It never occurred to me before that designing a garden in plan (ie from a bird’s perspective) is quite different from designing it in elevation (ie from eye height). I’ve always considered the view from the likeliest vantage point (the kitchen window comes high on the list) and added to or subtracted from what I see from there.
Things are different in the New Forest garden that fills my thoughts at present. The main view is from the windows and veranda facing west, overlooking a wide meadow of 15 acres or so, with ‘over’ as the operative word. The land drops steeply, down a series of curving banks, to the level perhaps fifty feet below. You take it all in in one side-to-side scan, without interruption, dead ground or mass of vegetation blocking the view. Positioning trees from up here is like placing pieces on a draughts board. The challenge is imagining the resulting elevations, in scale, proposition, texture and colour. How will each tree we plant fit into the picture at ground level?
Our big feature is a new lake (or pond; semantic discussion here) carved like a two-acre kidney over to the right. Beyond it stands one solo and splendid spreading oak. The boundaries of the meadow are decent routine trees, oak and ash and holly, with fleeting glimpses of the Lymington River winding out of reach beyond. So the first job was to make the best river-glimpse, of a white painted footbridge, into a focal point, by cutting branches to clear the view. The next is to plant some vertical accents to frame it and vary the uniform hedge-like boundary.
In the far left hand corner we have put a small block of utilitarian poplars, Populus robusta, the kind they grow (or grew) for matchsticks. Their rigid pattern arrests your eye; a click of focus against a monotone background. On the far right, where an old Dutch barn is the only distraction, we have planted the most obvious of screens, a file of Lombardy poplars. The poplars will grow a yard a year: what would we do without them?
It’s a big canvas. I’m not straining for subtlety; the seasons’ colours will bring plenty of nuance. Water means willows; the most beautiful are weeping. Two here, four there…. the groundwork is going in, and we haven’t got beyond the Salicacae.