Arit Anderson on how to find garden design inspiration
I recently met garden designer and BBC presenter Arit Anderson to talk about where you can find garden design inspiration.
We met at the wonderful Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, which Arit visits regularly. There’s currently an exhibition by glass sculptor Chihuly Studio, called Reflections on Nature, which is really a beautiful and inspiring use of sculpture in gardens.
Arit used to work in fashion, but re-trained as a garden designer. Now she is also a presenter of BBC Gardeners World, Garden Rescue and other programmes. She is also an ambassador for Garden Day, which is run by the Candide gardening app.
Is ‘fashion’ part of your garden design inspiration?
Every time I mention ‘fashion’ and ‘gardens’, someone tells me that they don’t take any notice of fashion. But fashion is all around us. And it influences us all in a subtle ways.
Arit has a background in fashion retailing so I asked her how she thought fashion and garden design worked together. She said that the two are closely interwoven. Fashion, for example, constantly borrows from nature, through floral and botanic designs for fabrics. ‘And fashion influences so much of what we do. It’s in clothing, film – everywhere around us. Fashion and gardens have always been intertwined.’
There is something special about the idea of ‘what’s happening now’, she explains: ‘If you go to the shows, such as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, you’ll see the same ideas popping up in different gardens. But these garden designers certainly don’t tell each other what they’re doing. For example, this year the fashion was about trees, not flowers or colour.’
Trends are, perhaps, as much about the feelings that underlie how we live than they are strictly about what we wear or buy.
Design your garden as if it were a fashion collection
When Arit was in the fashion industry, new clothing ‘collections’ were put together twice a year, both for the catwalk and to display in shops. She suggests thinking about designing your garden as if you were putting together a fashion collection.
‘Think about what colours and textures you want to use,’ she says. ‘And when we did fashion collections, we would think about tops, bottoms (such as trousers or skirts), jackets and accessories. You’d think about suits. Do the same with your garden. Your shrubs are your ‘bottoms’ and the perennials are like tops. You’d perhaps think about having two tops to every bottom or the other way around.’
Start with your anchor
‘Start with your anchor, when you’re designing your garden,’ says Arit. ‘That’ll be your tree or trees. They’re your focal point and your one big piece. It’ll bring a bit of grandeur in, along with some shade. A tree will really anchor the space.’
‘Pick the right tree for your soil and the aspect,’ she adds.
Then your anchor point ‘needs some friends’
Arit suggests you think about the shrubs next. ‘Your tree needs some friends. And shrubs are like my jumpers,’ she says. They’re good, everyday basics that no garden can be without.
And after that, the perennials are the blouses and tops. They add colour and structure.
Finally, the extra pizzaz comes from annuals. ‘Not that we’re really into throwaway fashion these days,’ she says.
Annuals could perhaps be likened to jewellery and scarves – the items that give your garden extra colour and life.
Visit grand gardens for inspiration
Firstly, Arit thinks there is a psychological benefit to visiting a professional garden for your garden design inspiration. She says you can get quite hemmed in by your little plot and too involved with worrying about what you need to do next. ‘If you visit a garden like Kew, you can breathe and start to appreciate the different elements that make a garden.’
Secondly, she advises taking inspiration from ‘vignettes’, breaking a large garden down into areas, any one of which may give you ideas for your own garden. ‘There’ll be a place to see shade plants, for example, or really naturalistic plants so you begin to break it down. And then you can identify an area that could just be your garden.’
I particularly thought the use of Chihuly Studio’s glass sculptures at Kew could inspire anyone to think about sculpture in their garden.
And there’s practical garden design inspiration too
At Kew you can see the difference between the traditional blocks of bedding colour and the new way of planting. ‘If you look around Kew now, they’ve still got the very stalwart bedding plants that the Victorians put in,’ explains Arit. ‘But now from a trend point of view, they’re also doing the more relaxed and more environmentally friendly borders that that people find easier to do.’ These are in the long borders, known as the Broadwalk Borders, which were re-designed around four years ago.
The long borders at Kew, the Broadwalk Borders, have helpful planting plans so that you can see which plants work together and even write it down to take home. ‘You can see the names of the plants and the positions of the plants…coming to a place like Kew is invaluable, because all you have to do is pick up your notebook,’ says Arit.
Even global issues can be part of your garden design inspiration
Arit believes that we are influenced by what’s going on in the wider world when we’re looking at our gardens. ‘We’re all aware that the world is under a lot of environmental pressure at the moment,’ she says. ‘That’s making people more aware of the importance of wildlife in gardens.’ The first thing anyone is aware of in a garden is how it looks – the visual impact. But then you have to think about who or what else is using the garden – who the other guests are, if you like.’
And health is currently influencing garden design
There’s a lot of talk at the moment about mental health issues, says Arit. This, too, has influenced garden design, because people now want their gardens to have quite private places or somewhere to meditate. ‘It’s no longer all about outdoor entertaining or a place to put the trampoline,’ she explains.
More about garden designer Arit Anderson
…and Kew Gardens…
It was Arit’s suggestion that we meet at Kew. I must confess that I hadn’t been for years. In the back of my mind, I equated ‘Royal botanic garden’ with somewhere you go on school visits or where important lectures are held.
But Kew today was a real revelation, with both traditional and contemporary planting, fabulous sculpture, loads to learn and a friendly, inclusive atmosphere. Even the pots on the way out were a joy.
There were quiet places to sit, too. Groups of school children seemed genuinely excited by innovations like The Hive, a sculptural representation of a beehive. There’s a train that goes round the garden and a treetop level walkway. And lots more. I intend to go back soon and I strongly recommend it to you.
You can see more of a garden in a video, so the interview with Arit here also shows lots more of what Kew has to offer.
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