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Landscape designer Franchesca Watson’s guide to being at one with the land

Some places have a distinct character that marks them out and makes them remarkable – they make an indelible impression

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By House & Garden South Africa | July 29, 2021 | Gardens

When creating a garden, one often seeks this effect, a place with a memorable emotional character.

Sometimes it exists in an obvious way it can be a view, decent architecture, a stand of existing trees or expressive topography that marks it out and makes it stand out. In instances such as these, one must take extreme care to preserve the inherent feeling and essence of the site. It can be ephemeral and tricky to retain. One needs to design and plan very sensitively as it is so often only too easy to destroy the very quality one is trying to amplify. At times, one must sacrifice practicality for the sake of beauty. For example, refusing to clear too much naturally occurring vegetation for the sake of an oversized lawn or to fell trees for a 180-degree panoramic view.

Sometimes quality is there in a less obvious way – but maybe it is overpowered by something that needs to be removed to restore balance and beauty; disguising visible gate posts and fences is one example.

Sometimes the place itself has a spirit so overpowering that, as a designer, all one has to do is acknowledge it. Any new arrangement of elements or composition needs the lightest and most nuanced of touches, almost a non-design, to keep it from cluttering the feeling that is already pervasive; often the case when creating spaces around homes in serene nature.

It can be challenging to find something immediately obvious that could animate and distinctively hold a space. Consider this a cue to spend more quiet, thoughtful time in that space, which often reveals its unique idiosyncrasies. It can be as subtle as capturing the play of light in an area by adding a simple pergola with the potential of casting shadows and patterns on a surface or the tinkling of a water feature outside a window with no view. Maybe it is adding a single tree of an unusual shape that suddenly brings a forgotten space to life. Then one can start to build up the character, layer by layer, staying true to the idea that you have evolved in consultation with the spirit of the place.

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