Sandy’s Garden ... Landscaping

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

I returned home on a bus recently.

Travelling by bus affords the opportunity to look over walls and hedges into other folks’ gardens by virtue of not having, as a driver, to be ever-vigilant in the interests of safety and to avoid so-called ‘traffic calming’ obstructions.

I realised how many front gardens are now devoid of any form of cultivated plant life. Having recently had artificial turf installed in front of my own house, I am not being critical; I am merely observing that the term ’landscaping’ seems to have taken on a different meaning for the present generation.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines ‘landscaping’ thus: “to make (a garden or other area of ground) more attractive by altering the existing design, adding ornamental features, and planting trees and shrubs.” Please notice ‘adding ornamental features, and planting trees or shrubs.” Now let’s look at some contemporary advertising by local companies which undertake landscaping projects, taken entirely at random from the internet. The first states that, “We undertake both hard and soft landscaping work including driveways, turfing, patios, paving, steps, walling, fencing, monoblock and decking. We are fully insured and all work is guaranteed.” Of all the features on offer, only turfing could be described as soft landscaping, and then only if it was carried put with real turf. All the others are examples of what is called hard landscaping, for obvious reasons.

Here is a second, random example. “We provide a collection of garden landscaping services for you to choose from ranging from a simple patio or driveway, a variety of garden walls, decking, gravelling and turfing to a full landscape design and build service.” Again, the emphasis is very much on hard landscaping. But here is an example of a company which offers more traditional landscaping services. “Planting is at the heart of our business. Whether you have problematic border or you want your whole garden addressed we can create a unique planting plan perfect for you and your garden. We will always choose healthy and appropriate plants and ensure they are planted properly to give them the best chance as well as giving maximum impact. Planters can add impact to the garden and we can provide a style to suit your garden along with the appropriate plants to complement them.”

The word ‘landscape’ came originally, so the OED assures me, from Middle Dutch lantscap, from land ‘land’ + scap … equivalent of ‘-ship’… and entered the English language in the late 16th century. Sixteenth and seventeenth century Netherlanders were fascinated by the appearance of towns and of the countryside both at home and overseas; and they were enthralled with seascapes, insisting that their artists depicted both the ships and their environment with photographic accuracy. Indeed, one could make a good case for arguing that the Dutch artists were expected to do better than a modern photographer would, because the artists were free to improve the landscape or the seascape by removing any imperfections from reality and/or by adding attractions which were not present in real life. (One might say that they pioneered ‘photoshopping’). And this urge to present their native land in the most favourable light resulted in reality copying art as Dutch landowners added attractions which did not occur naturally to their farms and their estates; in short, they invented landscaping, a technique seen by British seafarers and travellers and imported into the United Kingdom.

Changing lifestyles and changing expectations have brought about a recent change in landscaping, from ‘soft’ to ‘hard.’ You, gentle reader, must decide which you prefer.