and destinations, it can take many different forms. Here we look at some of them.

Paths can be designed as a straight line, following the most direct route to get to a destination – that might be a seat, a sculptural element or a view; as a meandering route – allowing time to linger and take in the surroundings; as an unpredictable route that leads you out and then lets you go your own way onto lawns, into woods or around a pond, and as a zigzag route that opens onto unpredicted elements or reveals the next surprise, be it a view or another unexpected space.

Gardens are all shapes and sizes and taking this into account is key when choosing the path options for each site in order to deliver the circulation that best suits a garden.

A couple of years ago we created a show garden for the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show for Jacksons Fencing. It set out to illustrate a community of gardeners and became a study investigating just how different the paths crossing six equal sized and shaped front gardens could express a personality. The result was an eclectic mix of styles, atmospheres and solutions that was greatly admired by the public. While the spaces were small, the results are scalable and clearly show how a path gives structure to the personality of a garden.

Our first garden welcomed a happy mix of softer and more formal elements (Fig. 1) – the rectangular stepping stones in a matte honed natural stone chosen in two different sizes and spaced at regular intervals through the gravel connecting the front door to the gate, while the surrounding gravel in a complementing tone let the path merge with dry borders, softening and blurring the edges. Here the chosen line was straight, so quite formal, but with staggered ends showing the benefit of stepping stones that allow the movement to be more dynamic thanks to a mixture of stone sizes and offset joints.

Stepping stone paths would work equally well across a lawn loosely or directly linking to spaces beyond it. They are relatively easy to construct and look very naturalised once they are allowed to settle in.

A wandering route is a great solution for those who like a more romantic or relaxed garden, and the materials chosen in our second garden show just how free its form can be, from a simple path mowed out of long grass or a meadow to a loose, windy gravel route through a dry garden, or a chipped bark path disappearing into a wood, naturalising to perfection as it ages. Wandering along such a path one is often surprised by sudden clearings, or peaceful sunny corners perfect for a bistro table and chair set. A haven for contemplation and relaxation.

In line with this relaxed approach and perfect for a sunny courtyard, our second garden (Fig. 2) used bricks laid across a diagonal straight line, cutting through the space and blurring the boundaries with surrounding gravel mulch borders. This is quite an informal path that brings to mind the Mediterranean, and with it images of gardens in Italy or Greece where plants and hard materials mingle to soften boundaries and delight the eye. Laying bricks across the route makes the space appear bigger and slows you down, inviting you to take time and linger.

The way the path is laid was key to the feel of our third garden (Fig. 3). Using standard stone slab sizes to create a staggered path gives a clear route, but with a more naturalised edge. The soft pastel shades of the planting and picket fence complement the natural hues of the chosen paving stones in this contemporary English cottage garden: a good alternative to a traditional red brick. Spilling on top of the path, the dreamy planting softens the staggered edges and draws you in to smell the blooms.

Recycling can throw up some great solutions and in garden four we reused clay roof tiles on edge (Fig. 4). Rustic, upcycled materials with gaps left for the plants to colonise create a strong textural element that fits in perfectly with the exhuberant nature of the surrounding planting in this garden. There are other options for recycled materials, including bricks, broken slabs or even wine bottles, used base up, could work. They do lend themselves to a loose winding path given the mismatched nature of the materials and this would make the perfect choice in a classic country garden.

The paths in gardens one to four sought to illustrate paths that offer flexibility in their design. The last two gardens were aimed at showing paths that took control with crisp edges that give strong transitions between soft and hard landscape. Garden five (not pictured) presented a curved path which showed how the route may soften in line, but unlike other wandering pathways, nothing was left to change: the slabs were perfectly cut, laid and grouted and the finish was the same as one would expect on a kitchen floor. When selecting a curved path, material choice is key as most hard path materials are rectangular. We selected large slabs so the edge kept the cut pieces larger and the angled direction of laying led the eye to the side, broadening the sense of width.

The last garden really illustrated a garden path that takes control of the space around it (Fig. 5). This straight and perfectly symmetrical path provides a very precise solution to a classic design. The planting falls in line, reflecting the very high degree of precision by extending the mirroring effect to the left and right of it. Requiring a solid base and very neat edges, the paving slabs are consistent in size and tones complementary to the formal planting. In larger gardens, straight paths are used to lead the eye to a special view or feature at the end, and are perfect for creating long views in line with windows or doors.

The backbone of any garden design, next time you wander down a garden path, you might not help but notice its very own unique story, or even think if I was a path, which path would I be?

Garden 2Jon and Emanuela in the show garden they created for the Istanbul Flower Festival in 2016

Profile: Alladio Sims

Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Ltd was established in 2015 after Jon Sims and Emanuela Alladio collaborated on a Silver Gilt winning show garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The two directors continue their collaborative approach throughout their practice with Jon’s background in interior architecture giving distinctive spaces and Emanuela’s passion for plants and photographic eye adding great texture and contrast.

essence info
Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited
Unit C Willow House, Dragonfly Place, London SE4 2FJ
Website: www.alladiosims.co.uk
Email: hello@alladiosims.co.uk

Hidden geometry and inner harmony

Emanuela Alladio and Jon Sims of Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design look at the importance of applying the basic rules of geometry to the composition of a garden space.

A recent trip to Great Dixter a few weeks ago confirmed that winter really is the perfect time to look at the hidden geometry of a garden, when vegetation takes a step back and allows the existing voids to create inner harmony for the new season ahead.

Despite a general sense of decay and emptiness in the garden, this time of the year is not one for relaxing and letting things happen, as it actually coincides with the start of the new horticultural year. If everything going on above ground may look as if plants are shrivelling and wanting to disappear ­– and many do, indeed, go on a long sleep or dormancy period to regain their energy before spring arrives – below the ground it’s a completely different story; plants are getting stronger and everyone working around gardens is or should be planning ahead and working frantically before the first of the frosts arrive: moving plants to create fuller, more pleasing displays, dividing and repotting, ordering bulbs and planting new shrubs and trees.

This is by far the best time to look at the geometry behind borders, before the fluffy growth of new vegetation obscures and weakens it: it’s the time to take stock and examine lines and proportions carefully. After all, a garden can only feel right if its geometry is right. This was the overall message from the latest Society of Garden Designers Autumn Conference.

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This narrow path with its sinuous curve introduces a strong geometry that carefully shapes this informal part of the meadow creating a pleasing long view that disappears in the distant woodland IMAGE COURTESY OF ALLADIO SIMS GARDEN AND LANDSCAPE DESIGN LTD, GREAT DIXTER GARDENS 2018

That said, how do we know if the geometry is right? At the conference there was a general sense of ‘if it feels right, it’s right – you will instinctively know if a path is in the wrong place or not, if it’s too wide or too narrow’. Yet looking at some of the slides during the conference, I started to disagree with this approach and decided that in order to produce a pleasing geometry in a garden one might benefit from applying the basic rules of geometry to the overall composition – an example would be the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio allowing us to create pleasing proportions – and only once these are set are we allowed to disrupt the rules and balance by introducing a few unexpected and exciting ‘deviations’.

To base our approach on geometry, following the principles that Fibonacci explained a few hundred years ago, we can be sure that we are mirroring the perfection found in nature – that of a fern unfurling, the curve of a shell, the structure of an artichoke – these are all perfect renditions of the Fibonacci curve and serve as a reminder that nature is based on its own very specific inner harmony.

This is the perfect time to take stock of your garden, so go out and take a good look at those hidden lines and proportions, and make a note of any gaps that seem too big, or paths too straight or narrow, but above all don’t forget to enjoy the subtle beauty that a garden has to offer even at this time of the year.

Garden 2Jon and Emanuela in the show garden they created for the Istanbul Flower Festival in 2016

Profile: Alladio Sims

Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Ltd was established in 2015 after Jon Sims and Emanuela Alladio collaborated on a Silver Gilt winning show garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The two directors continue their collaborative approach throughout their practice with Jon’s background in interior architecture giving distinctive spaces and Emanuela’s passion for plants and photographic eye adding great texture and contrast.

essence info
Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited
Unit C Willow House, Dragonfly Place, London SE4 2FJ
Website: www.alladiosims.co.uk
Email: hello@alladiosims.co.uk

Too hot to water

Screen Shot 2018-07-05 at 19.28.30A gravel garden wouldn’t be complete without some large boulders to form a series of focal points. Large rocks give the garden an instant Mediterranean feel, perfect for a dry garden. Image courtesy of Alladio Sims Garden and Landscape Design Ltd, Besiktas International Flower Festival, 2016

Emanuela of Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design offers advice on how we can make our gardens resistant to hot summers.

The weather is hotting up and thirsty plants are showing the first signs of strain. Shrivelling leaves, droopy flower heads, browning leaves, stumpy growth… All clear signs plants are suffering and not coping well with summer dry weather.

What to do? Watering is a costly resource, to the planet and us, but there are ways around it, to avoid irrigation. If designing a new garden, why not make it drought tolerant? This month we consider five design solutions that really can make a huge difference.

Gravel gardens – they are easy to install, low maintenance, generally low cost, environmentally friendly and look good all year round. Gravel is permeable and therefore acts as mulch keeping the soil cool and moist underneath so plants are super happy. Gravel offers an instant, perfect backdrop to plants making them ‘pop’ and look good. It’s one of the most versatile materials, available in many shades, so it can be matched to other hard surfaces in the garden and beyond. For a more classic look, choose lighter gravel that blends well with bricks and lighter stones; for a contemporary take, choose grey gravel that looks fabulous against wood, black or brown.

Celebrate shade – shade creates a micro climate within the garden, bringing the temperature down instantly, which in turn means plants won’t bake in the afternoon heat, even the ones with larger, greener leaves. So plant a tree or a series of hedges to create some shade in the garden and carpet underneath with shade and drought tolerant plants that will keep the scheme lush and fresh, even in the hotter months.

Plant more grasses – they look good in winter with their golden silhouettes and moving flower heads and they thrive in the hottest of summers, glowing in the evening sun and softening the transition between perennials. Often native to dry sunny prairies, they are perfect for dry spells and don’t require extra watering.

Create drifts of colour through mass planting of single varieties – tight mass planting of single varieties of drought tolerant plants can create a painterly swathe of colour in the garden that looks great in summer months and minimises water requirement in hotter months. The key to this planting style is as always good soil preparation, so don’t forget to incorporate lots of compost and to mulch with a thick layer of gravel or composted bark so that plants become established well before the heat kicks off.

Choose silver foliage plants – silver and soft furry leaved plants cope very well with drought, reflecting the light and heat away from them to keep cool and very upright, even in the hottest of summer afternoons. The amazing tall candelabra silhouette of verbascum bombyciferum reminds us of wild Mediterranean coastal paths, the silvery foliage of olive trees, teucriums and lavenders is further proof that this is the choice colour to survive the driest of summers.

Hopefully these five steps have demonstrated how easy it is to create a wonderful, drought-free garden that will embrace the summer weather, however dry or wet this may be.

Garden 2Jon and Emanuela in the show garden they created for the Istanbul Flower Festival in 2016

Profile: Alladio Sims

Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Ltd was established in 2015 after Jon Sims and Emanuela Alladio collaborated on a Silver Gilt winning show garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The two directors continue their collaborative approach throughout their practice with Jon’s background in interior architecture giving distinctive spaces and Emanuela’s passion for plants and photographic eye adding great texture and contrast.

essence info
Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design Limited
Unit C Willow House, Dragonfly Place, London SE4 2FJ
Website: www.alladiosims.co.uk
Email: hello@alladiosims.co.uk
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