I’d been feeling a little jealous of WA’s indigenous flora after our trip to Perth, but by a stroke of good luck, last weekend I experienced some of the best that New South Wales has to offer. Seeing them both within the space of a week reassured me that, whilst it’s very different, NSW’s offering is actually just as good.
Muogamarra is the Bold Park of Sydney. A little further out of the city, but with some 900 plant species, aboriginal art and colonial history dating back to the 1830s, it really has it all. What makes it even more special, is that it is open to the public for just 12 days a year, to ensure protection of this very unique ecosystem.
It’s easy to think of Eastern Australian natives as a bit woody and lacking in oomph. But Muogamarra dispelled this myth very quickly. Yes, our flowers tend to be a little smaller than on ‘the other side’, but there is still plenty of boldness. And clearly, in the garden, we can mix and match plants; take the beauty of indigenous plants and add whichever complementary non-indigenous species set them off to our liking.
I saw a photo this week of a show garden at the 2015 Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. This particular garden aimed to imitate an English woodland. Imitate exactly. It wasn’t a bad effort at all and yet I found it entirely uninspiring. It occurred to me that imitating nature, rather than taking inspiration from nature, is really no good for a garden.
Nature is magical precisely because it’s just there. It isn’t man made.
Gardens, on the other hand, are magical largely because of the man madeness; the love, effort, thought, imagination and care that has been put into them is often a huge part of their attractiveness and what fills them with character and makes them so unique.
If you try to replicate nature in the garden, you miss the magic of both.
I’ve always had an aversion to fake-anything. I do confess to having fake hydrangeas in a corner of our lounge, too far from a window for anything to grow, but I’ve never been entirely at ease with them. I think that’s partly why I didn’t like the show garden; it was trying to be something that it wasn’t. It seemed to lack authenticity.
We shouldn’t be too black and white on these things–there are always exceptions– but on the whole, I prefer to have genuine or not at all. If a leather sofa was too expensive, I’d go for the fabric one every time, rather than some plastic imitation. I just feel ill at ease with things pretending to be things they’re not.
Artificial lawns are the best example of all. The whole pleasure of grass is in the smell, the feel on bare feet, the life in the bees on the clover or daisies. Why, why, why, why, why would you want to put green plastic carpet in your garden? To me, authenticity equals beauty. If you don’t like the real thing, get a different real thing. If you don’t want to mow, have a beautiful gravel garden instead.
So, however much I like ‘naturalistic’ gardens, they do need to be differentiated from nature and made into a garden. We can take aspects from nature to give us a local sense of place, we can look at the arrangements of plants in nature, to help create a natural-looking layout, we can take ideas from colour and planting combinations in nature to find solutions to difficult areas or create a restful ambience in our gardens, but using ideas, rather than copying exactly, makes a lot more sense.
I love spending time in space that is almost untouched by man, but my trip to Muogamarra was a great reminder that gardens are different to nature. Nature is best untouched. Gardens are best when they look cared for, have a high concentration of interest and integrate seamlessly with the house.
We can enjoy nature for what it is and enjoy gardens for what they are. I felt incredibly enthused by how many stunning plants I saw in Muogamarra and by combining these with other species, I can visualise a perfect garden with a perfect balance of nature and love.
Observing nature as inspiration for garden design brings us the best of both worlds; a strong connection to the landscape around us and extensive material for endless hours of creative stimulation.
Garden-making is a never ending process, into which we can plough all our creative thoughts and ideas and enthusiasm. It’s a wonderful feeling to be inspired to create and add and change and adapt; it’s invigorating and energising and rewards with a comforting feeling of satisfaction. Nature is one of my key sources of inspiration, not just in the garden but in life. What is it that inspires you most?