Ursula Buchan

Making sense

If your ears go back, like a frightened horse, at the word ‘conceptualism’ when applied to modern art, you may not be very pleased to know that this is a hot topic in landscape design at the moment.

If your ears go back, like a frightened horse, at the word ‘conceptualism’ when applied to modern art, you may not be very pleased to know that this is a hot topic in landscape design at the moment.

If your ears go back, like a frightened horse, at the word ‘conceptualism’ when applied to modern art, you may not be very pleased to know that this is a hot topic in landscape design at the moment. Before you gallop off round the paddock, however, I should point out that we could all be beneficiaries, if the result is brighter, more interesting public (and private) spaces. After all, there cannot be much to be said for the rigid geometry, concrete street furniture and off-the-peg greenery, which has been the norm for decades. At a symposium on the subject, organised by the Society of Garden Designers and held at Tate Britain last week, the mood was enthusiastic, optimistic, even excited. There was a recognition that conceptualism encourages a refreshing inventiveness in landscape and garden design.

According to Tim Richardson, whose recent book, Avant Gardeners (Thames & Hudson), contains a consideration of the work of 50 design partnerships worldwide, who work at least part of their time in this way, conceptualist garden design is the harnessing of an idea, or related ideas, as the starting point for work characterised by the use of colour, artificial materials (such as recycled glass, for example) and a visual commentary on a site’s history, culture or ecology. It often blurs the line between art and landscape. It can be witty, thought- provoking, beautiful even, although, it must be said, it is sometimes downright daft.

Conceptualism is only another way of expressing the very human desire to make sense, in an innovative and engaging way, of our world — which, let’s face it, is what drives many people to become gardeners in the first place.

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