Rhythm of life

PUBLISHED: 11:36 17 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:32 20 February 2013

Fiery autumnal cotinus

Fiery autumnal cotinus

Natural creativity, a Swedish childhood and an architect's training mean gardens designed by Ylva Blid-Mackenzie combine structure with abundant, colourful planting

Landscape architect and garden designer, Ylva Blid-Mackenzie, has established a trademark over the past 10 years for blending hard and soft elements in a vibrant, balanced whole. Originally from Sweden, childhood influences can be seen in her style.

"Coming from a farming family, although both my parents were professionals, I first took an interest in wild flowers, but also grew vegetables with both my grandfathers," she says.

"I had my own herb garden and grew lots of pot plants. The landscape I grew up in is quite small-scale, intimate and varied. I think this has a bearing on the type of gardens I create. I loved the kitchen gardens of my grandparents, but also the traditional country flowers they grew, such as orange lilies, purple Michaelmas daisies and marigolds."

Natural creativity
Natural creativity was further developed through a Steiner education giving Ylva's artistic side full rein. "I painted, sewed, drew, embroidered and worked in clay and wood with enthusiasm," Ylva recalls.

Visits to her neighbour's garden, owned by Magnus Johnson, northern Europe's foremost expert on clematis, left a lasting impression. "His garden was like a jungle and his greenhouse filled with the most exotic blooms," she says.

Leaving school, Ylva first started training as an architect in Stockholm but then changed direction half way through the five-year degree course and went to study landscape architecture in Denmark. After working for two years in Berlin upon graduation, she then moved to Kent and set up her business at Madrona Nursery.

"My training was very architectural and strongly oriented towards developing a concept - a whole experience that gelled, where every part seemed to belong to the same order. Planting was treated as secondary, first the room sequences, the vistas and the movement must fall into place," explains Ylva.

Further training and increased plant knowledge re-ignited Ylva's natural love for exuberance and colour. "I still have kept this feeling for shape, backbone and structure. You can create these effects though in many ways, with soft as well as hard landscaping.

"I like to work with structure, and then let it offset some wild, abundant, bright or soft planting, such as colours that flow over and spill out of frame," she enthuses.

Inspiration also comes from a love of travelling extensively through Europe, absorbing many of the best historical and contemporary gardens. "This stands me in very good stead and has meant that I can relate to many styles and form expressions. It is like having a really good library of ideas to draw from," she says.

Ylva's style displays an informed use of contrasting textures and shapes. Billowing perennials, massed layered plantings, waving grasses, flowing lines and punctuated focal points are elements in an orchestrated landscape.

Looking at large double borders in one of her gardens exemplifies this. There is a backbone of flowering shrubs, a dotting of islands of roses and lower flowering shrubs through sweeping groups of perennials, with clumps of tall grasses, some of them very near the front, wafting over it all.
She describes it as "rhythms, but not even - like off-set pairs or repeats that change position - a bit like the syncopated rhythms of jazz music, that I like so much."

Designs can be done from whole gardens, large or small, or parts of gardens, using plants from the nursery. Tailoring to a client's needs and the location are priorities.

"It is very important to work with the site, the soil type and aspect, not against it," she explains. "To choose plants that will grow happily, a design that will look natural or 'of its place' - not to try to pull something down over it that doesn't fit.

"The same with the clients. I spend a lot of my first meeting with them trying to establish what they want from this project, what it should do for them and what type of gardens they like," says Ylva.

Informal sketches are done until the final concept is agreed. "Too much hard detail too early can prevent clients from giving their honest opinion. They should feel free to criticise and come with suggestions for improvements or changes.

"The longer I work in this field, the more I go away from formal drawings, especially when it comes to planting schemes, where I often just work with loose sketches and a plant list, and then create the finer details as I stand the plants on site.

"I have a picture in my mind of the result I am aiming for and can visualise this as I place the plants. I often use photos that I draw over to show these effects to the client," she explains.

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