Tag Archive: design

Designing Regenerative Cultures

Daniel Christian Wahl
Saturday, 18th June 2016

Daniel Christian Wahl says a new generation of designers can design a world in which all can thrive and not just survive.

A new generation of designers are applying ecologically inspired design to agriculture, architecture, community planning, cities, enterprises, economics and ecosystem regeneration. Join them to co-create diverse regenerative cultures in the transition towards a regenerative society. Humanity’s impact needs to shift from degeneration to regeneration before the middle of this century. We will all have to collaborate to achieve this transformative response to the converging crises we are facing….

read more here


coastal-garden-benchesSo, my penultimate object in this series symbolises our need (all too often neglected by the busiest gardeners) to sit and enjoy the fruits of our labours- the garden bench. And the one in the featured picture is made from reclaimed wood and, I think, looks rather inviting (especially with the addition of a couple of large cushions?).

Having said this, there are probably not that many garden benches that are frequently used for sitting. Here at Old School Garden, over the years  I’ve spread a number of these garden ‘must haves’ around (and have two more to restore/ assemble to place in key positions in my pond garden and to take advantage of the view across the fields to our local church). Apart from one or two used to take summer morning coffee (as an alternative to the rather more comfortable chairs on the terrace), these are not used for sitting. So, where should you position these essential garden objects?

One view is that it’s by a process of elimination, spotting the place where it looks right. However, what looks right, in practice might not feel right. Elizabeth West describes the difficulty in her book Hovel in the Hills:

“The right places to sit in a garden have to be discovered. They cannot be decided in advance. Alan [her husband] once erected a two-seat wooden bench beneath the laburnum tree because it was sheltered from the wind, caught the sun and looked out towards Moel Siabod [a mountain in Snowdonia].

On a few occasions we took out our cups of tea and sat there self-consciously, but it didn’t feel right. We would find ourselves drifting across to a patch on the drive about 10ft away, and we would stand there to finish our tea. So we moved the bench there. It caught all the sun, was not so sheltered and didn’t have quite the same view, but it felt right.”

The classic 'Lutyens Bench'- one to add a bit of class to your plot?

The classic ‘Lutyens Bench’- one to add a bit of class to your plot?

In a provocative article (see below for link), Antony Howard says:

“Discomfort remains the defining quality of outdoor seating. The goal of meeting the tripartite challenge of comfort, weatherproofing and looks continues to defy designers. Most seats make minimal concession to the fragility of the human frame. Sharp angles, hard edges and an absolute absence of ergonomics abound. Wooden seats promise a coating of green slime. Metal or stone ones freeze the buttocks. Grass or moss are obviously not to be taken seriously.”

He goes on to say that this discomfort doesn’t really matter, for garden benches are not, in general, intended to be sat on. ‘They are present to introduce the idea of repose’, he says, ‘which is perfectly justifiable in a place given over to the peace of mind, body and soul.’ Apart from this, they also have visual value in garden design- brightly painted to provide a focal point or attraction on a garden route, tucked in or under or around a tree to emphasise or frame it.

Either way, the garden bench- in all its manifestations- for me is an essential of gardening. Whether it be just the idea of rest and soaking up the surroundings, or actually sitting down (perhaps mid gardening session) to sip a drink, with clipped conversation tailored to the real wish to watch nature at work.

Hmm, the ultimate in benches designed not to be sat upon?

Hmm, the ultimate in benches designed not to be sat upon?

Further information:

‘The Art of Garden Furniture ‘- Antony Howard in the Daily Telegraph

‘A Short History of Benches’

‘The humble public bench becomes comfortable, inclusive and healthy’

 Old School Gardener


P1020823aSeen from indoors, or as you approach a stepped entrance, pots can make a ready-staged display as they mount the stairs. But always make sure that the pots do not obstruct the route and that they cannot fall or be kicked over. You can fix the pots in place with a dab or two of cement, as long as the drainage holes are not blocked, but this means they cannot be moved. The simplest way to secure each pot is to wrap a loop of gardening wire firmly round it and tie the ends of the wire to side railings or other firmly fixed uprights.

Source: ‘Good Ideas for Your Garden’- Reader’s Digest 1995

Old School Gardener


A bit of cheating again! My seventh object in this series about the essence of gardening is really at least two objects with a common name- compass or compasses. For me these two objects symbolise the importance of design in gardening- the conscious act of choosing and positioning what plants and other garden elements are used and where.

This can be as simple as thinking about where to place different plants or elements in the garden; by knowing where the prevailing weather patterns are coming from (wind and rain), as well as the direction and strength of light and heat from the sun. For this a magnetic compass is a very useful to back up to observation and wider knowledge.

Picture by Bios-commonswiki

Picture by Bios-commonswiki

And nature has it’s own ‘compasses’, too. The plant  Silphium laciniatum, has a common name of ‘Compass plant’  inspired by the “compass orientation” of its leaves. The large leaves are held vertically with the tips pointing north or south and the upper and lower surfaces of the blades facing east or west. A newly emerging leaf grows in a random direction, but within two or three weeks it twists on its petiole clockwise or counterclockwise into a vertical position. Studies indicate that the sun’s position in the early morning hours influences the twisting orientation. This orientation reduces the amount of solar radiation hitting the leaf surface. Vertical leaves facing east-west have higher water use efficiency than horizontal or north-south-facing blades. Early settlers on the Great Plains of the North America could make their way in the dark by feeling of the leaves.

Silphium laciniatum- 'Compass plant'

Silphium laciniatum- ‘Compass plant’

Equally, garden design can involve recording your current plot and devising new elements and patterns for your garden (borders, paths, specimen plants, hard landscaping features). For this, a pair of compasses is a vital tool in plotting key elements in your existing garden (through the technique of triangulation) and also in drawing circles or arcs in a new design (and then setting these out on the ground).

Dividers and compasses are drawing instruments that have been used since antiquity to measure distances, transfer lengths from one drawing to another, and draw circles. The Greek mathematician, Euclid, limited the constructions in his Elements of Geometry to those that could be done with an unmarked straight edge and rudimentary compass. Ancient Roman dividers survive in the collections of the British Museum. Before the 18th century, when one leg was modified to take a pen or pencil point, compasses had two sharp points, like dividers. The user scratched the writing surface in the shape of a circle and then inked the scratches.


 Old School Gardener

Lancelot Brown by Nathanial Dance, photo by dcoetzee

Lancelot Brown by Nathanial Dance, photo by dcoetzee

Throughout 2016 the work of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown will be marked with a festival of events celebrating his life, work and legacy – 300 years on from his birth.

Brown’s rich legacy of work ranges form Highclere Castle, the fictional home of ‘Downton Abbey’ to the well-known estates of Chatsworth, Blenheim and Stowe, to hidden gems such as Milton Abbey, Weston Park and Compton Verney. In 2016, there will be a range of events for everyone to enjoy – from the most ardent of fans, to those that know nothing of his work but simply enjoy stunning landscapes.

Some highlights include the opportunity to tour the grounds of Belvoir Castle, where a lost Brown design was recently rediscovered and implemented; his first and last known commissions; his longest commission; and some of his crowning achievements. The Capability Brown Festival 2016 has been funded by a £911,100 grant from the Heritage lottery Fund, and is managed by The Landscape Institute. Festival director Ceryl Evans said:

‘Brown’s work was groundbreaking. He blended art and engineering, and moved mountains of earth and villages, to create beautiful naturalistic landscapes which are still much admired today, 300 years after his birth.’

Brown's original plan for Blenheim

Brown’s original plan for Blenheim

A prolific landscape architect, Brown is associated with more than 250 sites across England and Wales, with many more parks and gardens around the world inspired by his work.

Audley End, Essex

Audley End, Essex

Capability Brown is a name well-known in gardening and landscaping circles, but among the general public his work and influence is less well-known. The Festival aims to address that gap as many of our best loved country houses are set as jewels in the wonderful landscapes he created, but often we recognise them for their architecture but sideline what makes them even more splendid –  their amazingly landscaped and seemingly natural settings.

Three centuries after Brown’s birth, the Festival presents a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at how the father of landscape architecture shaped the nation’s countryside.

Blenheim Palace Grand Bridge by Boddah at English Wikipedia

Blenheim Palace Grand Bridge by Boddah at English Wikipedia

Source: Landscape and Amenity Magazine, December 2015

Further information:

The Capability Brown Festival

Wikipedia- Capability Brown

Old School Gardener


PIC00103Moving to a new house with a garden that needs whipping into shape? Need help with an idea for improving part of your established garden? Or maybe you want to completely overhaul your current plot and need a masterplan for achieving your ideas over a number of years?

If you live in the Norfolk area and want to develop your ideas and design skills, in the company of like-minded people, I might be able to help.

I’ve been running a series of short courses to inform, inspire and improve the design skills of gardeners for some years, and I’m planning to kick off the next one in a few weeks time.

I’ve taken the opportunity of a new venue to review the content and programme of the course, also building on the positive feedback I’ve had from previous participants. I’m thrilled to be able to offer a course that’s based at the wonderful Blickling Hall Estate near Aylsham, and hope to take full advantage of it’s fantastic gardens to illustrate and reinforce some key ideas.

WP_20150716_12_09_50_ProAnd as well as visits to the gardens I’ll be using a combination of presentation, group discussion, one-to-one support, handouts, books to borrow and links to further information. You won’t need any special knowledge or skills in garden design or gardening; just the germ of an idea or plan for your garden, or maybe just a general interest in finding out more about garden design.

Venue: The Old School, Blickling Estate, near Aylsham, Norfolk

Times and dates: 10am -12 noon Tuesdays from 2nd February – 22nd March inclusive (excluding 16th February)

Cost: £70 (including refreshments)

For an outline of the Programme take a look here. If you want to find out more about me then take a look at the Page ‘About Me’ on this blog. If you’d like to discuss the course, how it might meet your needs or want to register, please call me on 01603 754250, or leave me a message via the contact form below.

alliums and laburnumI want participants to have the space, time and attention to address their individual needs, so places will be limited; if you’re interested, please get in touch soon!

Old School Gardener (Nigel Boldero)

WP_20150714_14_08_43_ProThe second half of the recent Blickling volunteers and staff day out involved a trip to nearby Corpusty Mill, a garden developed over many years by its owner Roger Last and his late brother John since 1965. The RHS says of it:

‘Water is used extensively (ponds, streams, a small lake and a river) and there are strong architectural elements, garden buildings or follies, including a vast flint wall with the heads of Roman emperors, a Gothic arch and window, a grotto (with four chambers), a ruined tower, a classical pavilion and stainless steel spire. The planting is knowledgeable, varied and controlled. Most visitors come away quite amazed by the beauty and ingenuity of what they have seen.’

I must admit to being blown away by the thoughtful, clever and sensitive design and the sheer beauty of this five acre garden laid out in three distinct parts.  The main and more complex layout is on an intimate scale near to the house and there are two landscaped meadows.  Each area has its own character and atmosphere. A recent Country Life article comments:

‘Although the garden’s buildings and plantings are very varied, all are governed by three general ideas. First, the brothers felt it was important to manage visual effects ‘with some restraint’, thus hedges and borders were positioned so that only one building showed at a time. Next, to mitigate the possible dullness of an essentially flat site, they created innumerable changes of level, most of which were only modest, but, as Mr Last points out: ‘Even a few feet can make a huge difference.’ Finally, they wanted to create marked changes of mood, so some areas are open and light-filled, but others are densely planted and shaded.’

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All I can say is that ‘it works’- a sensitively designed and fantastic blend of planting, statuary, humourous features and attention to detail.

Further information:

Corpusty Mill Garden website

Country Life article 2014

Old School Gardener

Keukenhof, Holland

Keukenhof, Holland

‘Why should we imitate wild nature? the garden is a product of civilisation. Why any more make of our gardens imitation of wild nature, than paint our children with woad, and make them run about naked in an effort to imitate nature unadorned? the very charm of a garden is that it is taken out of savagery, trimmed, clothed and disciplined’

S. Baring-Gould 1890

Your views please!

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