Genius Loci

To begin the design of a garden by looking at what's around it might not seem to be the obvious place to start, but the view out is really important to the layout and the planting, it's part of what gives the garden its unique character which the Romans called Genius Loci, the genius of the place.
If there are features of the design and plants which root the garden into the surrounding landscape then it will soon start to look as if it has always been there and feel as if it really belongs.

Most of us like a good view, I think it must go way back into our ancestry when the need to keep a lookout for attack by lions or rival tribes was a matter of life or death. Now it's just nicely comforting to see the glow of lights in neighbouring windows and really useful to see the rain clouds approaching from the west, a bit of advance notice to bring the washing in.

There's a lot to be said for having an 'inward looking' garden too. Surrounded by high fences or walls, an enclosed space can be very calm and restful, think of monks and cloisters. By its architectural nature it belongs much more to the house than the landscape around it and like another room can be secluded and private.

Fortunately we don't usually have to choose between one type of garden or the other, there are spots in most gardens with a view of something pleasing where a bench can be placed for when the sun's in exactly the right place, and for when we're feeling introspective or just want a bit of peace and quiet, then enclosure is relatively easy to create with plants.

Hedges are perfect for this, they have after all been surrounding fields for a very long time.
Their formal straight lines make living walls and clipped to grow no higher than we choose, the species used make visual links with the landscape around them even if from within their shelter we can't see it. They can mark the seasons with clouds of white spring flowers like blackthorn or hawthorn, or like holly cheer up winter with bright red berries.

Even when we can't see it, the view is important to the garden and like hedges the idea of Genius Loci has been around for a very long time.