The other night I had been working in the garden, taking advantage of all the available light to prune back some of my hedges. The darkness was starting to descend and I had tidied away all my tools, and I sat down to enjoy the stillness of the dusk. The bats had just began to make their haphazard flights and in the trees the last of the blackbirds and sparrows were settling down in their nightly roosts. In the distance the faint noise of the combines came drifting over as the farmers were making use of the dry spell to bring in the grain harvest.
As I was casting my eye around the garden, watching where the bats were flying and trying to locate where the birds were roosting, I became aware, not of specific plants and points of interest, but the general shape and flow of the garden. I could see the garden in blocks of three dimensional shapes and how these shapes interacted within the space. I was also acutely aware of the depth of the garden as the play of the low light and the shadows emphasised the relative positioning of borders, trees and structures.
When I begin designing a project, I tend to begin sketching ideas using a fairly heavy nibbed pen to outline general shapes and contours, avoiding any detail at all. I do this both in plan and as three dimensional sketches and it allows me to play around with different ideas to create a harmonious layout that works within the garden space and with the surrounding buildings and environment. Its only when I am satisfied with the design at this level that I start to think about adding detail. It may, however, be the case that as the detail is added the design gets changed slightly, but these skeleton drawings do help to inform the eventual finished design.
Reviewing a garden in this quarter light light allows you to do a very similar exercise. Does the weight of a border look right relative to the scale of the house or a planting of trees? Do the heights of the plants in your borders create enough interest and movement, or is there too much of one height? Does the positioning and size of your plantings and structures work as a whole and add a sense of depth and flow around the garden? Without the interference of detail and colour, you can focus on layout, structure and form.
Obviously this is only one way to assess a garden, but it does give a different perspective and it makes for quite an interesting exercise. On a still, late summer evening it was a very pleasant way to spend a little time.