PROPERTY
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Landscape Design

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.

Screen Shot 2018-12-19 at 00.22.18
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