In my part of Hampshire, the most dramatic of seasonal changes is that from Autumn to winter. Driving up the hill into our village is like entering a wild tunnel, with the beech trees reaching over the road from one side to another, joining in the middle and forming an almost Cathedral ceiling-type scene. Indeed, when the light is in the right place, the road is empty and the journey is slow, the experience can be almost spiritual in character! The trees form an arch that during mid-summer is almost impenetrable to light and even rain. During the Autumn months, the leaves glow and almost sizzle in the lowering sun and the effect is dazzling. I remember driving up this hill soon after I moved into my house and marvelling at the difference in this experience contrasted with the urban, residential area where I used to live.
Autumn has always been my favourite season – perhaps because my birthday falls within this period – but the colours and textures are the ones I will always defer to in search of inspiration.
I love designing flowers with these colours and find that mixing the structure of bare stems, berries and seed heads with the flowers brings the most fantastic mix of texture and ambience. Some of this ‘harder’ structure is challenging to introduce into floral design in the summer months as everything is so verdant!
I like to use fruit, vegetables and other natural ingredients in my arrangements; anything that sets them apart from the run-of-the-mill supermarket flowers you can buy. Lovely evocative items such as bark, lichen, seed heads, feathers, even bones and spent flowers help to give depth and a textural contrast when juxtaposed with living flowers and stems.
Similarly in gardens, I will always use trees and shrubs within the planting design where, in addition to shape and flower, there are added benefits of autumn colour, berries or beautiful bark to enhance the later months. Plants need to earn their place in a garden setting – especially a small space – and the more a single specimen can offer in the way of a changing palette with variety between seasons, the better.
If the planting plan has been designed with each month of the year in mind, the customer will see a consistent backdrop with some subtle and some very obvious variations for each week of the year. This continuous backdrop ensures that the garden continues to work with the scale of the architecture, with the dimensions of the garden and the shape of the outline design but the additions of the ‘fillers’ – the bulbs, annuals and perennials – add interest by playing with this scale and by alternating the views and outlook. One often reads that the success of any garden design is in an architectural backbone and structure which provides a static canvas onto which the decoration and changing detail can be laid. Architectural backbone can be introduced through hard landscaping; paths, structures and sculpture but plants can also produce this effect and I often use topiary and trees to produce the same effect. The appearance of the evergreen structure in topiary will also change depending on the juxtaposition of its neighbours. Yew in Summer can look very different at the opposite end of the year – just through being viewed with its different planting companions.
In a similar way, celebrating the season and a specific time of year within floral design, offers an honest arrangement that reflects the outdoors and fits with the light levels and emotion of the moment. Rich, deep colours at Christmas with roses, amaryllis and hips mirror the sumptuous, extravagance of the period; lighter – more subtle colours and combinations in January utilising the fragrant Paperwhite Narcissus and Hyacinth and soft, voluptuous Anemone and early Ranunculus bring a relief and a sense of newness and hope to the new year. We are literally and figuratively shaking off the rich, heavy opulence of Christmas and re-awakening our more delicate senses!
Flowers and gardens have the ability to heighten atmosphere and change our moods. The density of planting, the fullness of a bed, the mix of ingredients in a vase and the colours and style of the flowers all serve to heighten a moment, develop an atmosphere or alter our mood. This seasonal change brings relief; it offers a different pace and heightens our appreciation of a place.
Seasonality is something we are lucky to embrace in this climate and something which I feel is important to bring a sense of progression, succession and development to our homes and gardens.