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The following gardening articles can be found on our site:

  1. Harmony and Proportion - creating a 20th Century Classical Renaissance garden basilica
  2. Making a personal and a positive contribution to the conservation of wildlife in England by Sir Martin Doughty, Chair of English Nature
  3. Gardening with wildlife in mind a CD from English Nature


Harmony and Proportion - creating a 20th Century Classical Renaissance garden basilica

Hugh O'Connell explains the principles behind his design for the classical garden described in the Formal Gardens section of this website.

Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), a pupil of Brunelleschi, was the first to publish in modern times the Vitruvian laws of architecture, thus leading to the formulation of the "Five Orders", which include the well known Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles. His book, De re aedificatoria, has been translated recently by Neil Leach, Joseph Rykwert and Robert Tavenor under the title On the Art of Building in Ten Books (ISBN 0-262-51060-X).

It is important to realise why architecture differs from pure construction. Architecture is the art of building according to principles that are determined, not merely by the ends for which an edifice is intended to serve, but by considerations of beauty and harmony as well. The end purpose of architecture is to impart interest, beauty, grandeur, unity and power to a structure - whether it be mineral or vegetable in composition - through the consideration of size, proportion, harmony and symmetry of structural elements, ornamentation and colour. Vitruvius laid down mathematical principles to be used in creating classical structures and these were followed closely by Palladio and other Renaissance architects. The basilica in the classical garden has been designed using the relationships stated by Vitruvius. For all design I try to keep a simple palette like Andrea Palladio's (1508 - 1580) original concepts that were my inspiration. Spelt with trees, stone and brick in my case. This garden was designed 23 years ago from drawing 1992 - 2015. At the time I was MSGD.

Before the new garden was built, the four story house with its three story wings dominated the garden. The new design thus had to be stronger than the existing layout, which used 2.5 metre yew Taxus baccata hedges (8 feet) running down the garden and forming a rectangle with a cross hedge. This area was redesigned in order to reflect the rounded top shape of the house's central feature window - this shape is to be the main theme.

The first main axis was defined by extending the centre line of the formal approach drive through the centre of the house and out to the new basilica. The width of the drive (3 metres) determined the width of the main pond in the centre of the basilica. It was felt that the new feature needed to be locked in strongly to the existing garden, rather than just added. The level drops by one metre at the join between old and new and to take advantage of this, it was decided to have two ponds, one at each level, joined by a rill, thus firmly locking together the upper and lower levels. The upper pond was made half the 8 metre length of the lower and the rill was set to 4 metres length as well. The distance between the edge of the upper pond and the redesigned curved lawn was set to the width unit of 3 metres and the far edge of the basilica was laid out 3 metres beyond the edge of the lower pond. Finally, the basilica width was set at 15 metres, thus allowing the upper pond to be outside and to allow the steps beside this pond and the rill between the ponds to mortice the two gardens together. This determined the length at 30 metres, according to Vitruvius.

The final length chosen for the basilica was determined by the overall effect of this feature on the garden as a whole - if it were too large, it would dominate the garden in the way that the house had done before; set it too small and the garden would be insignificant. Balance and harmony, rather than pure utility, are the determining factors.

The basilica was to be created by laying a tapestry hedge of Taxus and Thuja. The basilica would be further defined through the use of a pleached hedge created from the lime Tilia platyphyllos rubra extending beyond the ends of the basilica. Within the basilica, this hedge would add height and would create the rounded arches that would further define the basilica and amplify the previously described theme. The second axis runs through the centre of the lower pond. On each side, the first 3 metres from the pond edge are a paved seating area, with a 12 metre long box edged bed with curved end running to the basilica end. Here, the tapestry hedge continues the theme, with an entrance portico that opens out towards the pleached hedge and extends 3 metres beyond the basilica line. From the portico edge, it is another 6 metres to the pleached hedge.

The inner dimensions of the basilica follow the Vitruvian proportions, with the nave area being defined by the centre line of the box edged beds that form a parterre. The width of the seating area, beds and outer walk are in the ratio 3:2:1.

The lime pleached hedge is set on the inside edge of the tapestry hedge and thus forms the lower pillars of the nave of the basilica - the trunks forming the pillars and the underside of the pleached hedge forming the arches. The final height of the Tilia hedge will be 4.5 metres and that of the tapestry hedge 1.5 metres.

To balance the whole, borders were added inside the main yew hedges and the theme was extended by rounding the end of the lawn. The brick edging of the lawn was formed out of specially chosen bricks that matched the colour of the house brickwork and thus formed an important element that continues the house into the garden. From the upper lawn, the walls beside the steps leading down into the basilica make a strong positive statement, deliberately drawing the eye forward and enhancing the formal nature of the garden.

The plan below shows:

  • the existing hedge (dark green)
  • the new basilica and pleached hedge (light green)
  • the box hedged beds forming the parterre
  • the centreline and the nave lines (red) of the basilica
  • the use of the ponds (blue) to link the two gardens
  • the use of paving and lawn edging (brown) to link the house with the gardens
  Final Design

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