Formal thoughts

PlainAir - lawn after frost.

Almost the end of winter – the lawn is brown and the hedges due to be trimmed – held together by simple shapes and the soft light of a beautiful grey day.

I spent eight years turning a paddock into a garden.  Life interrupted and it rested for five years. The time has come for us both to recover.


There never was a formal definition of what it was to be. No grand plan. It just happened, always driven by an unquenchable need to create.

This land slopes. If I want a flat bit I have to make it flat… mostly with a spade and wheelbarrow.

It is made using materials bought or found – always shoestring – home made, second hand or seconds. Nature provides -5°C through 48°C, hot summer winds and sand that doesn’t hold moisture. There are rocks in the sand (usually where I want to plant something).

There is no scheme water – we catch the rain and store it in tanks. With care we can save enough for the house to last ten months without rain but there’s not much to spare for the garden. We also have water from a bore – salty and slow – there’s not much of that either.

Recently, while trimming a hedge, I glanced over at this part of the garden and realised that what I have made is a formal garden. Yes, there are curves, soft plantings and drifts of trees in the transitions between some areas but essentially it is formal. Clipped hedges, simple shapes and a controlled palette. I was surprised because I had simply added each part to work with what was next to it, patch by patch, like a quilt. I made it as I, and many other artists, make art: make first, analyse later. Or maybe just make and leave the analysis for others.


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