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Forget good taste, says the King’s garden designer – as she reveals how to discover your own horticultural style


Gardening

WHAT MAKES A GARDEN

by Jinny Blom (Frances Lincoln £35, 256pp) 

There are many different reasons to cherish your garden. It may be a haven of tranquillity, a space for children to play, a place to express your artistic talents, or a wildlife sanctuary. 

And then, as designer Jinny Blom found out, it could also be the perfect place for an alfresco romp. When asked what she wanted from her garden, one of Blom’s clients told her that ‘my husband and I want to be able to make love in the garden without worrying about people seeing us’. 

Blom is an award-winning landscape designer who has made gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show for both King Charles and Prince Harry. For her, gardening is the highest of art forms, and in this book she examines the many different elements that need to work together when you are making a garden, while pondering why the compulsion to create a beautiful garden has been so universal, even in times of war, destruction, and famine. 

And then, as designer Jinny Blom (pictured in the Laurent-Perrier garden she designed at Chelsea Flower Show 2006) found out, it could also be the perfect place for an alfresco romp

And then, as designer Jinny Blom (pictured in the Laurent-Perrier garden she designed at Chelsea Flower Show 2006) found out, it could also be the perfect place for an alfresco romp

The question of what makes a garden is particularly pertinent at the moment because, as she observes, gardens are currently going through something of an identity crisis. 

Increasingly, gardeners are being challenged to consider whether their plots are actually damaging to the environment. Is it acceptable to use scarce water resources so that the flowers in your borders can flourish? For the sake of insect life, should a lawn be left long and shaggy instead of neatly striped? Should we be choosing native flowers rather than exotics from far-flung places? Is rewilding – a hands-off approach which involves letting land return to its natural state – the future of gardening, or is it ‘puritanical nonsense’, as Monty Don has called it? 

Blom describes this book as ‘a romp through the vast and complex constellations of what makes a garden’ rather than a guide to garden design. Her scope is broad, taking in art, architecture, history, culture and science, with diversions along the way into medieval tapestries, plagues, the meaning of flowers and the importance of touch in the garden. There are plenty of useful practical tips to be gleaned along the way. 

Clients who are bothered by traffic noise often ask her to put in a water feature to distract from the sound of cars, but Blom warns: ‘One noise seldom successfully masks another… you run the risk of them combining to make a much bigger noise that becomes more aggravating.’ 

Be fearless with colour, she advises, and ‘throw away the imaginary ‘good taste’ rule book’. For inspiration, keep a scrapbook of any visual images that speak to you. 

Be patient, because a garden takes at least five years to settle down. And make sure you look after your knees, which take so much of the strain when you are gardening – she recommends doing squats, and practising standing on alternate legs to enhance your strength and stability. 

Blom highlights that gardens can be healing spaces for those coping with stress and anxiety. Before becoming a landscape gardener she worked in the field of mental health, something of particular interest to her as she had been bullied at school and still suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder. 

Blom describes this book as 'a romp through the vast and complex constellations of what makes a garden' rather than a guide to garden design

Blom describes this book as ‘a romp through the vast and complex constellations of what makes a garden’ rather than a guide to garden design

Working in a horticultural therapy unit made her realise how beneficial digging, pruning and planting were – not just for those in the unit but for her as well. 

‘The rhythm of the working day and gardening at home in the morning did a lot to mitigate my highly nervous state,’ she says. This is a highbrow book, beautifully illustrated and elegantly written – although the print, alas, is absolutely tiny. 

It won’t be to everyone’s taste but it’s full of stimulating ideas, and Blom puts up a stout defence of traditional gardens, including the currently unfashionable ‘gardens with perspective and order’. 

Those who advocate letting gardens run wild are making the mistake of ‘thinking something is good just because it is natural’, she says. Controlling nature is an inevitable part of the process, however relaxed your style of gardening, even if ‘the most successful landscape designs are those in which people meet nature more than halfway’. 

So, to answer the book’s central question, what does make a garden? 

‘The current fashion for wild gardens and meadows is proof that our definition of what makes a garden is changing and expanding,’ Blom writes. ‘If you think it is a garden, it is a garden… the style you like is yours to discover.’ And if that includes a garden where there is privacy to have outdoor sex – well, as, she points out, that is a tradition dating back to Adam and Eve. 

‘Carnal pleasures,’ she declares, ‘are very welcome in my garden’.



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