Future now: Landscape design has reached new frontiers

Here's something to relieve the tedium of the M25: see if you can spot a 26ft-high terracotta pot near junction 2(12A). The pot, together with an equally large hand fork, is a new landmark to fanfare Butterfly World near St Albans, Hertfordshire. It is currently in Phase I of its £27m development, but already open to visitors. The giant props will eventually be dwarfed by a large, glass dome that will house an incredible 10,000 butterflies and become the biggest butterfly walk-through exhibition in the world. Until then, the landscape and gardens in the 27-acre site will provide the main attraction, as they re-establish wildlife habitats that have suffered from development.

The masterplan for the grounds around this impressive conservation project include one of the most spectacular road-side wildflower displays, to welcome visitors, and a number of smaller butterfly-themed gardens to capture the imagination of both children and adults. Designed by surrealist Ivan Hicks, the gardens – such as "Theatre of Insects" where gabions are filled with discarded, man-made objects in which insects often reside – provide an eccentric but fun-filled take on bio-diversity and ecology, while allowing visitors an insect's-eye view of the giant dome's progress.

Butterfly World is also host to Future Gardens. Formally known as The Festival of the Garden at Westonbirt, it has re-emerged (metamorphosed if you like) to showcase the cream of conceptual gardening from both UK and international garden designers. Twelve gardens, selected from over 100 entries, are on display this year (until 4 October), allowing visitors to see how gardens change over time.

Conceptual gardens (a term coined by garden critic Tim Richardson) champion lateral thinking and freedom of expression, often ignoring the practicality of the "real" gardens we see at shows. Richardson, in his book on the subject Avant Gardeners, sees it as "... the harnessing of an idea, or a set of related ideas, as the starting point for work that was characterised by the use of colour, artificial materials and witty commentary on a site's history and culture."

Like them or not, they are becoming increasingly popular with designers looking to break away from convention.

The 12 gardens all carry an ecological theme but differ widely in their interpretations; they range from a simple dog-walking garden ("For Cosmo" by Marcus Green) to a butterfly-inspired field ("Metamorphosis" by Peter Thomas), each one sponsored to the tune of £25,000. This is a fraction of what a garden costs to build at the Chelsea Flower Show and one might expect a serious shortfall in terms of quality. This isn't the case. The standard is better than ever and one or two gardens would look more than comfortable as a permanent feature at Butterfly World.

Paul Dracott's "Exoskeleton" is hot and vibrant with late summer perennials, while Jane Hudson and Erik de Maeijer's planting in "Nest", which uses coppiced willow to express a powerful message of "nurture", looks like it's already in its second season. Watching these plants mature and how they resonate with light and the elements of this windy site is all part of the pleasure – particularly as these two gardens rely on the site's exposed nature to add an extra dimension of movement.

Andy Sturgeon's "Urban Greening" consists of wheat planted in bold blocks which roll with each breath of wind. Rusty steel panels cast an almost watchful presence in this garden, which addresses the loss of green space in our cities and how good-quality landscaping can improve the environment. The "Welcome" garden by Rosita Castro Dominguez et al is one of the more dynamic concepts, with kite forms dancing on a breeze among nectar-rich lavender, scabious and verbena. The view, mainly from within a large metal cage, creates an interesting tension, questioning our relationship with nature and how we (mankind) are upsetting the balance.

The horti-élite might cringe at the thought of orange and white combined, but the effect is stunning in Bruno Marmoli's "The H Garden". A decked path cutting through a spangle of marigolds, gaura and nicotiana tempts you to explore what lies within the large orange polystyrene enclosure at the end. Within lie three white trees made of board, emerging from a black coal mulch. The atmosphere of this animated shrine is accentuated by a haunting soundtrack and the cloying musk of cleomes; it seems to explore our relationship with nature from both sacred and secular points of view (steel skulls add a pagan touch at the rear of the space).

Tony Heywood's "Anthroscope 3", a personal voyage into a surreal dreamscape, juxtaposes materials as obscure and intriguing as cattle horns, fleece, coal and jewellery. The amorphous island, Heywood's unique brand of geological language, is spawned and abstracted from the artist's personal reminiscences, engaging visitors who, whether they like it or not, will linger long.

More chaos greets you at the entrance to Michelle Wake's "Release Garden" where a redoubt of tree branches can only be accessed through a winding path. The confined journey eventually "releases" you into an area where herbaceous planting brings colour (and food for insects) among a copse of Salix babylonica 'Tortuosa' (twisted willow). A pool with a sculpture by Chloe Leaper provides a tranquil space at the end of the journey. Inspired by Wagner, the designer explores how gardens, like music, might affect people both physically and emotionally. Of all the gardens this has perhaps achieved the most in terms of giving a powerful sense of place.

The sculptor Fiona Heron is no stranger to conceptual design and her garden "Nature's Artistry – Autumn's Edge" is carefully orchestrated into her trademark segments of ordered space. Exploring "the sense of becoming and regeneration in autumn", the garden has an intriguing mixture of textures – with mulches of vegetation, chestnut hulms, pine needles and walnuts all chosen for their natural form and their pre-disposition to weathering and decay. The fragility and richness of nature's cycle is further accentuated by Heron's own sculptures – steel rods topped with a mix of eye-catching textures, glass, ceramics, card etc, all imitating nearby bulrush beds. A mesmerising experience.

Overall there are some extremely strong messages at Future Gardens – about our relationship with the landscape and how we interact with it throughout the seasons. If Butterfly World is looking to become a standard-bearer for the future of our gardens, it's certainly off to a flying start.

Visit futuregardens.org or call 01727 869203 for further information

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This expanding, vibrant charity which su...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Supervisor & Advisor - Automotive

£16500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Housing Assistant

£16819 - £21063 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager - OTE £60,000

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In 2014, they launched the worl...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones