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Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Almost Successful Minimalist Front Garden

I'd been waiting in anticipation when I saw the bones of this landscape being formed. I was looking forward to how it would turn out, because it looked like it would be something different to the usual front verge on Essenwood road.

As it turned out, it was different. But to tell you the truth, I was disappointed. Where it had great potential was in its basic structure, but it was let down from that point on.

Everybody has their own opinion on what makes a beautiful design, but there are some basic fundamental things that make a good concept into a good design. And only a good design can be beautiful.

To play with an old saying by St Augustine - In all things sensible compulsory, in all things aesthetic freedom, but in all things passion.

I appreciate the minimalist simplicity of the design, and it probably looked good on paper. Breaking the bank up using terraces was a good practical idea, and the curve gave it something fresh. The huge rocks emboldened the design. The use of Aloes gives a different feel, they're low maintenance, and when they flower, will look amazing.

But the positives can only carry it so far. The first and biggest flaw, is using grass that has to be constantly cut, more than a metre off the ground. Why not use a simple ground-cover, even something as over-used in South African gardens as Mondo grass would have been better from a maintenance point of view. Who wants to lug a lawnmower up onto a terrace?

Why do people over-use white pebbles? Gardeners that use them remind me of magpies that are just attracted to shiny and sparkly things, thinking that the garden will somehow be improved by them. As a general rule, use white pebbles sparingly. They seldom stay white anyway.

You should always be careful using contrast in a garden. There is a very fine line between contrast and kitsch. I believe the design would have been better if the pebbles used had picked up on another colour in the design - whether the rock that they are spread around, the plants used or even the colour of the walls.

In a situation like this, where the rocks themselves are the focus of the design, they should be chosen and positioned deliberately. Japanese garden design has very precise ancient guidelines for using rocks, and while this is not an oriental garden - those guidelines are built around good aesthetics, and should be followed more often than not if you want rock to work well in a design. But that's probably a post for another day. In this case, the third rock looked completely out of place - it was flat and didn't have the presence that the other rocks had.

Another basic mistake made, was not hiding the water valve (it was at least hidden in the standard municipal cover). The design could have been easily adjusted to obscure the box, while still giving access to the meter. It was painted the same colour as the wall, which helps to make it less noticeable.

The choice of Pachpodium as the main feature plant (although it is small it will get a nice size in a few years) for the back of the planting looks slightly out of place - but that's probably just my personal preference rather than any design flaw.

Some of these mistakes are basic, and some might seem nit-picky, but I think this little garden could have been very successful had the person who designed it paid that extra attention to detail, instead I think its been left a little short-changed.


Laura Livengood said...

Interesting post! And I agree exactly w/what you say...esp. about lawn (wtf?) white rocks and stone positioning. My first thought was that they missed a cardinal rule of setting large stones: try to bury them up to their widest point, which often corresponds with their natural soil line. If this stone were buried another few inches it would anchor much better. Thanks for sharing!

Susan aka Miss. R said...

Coming from a completely different garden design environment I can't comment on the suitability of the plants, but I can offer this--there is no difference texture and height in the upper tier. Everything is similar--slightly arching spikes. Since I am unfamiliar with the plants I don't know what their mature form will be, but my designer's eye says make them all the same or use some other texture to break up the spikes. A vertical punctuation point on that wall might be great also and could have served to cure the nasty utility box in the corner that will be impossible to mow.

stoneware70 said...

Thanks Laura & Susan, those are great suggestions. The plants don't change much - they will just get taller with a lot of space below them.

Russell Warne said...

No idea what you guys are on about, but to me as a non-designer the thing just looks a bit lost. It needs something you know?

Henrique said...

Im laughing.
I always ask myself: "Why do people over-use white pebbles? whyyy!?" I hate it!
I agree with Laura and you. The stone position is so.... wierd!

About the plants, the Pachypodium are too young to being used behind the Aloes, and grow too slow.
They doesn't have *bulk enought for this situation.

(*i don't know if "bulk" is the right word to express what im trying to say, i hope you got it)

ryan said...

There's a self-consciousness or something in this design that makes a person want to stare and analyze. You're totally right about the boulders, problems in the choosing and the installation. But if the homeowners are happy...

stoneware70 said...

Hey Russell, you're right - it's missing something to bring everything together...or in designer-speak - it's missing some essential elements that unite it as a whole;)

Thanks Henrique, I'm glad to hear you agree with me. You are right - the Pachypodium doesn't have enough bulk to it. I'm also happy/sad to hear that the white pebble obsession is universal - I thought it might just be a South African compulsion!

Henrique said...

Hi Ross.(answering your question on my flickr)

I'm based in Brazil, São Paulo(state), São Paulo(city).
I took the picture in country, not in the city.
It's almost impossible to see a woodland like that, in a city like São Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil. People from others countries used to think that Brazil is a big forest, have a lot of indians, house trees,.. Absolutely wrong. It's like to think that South Africa is a big savanna, with lions walking on the streets, etc.
Therefore São Paulo is the brazilian's city where landscape is most rounded / developed.
I will photograph and post gardens from here, to share with you, like you do on your blog. Then you will see (maybe crying) a lot of mistakes, like the white pubbles.. LOL

Unfortunately i don't have gmail count.

Take care friend!

stoneware70 said...

Thats true Ryan - if the homeowners are happy then this is all hot air, but I can't help but be disappointed.

Daniel Mount said...

I couldn't agree with your a opinions more. I'm glad to hear a designer concerned with maintenance. Badly maintained design is also bad design so make the maintenance easy, or not obvious is my view. HAppy to have found your blogs today and your thought writing and choice of quotes. D.

Heidi said...

So cool to find you on the other side of the world. In the States, we have some of the same issues, it seems.

White rocks, monstrous trees hiding a tiny house, and 'outlining' things with plants -- my list of pet peeves is getting longish.

Nice blog! Now I've a bit of design inspiration with my morning coffee.

Jack Holloway said...

Ross! An intelligent, informed, articulate and challenging post that has elicited some worthy responses. This is what I hoped blogging would be!

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