Head (and eyes) in the clouds
WIW 7 / Feb 23
“Look up,” I’m constantly telling my children. Whether it’s in a woodland, a park or walking down Oxford Street, there’s often more to see – and more to enjoy – when you take your eyes away from the pavement (or your phone, if you’re a proper teenager) and look up.
Gardens are good at making you look down though, encouraging you to revel in the detail on the ground level: flowers, leaves, scent, berries. You name them, most of the really lovely things we love in gardens are at eye or lower level.
But when you do take time to crane your neck upwards, there’s so much more world out there. More to see, to experience and to take in. Good gardens make you do just this. They make you look down at your feet, down at your waist, eye-to-eye level and then to go further upwards…
Where It Works Cogshall Grange, Cheshire, designed by Tom Stuart-Smith.
Why It Works Right now is a perfect time to be getting the garden ready for the year ahead. More and more gardeners aren’t doing a ‘tidy’ at the end of the year; many of us are leaving our grasses and perennials to fade away gently, offering homes and food for a variety of wildlife over winter. Sometimes it ends up a bit tatty or mushy, but on the whole I love the longer timeframe our gardens have.
One of those places that will be getting ready for the year ahead is somewhere like Cogshall Grange, in the Tom Stuart-Smith designed walled garden. On the right is an apron of moor grass, Molinia caerulea ‘Poul Petersen’. Bold as anything, this mini monoculture is a glorious statement. An intentional, deliberate, sloping mass, compensating against the slab of water to the right and continuous red-brick-walls beyond. I love the simplicity of it; the confidence to choose one plant and multiple it hundred fold.
To the left are cloud pruned hornbeam, breaking up the garden space. Their role seems clear: to take the eye up, from the horizontals of the water and molinia, and to rocket skywards. They are also playing to the crowd of trees outside, taking the eye from the immediate inner garden to the skyscape beyond.
[Imagine a drinks party, with family members in the dining room, groups of neighbours in the kitchen, and random add-ons standing by the firepit. Those hornbeams would be the vivacious, bubbly and bright home owner doing all the intros to the different groups of guests, desperate to make connections… hoping everyone is having a great time. That’s why these hornbeams are there; visually taking us from the walled garden, upwards, and linking with the trees beyond.]
But their lumpiness, their domed extremities, their rounded form is a stark contrast to all those straight lines they sit within. They soften and humanise the space. (Their ‘organic’ shape is actually quite ironic, since they are pruned by humans a few times a year to keep their style ‘natural’.) I’m not sure I really like them though; I wonder if they are a little too rounded considering what’s going on around them. Are they too heavy? Too lumpy? Do they need a bit more light and air travelling through them?
Whatever your take, their role here is vital. Tonally, the hornbeams link to the brick work, and the molinia, and the rodgersias below; they bring a vertical to the strong horizontal; and they ‘connect’ with the trees beyond.
Keep looking up. Even if you aren’t sure it always ‘works’, it makes your experience of a place much more interesting.
Do these hornbeams work for you? Would you change them or their composition at all? Do you like the mass of molinia or would you have chosen something else? Let me know in the chat…
This is a terrific piece, and I'll be linking it on my blog, glenvillaartgarden.com, something I rarely do. The piece forced me to look more closely at the shapes and style of pruning. Based on the photos, I think I would remove some of the lower branches on the tree in the foreground but, as always, I'm reluctant to make that call without actually being on the site, where I could look at the relationship between trees, grasses, pavement and surroundings.
I found this through PW's blog link, and indeed endorse her thoughts about removing the lower branches of the foreground tree. ( And AW's note about her excellent thought-provoking book, I should add).
I'm also struck by how Richard Bloom has in some ways made this even more of a pleasing image - the choice of light, width of camera angle as well as the critical role of the lines of concrete/york stone paving in drawing the eye to the distance. Interesting that 2 different photos with sublty different angles are included here, which slightly alter the perception. Perhaps actually being there with our (probably) even much wider angle of view would have given a slightly different take on the overall scene?
Plus as I often feel, I'd love to see the same scene at different seasons. Is this very late autumn/early winter( probably?), or mid-winter/late winter? And if so, where are the late winter bulbs - snowdrops, Crocus ,Cyclamen, at the base of the trees? Are any used in the garden? Would they be an addition or detraction? Likewise to see the hornbeam underplanting for spring/summer.
So in many ways for me, it's a tease - I don't know the garden, probably will never visit, but would love to know more about it, since the design is indeed an appealing one, as captured at this brief, perfect early light moment in time, with striking shadows - the skill of both the designer, gardeners, but also very much the photographer.
Thanks for sharing this piece,