Nordic by Nature

Multi award-winning gardener Stephen Hall, designer of the Viking Cruises Nordic Lifestyle Garden for this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, shares his top tips on bringing Scandi Style to your patch

WHERE DID YOU LOOK FOR INSPIRATION FOR YOUR GARDEN DESIGN?
My inspiration has come from working closely with Viking Cruises to capture the Nordic way of life. It incorporates their intrinsic values to transport visitors to a traditional Scandinavian setting that offers a taste of the lifestyle. I’ve taken the traditional sauna and plunge pool that are so important in Nordic culture to create a place close to nature to relax within a rural Nordic landscape.

WHAT DIFFERENTIATES A SCANDINAVIAN GARDEN FROM A TYPICAL BRITISH ONE?
Planting is a key difference in Britain. The generally mild Maritime climate here allows us to grow plants from nearly all around the world. However, the harsher climate found in Scandinavian countries restricts the types of plants that can be grown as they have to be very hardy and contend with low winter light levels. Foraging for and growing their own fresh fruit and veg are very important to the Nordic way of life, and their short summers combined with long daylight hours are perfect for growing vegetables. From a design point of view, Nordic gardens also tend to be quite simple and very rustic; they love to incorporate the sense of wilderness and are renowned for combining functionality and sustainability with grace.

WHAT ARE THE KEY COMPONENTS FOR ADDING A SCANDINAVIAN FEEL TO YOUR GARDEN?
Outdoor living spaces provide Nordic people the opportunity to use every hour of daylight to eat, drink, sleep and relax in, so the use of natural timber deck boards and slate paving can provide a rustic feel to the patio or seating area. Smooth cobbles and areas of gravel help tie outdoor living spaces and paved areas together in a Nordic style. Nordic gardeners are keen to use recycled items where they can, whether it’s old ladders for plant stands or galvanised horse troughs used as planters. Plus, hardy native trees and shrubs recreate a rural setting, while natural long grass helps to imitate a sense of wilderness.

WHAT ARE THE BEST PLANTS TO ACHIEVE THIS STYLE OF GARDEN?
White stemmed trees like Silver Birch, Mythical Mountain Ash, Evergreen low-growing clumps of Juniper, native grasses like Quaking Grass, edible plants like Fiddle Ferns (avoid Bracken though) and medicinal and herbal plants like Hyssop.

WHAT I S YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF DESIGNING A SHOW GARDEN?
The concept is my favourite part of designing a Show Garden. Normally designs for clients’ gardens can be restricted by different constraints, however, a Show Garden allows the designer much more freedom to explore and research subject matters not normally associated within an English country garden, which also adds depth to the design.

WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS THAT PEOPLE SHOULD REMEMBER WHEN DESIGNING THEIR OWN GARDEN?
Think about the garden’s function. Try to incorporate plants that lead to a seating area or outdoor living space, and create a journey around the garden by including features and borders to act as interesting stop-off points. Form needs to be carefully thought through; decide whether you would like an informal curving garden or a formal garden that is laid out using symmetry and straight lines.

Don’t forget about the views, both into and out of the garden. Be careful where you position trees, a green house or a shed – try not to block the church spire or the fields in the background unless you want to. Also consider the plants you’re using and where the best place is for them; whether they need full sun or shade, damp or dry soils, exposed or sheltered sites and the soil type.

Make space for wildlife in the garden; include a shallow pool for invertebrates, or leave piles of logs or rubble (known as hibernaculum), which provide shelter for many creatures. Birds need trees and shrubs that produce fruit, seeds and nuts as well as provide invaluable cover.

WHAT MOST INSPIRES YOUR WORK?
Nature. I feel that gardens should give people that same sense of freedom and peace which can be obtained from walking in the countryside or through the park, and the wonder that one feels when you come across a wild animal only feet away from you.

Images: RHS/Tim Sandall; Shutterstock
RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 3–8 July; rhs.org.uk

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