Elements of Design with Roses
Historical Perspective
AbeDarbyTrim Phot

It was about this time in history that the idea of suburbia was coming into existence in the US and it was Brown's style of 'gardening' that prevailed. On the surface, it seemed like a good idea because in England the style proved to succeed with practically no labour. It succeeded in America for lack of better ideas, perhaps, and because of the deeply held ambition of every American to be his own feudal lord.

Today, most gardeners contend with a piece of land a few hundred feet in each direction, at most. Sometimes there is a wall, fence or hedge demarcating the edge of the property. Sometimes a property is backed by a woodland or park. Or the wall of a building.

The approach to planting must always follow the structural expectations and constraints set by the property. When woodlands are at an edge of the property, then shrubby roses work best as a transition. When painted brick walls or tall painted fences are, the edge can be softened with climbing roses. When open lawns flow from property to property, fences can be erected, or hedges installed. Beds without borders usually do not work. Too frequently hey float like lonely barges in a sea of grass. If they are to look balanced, their scale must approach or exceed that of the grass.


III Color - a Historical Perspective

Grass surrounded Latin feudal homes in Spain and France, so it was that when the Normans colonized England grass came with it. And for the same historical reason it took root in North America.

But england is a fertile place and the gardeners who tended aristocratic homes had their own small plots. The Saxon tradition of tending small plots around a house persisted in England for eight or nine centuries after the Norman conquests. And these plots we think of as cottage gardens. In thse plots they raised vegetables for their own consumption.

Gardeners always managed to find spaces between vegetables to plant flowers. This proved a good idea since it attracted pollinating insects which prove essential to the success of fruiting plants. The resulting gardens are very dense with vegetal material. This dense style is called 'Cottage Style.' It is ideally suited to small plots of land surrounding single-story houses.

England's unique climate makes this kind of dense planting possible with plenty of sun and rain. And the plentitude of farm animals provided plenty of natural fertilizer to keep the plants well fed. Dense plantings worked.

Prior to the empire days, the plants in cottage gardens tended to be those gleaned from the surroundings. Most of these plants had pale, unsaturated colors. Primrose, pink, sky blue, white, rose, mauve, and dusky purple were central. These colors look exceptionally good in verdant settings.

Darker, saturated colors came into gardens at the height of the formal garden 'bedding out' days. And there has been a vociferous debate among English gardeners about the use of bright and strong color.

The pale, cool colors tend to produce tranquil spaces. Cool colors tend to look best in lush, heavily foliated plantings. Saturated hot colors tend to produce stimulating spaces. Hot colors tend to go well in plantings where there is a lot of sunlight, pavement, walls, and so on. A garden that mixes strong colors can succeed. One that mixes pale, cool colors can succeed. It is much more difficult to pull off a garden that mixes cool, pale colors with saturated hot ones. Christopher Lloyd had done it with some success. But doing it requires a considerable level of skill. Furthermore, a rose lover can only go so far in copying Lloyd's success; he eschewed the rose you can see its feet.

So cottage garden plantings will frequently work best with pale tones because of the density of planting. Similarly, many borders will be planted with cool and pale flowers because these, too, will more dependably show up against a verdant background, and because these colors tend to play well with each other better than do bright colors with pale ones.

Bear in mind that perennials, most of them, tend to to flower for a few weeks a year. The same is true for most flowering trees and shrubs. Only annuals manage to put on a colorful show through months on end. And this is generally only true of certain highly bred cultivars. The beds of a garden, then, will spend most of the year without much color. It's useful to remember this in selecting and placing plants.

In 1066 William the Conqueror captured England. This conquest caused England to split into two worlds; the Norman aristocracy and the Anglo-Saxon serfs. For the next eight hundred years or so the British serfs would perfect cottage gardening while the aristorcracy would draw their gardening practices from the classical forms or Rome and French aristocracy. The central feature was the huge mown lawn.

I. The Horizontal Plane - The Lawn

The perfect mown lawn is a garden feature so central to English gardening that there is even a good joke about how to acheive a perfect lawn:" Weed and mow carefully for 500 years."

The lawn is sometimes installed because of its low cost and relatively low care requirements compared to some other types of gardens. In places where lawn maintenance does not require much additional water, lawns will continue to be garden fixtures for good reason.

The lawn establishes the horizontal plane against which the vertical dimensions of trees and shrubs must play. It plays a crucial role in doing this. It is, in many gardens, the chief unifying element.

Where the chief unifying element is not lawn, it is usually gravel, rock, pavement, or water that plays this role. Which element does play this role is crucial in the choice of color schemes in the garden.

In Japanese gardens lawn is used extensively to define open space - a kind of tabula rasa upon which the rest of the landscape is drawn. Sometimes it represents sea. Somtimes it convers mounds transforming them into far-away mountains.

For whatever purpose it is used, green grass predisposes us to choose cool or warm colors and eschew hot ones. The more verdant our gardens, the less disposed we are, usually, to use hot color.

lOn the other hand, concrete and gray gravel preclude mid-tones and require hot colors, very pale ones, or very dark ones. Gray woods or white painted ones cry out for hot reds, oranges, yellows. Water can be quite flexible in terms of color, but its dark inky blackness can really make strong mid-toned colors look luminous and bright.

In any case, the greensward has been a central design element in gardens across southern Europe and England and in Japan for centuries.

II Vertical Structure

In classical gardening styles structure is all. Plants are placed in the garden for their abilities to define structural features. For this reason we find hedges hewn from box and other dense plants. We find tall, columnar trees. We find paths, fountains, pools, paving. If we find flowers they are always in their place.

I am reminded of a garden at Villandry. Perhaps half an acre was given to a garden made of shrubs laid out in patterns one could only discern from a window three stories above. These patterns were closed figures and inside them were planted wallflowers and other annuals and perennials that cover themselves in tiny, bright flowers. The garden space took on the appearance of a sort of giant cloisonne that only the feudal lord and his family can appreciate because of their elevated status.

English aristocrats continuously toured Italy and France and reiterated the spare structural styles they found in both places. The same has been true of American garden designers. For two centuries American garden designers were principally influenced by gardens of Italy and France. The gardens they wrought were heavy on structure, light on flowering plants.

As the ninteenth century got into full swing the English Empire spanned the globe and plants from every region of the world were brought back to England's fair clime. Many could grow well out of doors. The rest did so with the aid of a glass 'hot house.' Tender plants grown in hot houses were then planted outside in vast beds or 'bedded out' for the summer.

Spare formal plantings gave way to landscapes studded with vast beds of brighly colored flowers. There was a kind of exuberance to planting that has rarely been equalled.

But as the industrial revolution wore on, the cost of garden labour soared. Garden staffs were cut and by the end of the 1800s Capability Brown's garden revolution was in full swing. A garden was a lawn with some trees. That was it.


Roses for Every Garden