The Grass is Greener, by Australian landscape architects Habitation.

A conceptual garden for this year’s International garden festival at Metis in Canada.

Of course any garden designer worth their salt will have a concept or idea for a garden they are designing.

They will say airily ‘I am thinking Manhattan Roof Garden’ or ,with a sweep of a hand,  ‘I want to suggest wind blasted tundra in the planting here’ and hopefully their client is duly impressed.


In conceptual gardens  ‘the idea’  is taken to a new level, quite literally and can overlay and dominate the garden, even to the exclusion of plants altogether. But, despite having a number of leading figues in the conceptualist movement based here in the Uk, such as Tony Heywood, conceptual gardens are still seen as the enfants terribles of the garden show scene – the ones to murmur over, with a shake of the head.

And for the jobbing garden designer it is true that it would be hard to interest most clients in having ‘a simple black, brick walled box, to show the imprisonment of the soul in its darker moments, having bright shards of coloured perspex within, set on a mound of freshly sprung, lime green lettuce leaves’.  Most clients do in fact come with their own very much more prosaic agenda, be it a play area for the kids or space for the washing line!  However, the inspiring part of our role is to offer the client something different, something they had neither thought of, nor seen and didn’t know they wanted. And conceptual gardens can offer us humble garden designers the mental stimulation to think outside the box. 

And this for me is that:

Here, Habitation (David Vago, Simone Marsh and Nick Brown) landscape architects from Sydney Australia, employ grass-clad walls and a ladder projecting through an aperture between two identical enclosures to suggest that a search for paradise could be illusory since it is in fact around us already.

This is one of three new conceptual gardens for the 11th edition of the festival at Metis which will be held from June 26 to October 3 with a series of fun sounding events throughout the summer.

Veil Garden, above, is the second, with a metal frame with four openings, each leading to a planting zone which represents one of the elements: earth, water, fire and air. This proposal is from the US based Studio Bryan Hanes. I like the controlled access, the oblique angles of the pathways and the overall sense of something I can’t quite get into or grasp!

In Tiny Taxonomy, Rosetta Sarah Elkin, who is a canadian born lanscape architect based in the Netherlands, emphasizes the flora of the forest floor, by raising it in planters within the forest itself.

This matrix effect struck something of a chord with me since I had recently suggested to a client a matrix of columns all rising through a plane from one corner of one of several ‘hedged rooms’ in her garden.  I was intrigued by the idea of the shadows created and how these would shift in an endless pattern, almost like a war cemetary on the continent – a macabre idea perhaps. But I knew that she had an adventurous mind and was intrigued by the former inhabitants of the area, for whom this would be a metaphorical graveyard and monument. There would , fittingly for a conceptual garden, be no plants, other than the surrounding yew hedge.

She didn’t buy the idea! Although she gave it due and respectful consideration. Maybe if I had offered the aperture and the ascending ladder I would have more luck. But then I didn’t think of that!

Get yourself to Metis (  this summer and be inspired.


PS Thanks to Alexander Reford for permission to use these images.