Sunday, 26 July 2009

Vivienne Westwood in my garden.

The fashion goddess that is Vivienne Westwood, or Viv as I like to call her, has recently unveiled her new Manifesto. Titled ‘Do It Your Self’ Viv suggests that fashion should be less about the recent move towards “throw away” philosophies, where people buy cheap items and throw them away after a short period of time, and more about recycling, quality and utilising key pieces. Within this campaign Viv also insists that recycling and sustainability should be included wherever possible. The quality or key item should remain within the collection and reused within different settings throughout different times and fashions. Alongside this, and something that is to be expected of the high Dame, is the need for individuality and reflection of self. The new Spring/Summer ’09 manifesto can be found here.

“What has this got to do with gardening?” I hear you ask. Well, quite a lot actually. The key messages that Viv puts forward can be interpreted and applied directly to gardening. Other issues such as recycling, sustainability, quality, staying power and versatility, which are all included in her latest manifesto, all impact on garden design and planting. These are topical issues within society and horticulture and as such, these should bear heavily on our choices and decisions.

What can we do in the garden that incorporates Viv’s philosophy?

Firstly, we look at the use of key pieces and quality items. This can relate to good quality specimen plants; be it large or small, herbaceous or woody, or hard landscaping be it a patio, sculpture, etc. A key piece would need staying power in that it is there for all seasons; hence it’s recurrent nature and versatility when used in new schemes or changing garden fashions. A good example of a key piece would be a large evergreen shrub/tree which would add structure and permanence in the garden or a focal point such as a piece of garden art.

Secondly, as a garden comprises more than one element, it will need additional planting or landscaping. This is where recycling can come in very handy. When applying this to planting, propagation is one of the easiest and cost effective ways of increasing stock, and lets face it its an incredibly sustainable way of maintaining a plant filled garden. Utilising opportunities to acquire free plants and landscaping materials, such as plant swaps, Freecycle, or friends and family, will also enable you to put more resources towards key pieces.

Finally, the most important component of the garden should be you. A garden should reflect your personality, style, and tastes. Afterall, if we all followed fashion and the media as directed wouldn’t it all get a bit boring?

I say we take influence from the Queen of fashion and for that matter any influences that promote individuality, sustainability and longevity. We have so many influences and yet so few that aren’t solely focussed on commercialism.

What are your views on this interpretation? And what influences you in the garden?


  1. Vivienne Westwood has always been ahead of the rest of us--World's End--partnership w/Armani--latest collection. She has also been a huge influence and idol of mine. You know that I have often written about the relationships between fashion and gardens--both beautiful, ephemeral, and personal expressions of our human need to express ourselves and have an outlet for our creativity. Great post, Ryan. Thank you.

  2. What a great analogy. Garden snobs can make you really self conscious about what you put in your garden, but I often think newly started gardens are the most fascinating because the gardener is trying to implement their vision with limited means and the improvisation makes the gardens very personal.

  3. I tend to believe that Ms Westwood may have just caught the gardening bug that is fast becoming the new rock n roll/ the new black/the new drug whatver, take your pick. Recycling, reusing and reinventing has been part of horticulture, particularly amongst the working classes, since gardening began.
    There is nothing new in anything she has said.

  4. Ms Westwood was merely commenting on fashion. I was discussing her latest manifesto and making links into horticulture. Links that include a move away from commercialism, an increased sense of individualism, and the importance of helping to build a sustainable future. Not all of these concepts are new, I agree, but they are important concepts none the less.

  5. I love how you took an initial prejudgement of "whimsical" topic by the reader and showed the depth, importance and resonance of the combination of Fashion and Gardening and how they are conceptually interlaced. Further, I also enjoyed the ability to see something from an Eco viewpoint and not have it "Preachy" or dry but rather rich, humourous AND useful. Great work, I will recommend the article and very much look forward to the next.
    Robin De Groot

  6. I'm here because of Robin and agree with how you you invited your audience to think about their gardens. Keeping a few good pieces and designing around them, works especially well in a new garden giving structure, focus and helps with the initial sense of overwhelm. By starting with the bones, then adding favorites from swaps or cuttings each garden will take on the owner's personality. Nicely written.

  7. Your post is as cutting edge and creative as Viv, its subject. Though my own gardens have evolved to incorporate more "bones," I never thought of them in terms of sustainability. Thanks for encouraging us, once again, to think outside of the gardening box.

  8. I love your idea of bridging disciplines with the concept of how fashion design can relate to gardening. I love the idea of key pieces creating the bones of a garden or a wardrobe. That said, I truly think that people should garden (and dress or design) however they please - without rules. Sure history and theory can inform design, but idiosyncrasies and individuality can be the things that elevate something from ordinary to art. My manifesto is garden how you live.

  9. Thanks for such a thought-provoking piece. Individuality, sustainability and longevity are certainly good principles to apply towards any garden design. Teresa

  10. Hi Ryan! Great post - wonderful subject!
    For me, the most salient point here is individuality - a garden without a point of view that reflects the beliefs of its owner is somewhat of a shadow of what it could be, in my opinion. This keeps me conflicted, since I design gardens for a living, and often work for people who don't WANT to interact with their garden spaces, they just want them beautiful. So what then?
    When working with obvious non-gardeners on their gardens, I see it as a challenge to inspire - to tease them into interacting with their outdoor spaces and to hopefully to start adding their essence into their gardens. Often, I find analogies to fashion, art, cooking - these are hooks that help the non-gardener gain a foothold into the often arcane world of the garden. A conversation about Vivianne Westwood could be just the thing that opens up a world of possibilities.
    It is so important to bring ideas from other forms into what we do - I'm always looking for just this kind of inspiration. Thank you!

  11. Very interesting post! I will bear all that in mind! Val

  12. Hi Ryan~~ What baffles me is how many millions of dollars companies dish out to advertise their loot. I am seldom, only on the rarest of occasions influenced to buy a product just because I saw it advertised. This includes gardening items. I know many people who feel the same way. Perhaps we're a minority because advertising seems to work. I just wonder who those people are who gawk at the TV and think, "Oh yeah. Great product." They jump up, "Where are my keys? Dear, I'm headed to Target!" Do people really do this?

    I've never been overtly indulgent in trends or fads. Usually by the time I figure out what is supposedly the latest and greatest, it has been replaced with a new and improved latest and greatest.

    I am all for supporting local businesses that employ good people and sell a good product.

    BTW, I'm completely unfamiliar with Ms. Westwood. I buy most of my clothes at Thrift Stores. LOL.

  13. Then you are already doing it!! Good on you Grace!

  14. Hi Ryan Interesting post long before your time I was brought up on the likes of Geoff Hamilton his garden run by his family is well worth a visit.
    Geoff's philosophy was much the same as what you are saying.
    For myself money was never plentiful when my family was young and so growing things from seed and cuttings apart from fun was in fact the best way to increase my plants. Now I have too many sometimes. I would love many rare and beautiful plants but still and never will have a purse to meet my imagination. Those who do seem to kill off their beauties faster than they can buy them otherwise the garden centres would not profit.
    My style is clearly cottage and on the rare occassions I venture into exotic it doesn't work well and I end up with too many things needing winter protection. So I suppose common sense for me is a major part of my gardening.

  15. I love the connection between fashion and the garden - of course we should 'dress' our gardens as we do ourselves, it is a reflection of ourselves and how we wish to be seen. A designer item or two, personalised with cheap finds & repurposed items & we're ready to face the world - or perhaps just have freinds over to enjoy our friendly garden.

  16. I am very happy to know the an influential person like Vivienne Westwood is talking about recycling, into DIY and moving out from the 'throw away' philosophy. I hope she can influence many of her fans/followers to change their mindset. If only more business owners think like this, we have less to worry about on the amount of rubbish we throw and the landfills needed.

  17. I've taken on an allotment this year, and I think the same principles work here too. Obviously, the allotment way of life is mend and make do, I don't intend to go splashing out on new things if I can recycle and make them myself. Regarding structure, the backbone, I am digging out seperate beds for each group of crops, which in turn will, I think, make it easier to keep on top of things and also make the plot tidy. Although I have been gardening for some time, I haven't been growing edibles for long, so I want to try different varieties of each crop to find out which works best and which I like best. I'm doing this by joining in seed swaps and taking a pinch of this and a pinch of that. No use forking out on a full packet of seed if you decide not to grow them again.

  18. Ryan, Another nexus of the garden and fashion--hooray! Thanks for a thoughtful post!

  19. God, she's cute in that picture. My garden right now is a hodgepodge of sorts -- the orphaned plants my clients want me to rip out as their color palette changes in their garden 'rooms'. I've put myself on a spending hiatus and only plant the discarded, collect seeds/cuttings and am putting more sculpture in. Next am tackling any/all plastic in the garden. I'm lucky enough to live in CA though where you can throw a brugmansia in the ground and it sprouts, now that's high drama.

  20. I'm more like a conductor...don't expect me to follow others in any aspect of living.

    There are so many elements involved in gardening that I find it hard to compare it to fashion.
    For me there's more vanity with fashion....the garden is more about life and not self.

  21. I'm no fashionista. However, I do feel that fashion isn't about following the crowd it's about a statement of self. And I also believe that genres can cross, idea's from one can be applied to another.

    “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” Coco Chanel

  22. Martin Phillips1 August 2009 at 16:07

    Hi Ryan. I very much enjoyed your article about fashion and gardens with Vivienne. Fun article to read. Everyone is "in to " fashion at some level, and gardens are fashioned after our sense of mood, whimsy, and pleasure. I live in an apartment, so my gardens have always been potted gardens in fairly small places. Even so, I have always been able to display a large focal piece (plant or fountain) as the centerpiece of my garden, surrounded by an ecclectic array of pots; I have collected pots from basic terra cotta, to pots I purchased in Mexico, to yes, even the dreaded plastic pots. I know, I know. I very much believe in sustainability in both gardening and life, in general. In my classroom (I am a sixth grade teacher), we recycle, I teach basic gardening skills, how to compost, about solar energy, and more. Not on a large scale, sadly, but as much as I can. Because I cannot fit new plants into my monthly budget always, I "baby" all of my plants. For example, my petunias (one of my all-time favorties along with plumeria, Japanese Iris, and gardenia) I spend much time working with finding them just the right placement that will not throw off the balance of my garden. But where I live, in north-central California, summers are intensely hot (many days over 100-degrees F) and my patio faces due west. My petunias do not thrive in such heat nor in such sunshine, so I move them to shadier areas. However, despite that move, the heat is still quite instense for them. My point is, unlike the throw-away society we live in, fashion included, I refuse to merely get rid of my plants when they are not thriving. I believe that the point of life is not to extinguish it when it is "not pretty" anymore, but to help it along until it Can flourish once more.

    Gardens also fluctuate and their theme may change as one's life changes. Previous to the west-facing patio apartment I now live in, my apartment received wonderful morning sun and then shade during the intense heat of those long summer days. When my son's life dramatically changed a year ago, I had him son move in with me, so I had to move from my quite nice one bedroom apartment to a two bedroom. My previous garden was all flowers: violas, pansies, iris, Japanese Maple Bonsai, dahlias, delphiniums, foxglove, and more. I LOVED that. My happiness with life up to that point was peacefully reflected in that garden, as was my own fashion sense and style. My gorgeous Japanese Maple bonsai and a Zen fountain were the focal point. Now however, like my life, my garden has been forced to change. It is interesting that, while I am a flower man, my garden now is nearly all succulents and smal shrubs. I have had to carefully research and select succulents that flower. I have to have my flowers. So as to not create a boring garden, I planted many of my succulents in pitted porus rocks. They are quite beautiful...small, put pretty. I recycle many plants at their peak, so as to display them to enjoy their beauty. When I say recycle, I do not mean throw them away. I remove them and repot them in something else. For me, like mixing and matching shirts, slacks and jackets, and shoes, doing the same with my plants allows me to flourish in my own way.

    I hope this reflection - long and dry as it is - makes some sense to you. If I sounded as if I am unhappy with my life, I am not. I merely wanted to state that as one changes, the garden will, as well. My garden, like my life, like my fashion ventures, never has a dull moment. There is always something new to learn, to see, the change, to better, to help and to enjoy.

    Thank you for allowing me this reflection. Take care.



  23. Don't get me started Ryan.
    Who's Coco ? lol
    Different opinions are a good thing.

  24. Oh but I want to get you started, as you put it.

    Difference is what makes this world interesting and I love a good debate! I think we will get along famously! Welcome to the blog!


  25. Ryan:

    Ah, my cutting edge garden compatriot - a wonderfully thought provoking post - and judging by the number onf responses, one that has hit a nerve with the gardening community.

    Many moons ago I was one of a handful of 'outsiders' - not Goth or Punk, but decidedly on the fringes looking in. It has only come to my attention that my garden reflects this same mentality. I am a shade gardener - not something that people gravitate towards willingly, and have filled my small space with plants that are even less common and available in hort commerce.

    I loathe trendiness in all its forms and have found that there is a rampant amount of it in the hort business. I am shocked with the number of customers coming into the nursery on a daily basis asking for 'Incrediball' or 'Invincibelle' hydrangea oly because some local gardening 'authority' has been touting it. I cringe when this is followed by 'If I don't like it, I can always toss it and find something better!' Egads!

    You won't find me at the bog box garden centres come hell or high water - even when they boast 60% off sales this time of year! To me they represent the total lack of recycling - why not over winter the plants instead of marking them down below cost! They have lots of space, and you don't need heated houses, just space on benches or the floor for that matter!

    I hope that my garden will sustain itself long after I have leapt this mortal coil, and am becoming more conscious of my plantings. Trees and flowers that attract pollinators to name but two. As far as a gardening style, I have been accused of being 'highbrow' but shudder at the thought. I am drawn to plants, to their growth habit, and as a result have what some consider to be a 'dog's breakfast!' - over 300 different single specimens growing in for the most part a space that measures 10'w by 30'l, but each and every plant is an integral part of the overall effect. True, I tend to find myself attracted to the unknown, but then as a teenager and young adult, I was busily exploring the many alternatives that humankind has available to them.

    Enough blithering..... you've succeeded in getting many gardeners thinking.... which is definitely a good thing!



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