Clive Nichols garden showcased in “Horticulture”

Flipping open to the middle of my first issue of Horticulture—a gift from my mother (thanks, Mom!)—I sucked in a deep breath in pure admiration of the garden featured in the article “Photo Finish” (Dec/Jan 08). Saturated in deep purple, chartreuse, and red, and anchored by all hues of green; bordered by tall stone walls and floored in gravel; planted in sweeps of color and grasses a la Piet Oudolf—I love, love, love it!

Turns out this is the garden of renowned British garden photographer Clive Nichols, who absorbed his design know-how through years of shooting other people’s gardens. His own photographs illustrate the article, and I had to just sit and stare for a while before I read it.

One excerpt particularly interested me. When author Stephen Lacey wondered “what makes a good garden photograph and how this affects the way [Nichols] designs and plants,” the photographer answered, “The key is to have a good structure….Big ideas and effects, and a bold scale, even in a small garden.”

The lovely bones. A garden’s bones—the underlying framework consisting of hardscaping like paths, walls, arbors, and other structural elements like evergreen hedges—are always more visible in winter, when the distraction of flowers and lush foliage is diminished. That’s when the lack of good bones becomes visible too. Nichols’s garden, while beautifully composed of gorgeous plants, owes much of its charm to its structure: stone walls, arched gates, a vertical spear of driftwood, and horizontal slab benches of stone.

It’s a good lesson for those tempted to forgo hardscaping in favor of plants or who neglect to devote the same attention to each. Not to get on a soapbox, but in my view plants and hardscape should be equal partners, though the hardscape should be the strong, silent type and allow his partner, Miss Fancy Plants, to shine.

It’s also a good lesson for us amateur garden photographers who’d like to improve on difficult long shots. I notice that non-plant elements serve as the focal point in every photo featured in this article. The lesson? Shoot toward a structural focal point, with those gorgeous plants you’re really after in the foreground.

Back to Horticulture, I am absorbed by this magazine, which somehow I’d never read before. In the Dec/Jan 08 issue, there’s also an article about agaves by Yucca Do owner Carol Schoenfeld and one on aloes by plantsman Dan Hinkley.

I’m already impatient for the next issue.

All material © 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

21 Responses

  1. What a gorgeous garden! And how nice that your Mom gave you this magazine, Pam! I agree that hard landscaping is very important in a garden, just as important as the plants. In terms of fashion: hard landscaping is the body and the plants are the clothes. So make sure that in winter the nekkid body looks good too. ;-)

    You have a fun way of putting things, YE. I knew you would agree about the importance of hardscaping, as your garden has terrific bones. —Pam

  2. Lori says:

    Oh, wow, what a completely gorgeous garden! I love that there are pillows on the rock benches that would make them great for lying down to soak up some sun, and I love how the bright hue matches the flowers.

    I agree that hardscaping makes or breaks a garden, but man, is it frustrating to me because hardscaping is also the most expensive part of a garden, and the most time-consuming too if you’re installing it yourself!

    It’s good that you mentioned the pillows, Lori, because they do make that photo by tying in to the purple flowers. But I viewed them with a bit of suspicion because, let’s face it, who leaves pillows out on their stone benches? Only for photo ops, me thinks. However, I can live with a bit of staging if it helps create such a striking portrait of a garden. And you are so right that hardscaping, while so important to a garden, can often be so expensive and time-consuming. And for many gardeners, not nearly as fun to think about it. —Pam

  3. Frances says:

    This article is one I have gone back to hundreds of times, even showing it to Heathcliff saying this is the most beautiful garden ever, even though it is not the cottage style usually favored. That purple pillow on the bench, it’s brilliant. We should take colored pillows out into the garden for the photo ops. I am a magazine a holic, trying to cut back, but Horticulture and Fine Gardening I will never give up.

    Frances at Faire Garden

    Do you and Heathcliff have plans for a garden space inspired by this one? If I had things to do over again, my inspiration from this garden would be the amount of open space. It’s hard to sacrifice plants for hardscaping, especially in a small garden, but that openness is very inviting and gives you room to share your garden with friends. My own garden could do with a bit more space, especially when we entertain, as you’ll see for yourself at the Spring Fling. But when I take out the furniture it works great for a garden Happy Hour. ;-)

    Regarding the pillows, I agree they are lovely in the garden, but they seem very staged, as you note too—see my response to the comment above. —Pam

  4. I love the garden as well, the colors and the organization of the plants, the wide path way …But what I would really like in my garden which it seems England has in abundance is the brick wall! For me that brick wall gives me a feeling of serenity,solitude and a charming retreat for me to cool down and meditate, create and imagine what could be.. especially in my garden, all the scent lavender,roses, etc..soft music and best of all no deer to munch on my favorite plants! I love place such as Montisfont Abbey, Sissinghurst etc…

    Oh, that wall! I just fell in love with it. I wonder whether he built it or whether it came with the property. Wouldn’t it be a treasure to have? Thanks for visiting, Marie Suzanne. —Pam

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Pam this is a great article. I read Horticulture at the library one of the few garden magazines that they carry. I love that look. All that empty space makes me a little nervous but I love the way it looks here. I have stone envy looking at this photo.

    I wanted to mention that Kravet Fabrics has a great line of outdoor fabrics. If you have some outdoor cushions in mind you might take a look at their choices. The fabrics are made to withstand the elements and they have wonderful colors and patterns to choose from. I am sure there are other companies that offer these but from what we work with these are my favorites.

    The stonework is crucial to this garden’s success, isn’t it? The walls enclose the garden and give it a protected feeling. Thanks for the tip about the outdoor fabrics. Have you made your own pillows from them, Lisa? —Pam

  6. Katarina says:

    The garden you write about looks like a very beautiful garden indeed.
    And you are so wise when you write about the importance of bones and structure. On top of that, you gave me some great advice on how to take photoes – focusing on an item instead of flowers. -Thanks! /Katarina

    There was a lot to learn from that one article in Horticulture. I’m happy to share it. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Katarina. I enjoyed your Geography Project tour of your town in Sweden. —Pam

  7. Kylee says:

    I’ve subscribed to Horticulture for several years now and I just love it, too. This post is interesting and in contrast to my latest post. LOL. Maybe someday my garden will be beautiful in its design…

    Well, Kylee, I rushed right over to read your opposing viewpoint about design. I enjoyed your post immensely, even if you were in a bad mood when you wrote it, as you said. I left you a comment over there. —Pam

  8. carolyn says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Pam, about how important the bones of the garden are. Nice post.

    Thanks, Carolyn. I had a feeling you’d agree, designer that you are. —Pam

  9. I’m back from Kylee’s and Hanna’s – fun to see all three of these posts, Pam.
    As a former Northern plant collecter who is now craving some structure, I’m finding it all very interesting!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I’ll have to go check out Hanna’s post. Thanks for the heads up, Annie. —Pam

  10. Frances says:

    The stone wall and wide gravel paths in his garden, the driftwood on end, the stone benches and the few but fantastic plants couldn’t be more different from our garden here in TN. If and when we ever move to a flat spot in which to garden, the style in this article would be one to consider. It looks like low maintenance as far as the plants are concerned. Already we are trying to eliminate physically taxing chores by removing and replacing those types of plants, such as the tall privet hedge, more than 100 feet of it. To have the privacy screen the hedge needed to be kept at about seven feet tall meaning a ladder and motorized shears. The arborvitae that replaced it needs nothing and will grow fifteen feet tall by four feet wide. Got to think of our golden years, not on ladders pruning hedges but relaxing in peaceful zen type spaces with open spaces for zoning out in zen.

    So many gardeners would love to have the elevation changes you work with, Frances. I’m gardening on flat ground (nearly), and I often wish for a small flight of steps and a change in elevation. What I have must be man-made.

    You make a good point about hedges and the maintenance they require. I sure do love the look, but I think you’re wise to trade your hedge in for an arborvitae screen that requires no work. Enjoy your zen! —Pam

  11. Kim says:

    I think that I first saw this garden in an issue of Gardens Illustrated… I can’t quite remember where. But I do remember that I loved it on first sight.

    The only thing is… and this is a terrible thing to say… but imagine how low-maintenance this must be. I might be bored in this garden after a while! I can’t imagine much room for puttering, moving plants, etc. Can you?

    Well, I don’t know, Kim. I garden in a pretty small space myself, and I redo significant portions of my garden each year. Perhaps he does too, just for the fun of it. Or maybe he has even more gorgeousness just outside those stone walls. At any rate, I don’t think it’s a terrible thing to wonder about, but a valid question. Wish we could ask him! —Pam

  12. I’ve taken Horticulture for a little over a year, and I think it’s one of the best. The articles are well written. The photos are beautiful. It’s a very scholarly mag. I thought that garden was fabulous too. The way he played with color. Yumm . . . ~~Dee

    Yumm is right. I’m happy to know that you’ve enjoyed Horticulture for a year. That gives me good reason to hope for more great articles. —Pam

  13. I liked the bench pillows better when, looking quickly, I thought they were troughs of some fuzzy purple flowering plant – an echo of those salvias (or whatever they are) in the beds. I think small gardens like this one maybe feel bigger for all the thoughtful hardscape structure. I need to make that kind of commitment in my own tiny garden…

    I think you’re exactly right about good hardscaping making the most of a small garden like this one. But I’m a big believer in hardscaping no matter what the size of the garden. I find it just as fun as the plants. I like using easy hardscaping like gravel paths, stock tanks, and cedar trellis screens, none of which is all that expensive. —Pam

  14. Looks like I’ll have to start subscribing to Horticulture again. (I was trying to cut back on magazines.) I’ll have to look at this issue at the library when I get back from Florida. Thanks for the photography tip. I would love to have more structure/s in my garden, but they cost so much more than a packet of seeds!

    Enjoy your Florida vacation, MMD! I hear you about the cost of hardscaping versus a packet of seeds. In fact, a lot of people have commented here and on Kylee’s post about the expense of hardscaping, which can be the case. But good hardscaping can also be a nicely edged gravel path or patio, a homemade wall (a la Christopher’s), artfully placed stones from one’s own garden, or a beautiful hedge planted in cheap 1-gallon sizes and nurtured for several years. There are lots of inexpensive ways to make interesting and attractive hardscaping. —Pam

  15. Layanee says:

    I did read that article with delight as this garden was different from past articles. I will have to go read it again! Nice post Pam. I am so looking forward to seeing your garden ‘in person’!

    Thanks, Layanee. I’m glad you enjoyed the article and garden photos as much as I did. I look forward to showing you my garden, but don’t expect to see anything like the photo on this post! My garden is much more modest and self-made. Like most gardeners who care about design, I’m still working on “growing” good bones. —Pam

  16. Gail says:

    “The lovely bones. A garden’s bones—the underlying framework consisting of hardscaping like paths, walls, arbors, and other structural elements like evergreen hedges—are always more visible in winter, when the distraction of flowers and lush foliage is diminished. That’s when the lack of good bones becomes visible too.” You couldn’t have written a truer statement. It’s amazing what a wall, a sidewalk or well placed boulders can do to a garden. Enjoyed reading the post and like other posters will be reconsidering subscribing to Horticulture. Gail

    Gail, thanks for commenting. I just visited your blog and see that you’ve been busy adding hardscaping to your own garden. It looks great. —Pam

  17. Diana says:

    You’re so right about the bones — and how they affect the garden space you create. I’ve always wanted a New Orleans style courtyard and brick wall to work off of, or a farmhouse like those in Provence to plant cottage-style gardens against! He made a lovely scape to frame his paths and benches. Personally, I like the full style of your gardens much better, Pam — I like that rich, tapestry and blending of colors and textures and flavors!

    Thanks, Diana! That’s very kind of you. I love those two very different styles of garden too—New Orleans courtyard and Mediterranean style. Well, if we can’t have it, at least we can go visit, right? Start with New Orleans. It’s a lot closer than France. —Pam

  18. kate says:

    I love the look of this garden (although any garden looks pretty stunning to me these days!) This is not a magazine that I am familiar with – you have a nice mum!

    Hardscaping makes a big difference in the look of a garden. Sometimes, it’s something we want to skip to get to the flashy clothing part. I’ve learned that the hard way and have had to backtrack which isn’t always easy to do!

    You’re right, Kate. Backtracking to add hardscaping later is definitely not the easy way to do it. Thanks for dropping by. I hope you’ve gotten shoveled out of the snowstorm by now. —Pam

  19. germi says:

    I really needed to hear this right now! I was considering taking out a pretty crucial edged gravel pathway to make room for more plants. Reading this post made me remember that without the negative space and grounding the path provides, my plant associations lose their edge, their focus. Thanks so much for this, you timely poster, you!

    You are welcome, Germi! Isn’t it great how a post from another gardener, perhaps gardening far away, will write something that speaks exactly to where we are in our own gardens? I’m glad this post did that for you.

    By the way, your “No Country for Old Grass” post did that for me. I don’t usually cut back my Mexican feathergrass, and as you say, it does get a little rough looking sometimes. After reading your advice to cut it back, I decided to give that a try this year and see if it yields a better result. Thanks! —Pam

  20. Kim says:

    I meant that it was terrible to say that I might be bored… my brain has been mush for the past few weeks, sorry about that! lol. And I can see what you’re saying, and I know that some of those salvias probably need to be cut back in order for rebloom, but… yes, I wish we could ask him. :)

    Kim, my brain is mush too (should be in bed!). Speaking of cutting back salvias, I spent time in the garden doing just that today—that plus the roses. There’s more to do tomorrow, so I really must get some sleep. You too! —Pam

  21. […] bones of the garden were on display, and what attracted my attention most were the leafless crepe myrtles. A crepe […]