Unclutter Posted on December 23, 2014

The last of the fallen leaves have gone in the bin. I spent this morning cutting down, raking and brushing up, tying in, shifting pots into winter quarters and generally battening down for winter. By lunchtime I could hardly recognise the place: plain surfaces where clutter had been accumulating all autumn.

Who said ‘A plain place near the eye gives it a kind of liberty it loves?’ Repton, I was going to say – only this time it was the less-quoted William Shenstone. In any case it’s true: the foreground of a view, or the part of the garden you first step into, should be open, tidy, free from obstructions.

But what does ‘should’ mean? Says Shenstone? Are there really any first principles of garden design – or for that matter any design – that determine its success or failure from the start?

I suspect most people would put tidiness high on the list. Or ‘order’, to give it a more lofty name. Palpable regularity is, after all, the basis of the French, Italian, Dutch…. anything but English (or oriental) garden design. Order for its own sake, though, can be less than satisfying: trite, even. Your mind (or mine, at least) looks for something more: an agenda. The easiest gardens to design are those with a clear function in mind. An orchard, a potager, an arboretum or a herb garden…anything with a recognisable label gives the design a starting point, a raison d’être beyond the mere decorating of space.

And here, in a little London yard? Perhaps I’m lucky not to have too much space to decorate. I might define this as an outdoor room for growing plants. Whatever I call it, it certainly looks better when it’s tidy.

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