That gardens usually belong to houses goes without saying, but many gardens feel abruptly divided from the houses they adjoin and it’s hard to see the relationship between them. Looking at lots of gardens helps to work out why this happens in some places and less so in others, and what there is to like and dislike about such divisions and the spaces made outside by gardeners. This point is eloquently made by Anna Pavord in this piece here discussing Rory Stuart’s book What are Gardens For?. With a brand new house I have been forced to ask myself that question and in answering it am trying to learn a new way of gardening whose aesthetic I hope will be similar to that of the Concrete Palace. A bonus is that it should be less thirsty, which is also what I want for the garden of our house which has been built to need much less artificial heat than any other place I’ve ever lived in.
At the Garden Museum the other night Dan Pearson and Stephanie MacDonald of 6a architects spoke about how the spaces in gardens and houses interact which plays into this question, What are Gardens For? which could, and perhaps should, occupy us all as we look about us. The house that 6a have made for a client in London exemplifies the human approach that Stephanie MacDonald’s firm take in all the projects that she spoke about, linking previous owners and historic uses of the building into designs that are beautiful and function perfectly for their current needs.
On the front page of 6a’s website there is a photo of a house that embodies approach; it is called Tree House, although she called it Sumac House during the talk after the tree species that it is built around. The new house in question lies behind two small, brick-built cottages that are side by side and I assume lived in as one. Behind the joint facade run long gardens the width of the two plots. The owner had become unable to get into the garden and so the brief, if I understood correctly, was to make the house wheelchair friendly and the garden accessible. The result, a joint Dan Pearson and 6a project, is a gorgeous linear wood-clad building, curving around the Sumac that is the key holding the garden together. It now holds the new building together too, and one hopes its owner too as he or she can sit or wheel about in their chair, both inside, but also in the garden in any weather.
I am a GP and spend my working life listening hard to people and trying to find ways in which I can help with the stories they bring me. It appears that so do the best garden designers and architects and it was a real pleasure to hear about these intelligent designs from both Dan Pearson and Stephanie MacDonald, who clearly love plants and buildings, but also people. By looking after the people that they design for they are for are brilliant at wordlessly answering the What are Gardens For? question. I am now saving up hard for my old age so I can have 6a make a potting shed in which I can live out my dotage.