Much of my design work is on Bainbridge Island – an isle off Seattle with rolling hills, open meadows, grassy beaches and quiet forests. I consider myself fortunate to work in a beautiful environment where each project offers a unique setting. A pastoral feel prevails, whether a forested or open site. In an urban setting, almost anything goes with the city as backdrop, whereas a rural environment requires a different approach. I have found that the most moving gardens respect the surrounding landscape. These gardens are authentic.
If you are in a forest with towering conifers and primal ferns, a sweet cottage garden probably will feel out of place as would a sunny Mediterranean look. Imagine a mass of lavender stuck below a towering Western red cedar. Even if you have enough sun, this is not the best look. This does not mean that in a forested environment you are limited to hostas and hellebores. A shady, coniferous environment is great for introducing unique and eclectic plants from other forested regions as it already feels otherworldly. On the other hand, an environment such as a sunny glade is perfect for prairie perennials and sun-loving ornamental grasses swaying in the breeze, evoking a meadow. In both cases, plants that may not be quite spot on for the actual environment can work wonderfully as long as the overall setting is respected and echoed in the garden, and they are the right plants for the conditions available.
When it comes to architecture, I diverge. Beyond scale, mass, color and all the functional issues to consider in a garden, there also is the architectural style of adjacent structures. Here is where I find it more interesting to marry opposites. For instance, softening modern architecture with a naturalistic style or updating traditional architecture with a minimalist planting.
Gardens are human constructs, yet we can take cues from our surroundings to create with authenticity. The best gardens feel effortlessly in step with their setting.