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Inspired By Art

The work of artists like Monet, Poussin and Kandinsky inspires Stephen Anderton to think of new approaches to colour, form and structure in the garden

Some gardeners see a painting in a gallery or a book and say, “That’s how I want my garden to look. That’s what I want to recreate.” It’s true, making gardens is rather like making pictures. The difference is that gardens are constantly changing. Things move in the wind, and come up and flower, and die down again. Or even just die on you. A garden is a walk-in picture, where things are seen not just from one side of a picture frame but from constantly changing angles. And the design has to work from all those angles and viewpoints. It ain’t easy, as we all know.

But still the temptation is there to try to make that garden look just like the painting. To freeze the frame. It’s not a good way to work. Or at least it’s a bit of a cop-out, because it avoids dealing with all that constant change in a garden. What you can do however, much more successfully, is to draw things from a painting, to pull out the essence of how it works, and translate that into garden terms. Use it as inspiration, not just something to copy slavishly.

Different painters have different ideas to offer. Monet was a gardener and a painter, and his gardening inspired his painting and vice versa. His garden at Giverny with its famous water lily pond (below) has been an inspiration to thousands of gardeners and painters alike (eg the garden at Godinton, above). But what you might pull out from his style of painting could be the way he uses colour, planting your space like his canvas not with big clumps of single colours but with a very mixed planting, creating many small points of bright colour to blend together and make an impression of brilliance. Pink and yellow - the colours of light! It might teach you that one colour, pale yellow perhaps, could be used lightly throughout a garden, as an undercoat to splashes of stronger colours.

For centuries gardeners have admired the landscape paintings of Claude and Poussin, for the way they produced such well-balanced pictures of craggy, natural landscapes, with interest in the foreground (people perhaps), and buildings to draw the eye to the middle ground or distance (like Stourhead, below). The work of these painters was the inspiration for a whole generation of landscapers in the 18th century, but the lesson applies as much to a small garden as to a large one. Every garden needs to contribute to a balanced and satisfying picture.

You can find that balance in other ways of course, from painters like Mark Rothko or Ben Nicholson, working in simple planes of bright or minimal colours. The lesson here is to see how the adjoining shapes and volumes interact.

You might take inspiration for a whole garden plan from a painter such as Kandinsky, seeing how his circles and rectangles and lines bind together to make a satisfactory whole. You might treat one of his pictures as a kind of ‘wiring diagram’ for a garden, a way of producing a pleasing sequence of hedged alleys and enclosures. No one would ever know unless you told them, but that is sometimes the secret of real inspiration.

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Find out...
how to use colour in your garden
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