Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Rebirth of ‘Arts & Crafts’ or ‘Going Green’?

I recently attended a Garden Design & Landscaping seminar focussing on what seems to be the hot topic of the moment – sustainability. Here’s a pretty Venn diagram showing a model for sustainable development.

After hearing from ‘Scotscape’ about green walls, from ‘Allturf’ on green roofs, wildflower turf  and a really long talk by a ‘Marshalls’ representative desperately trying to convince us of how ‘green’ their products are – with pictures of acres and acres of block paving, at last the product sales pitches ended and we were treated to an excellent talk by the designer, Sarah Eberle.  If you’ve never heard her speak, I can recommend it as a dynamic, entertaining and thought-provoking experience!

Sarah suggested that garden designers are, by definition, pretty ‘green’. We plant lots of green stuff.  She also mentioned the use of local products and local artisans; something that all garden design students learn about.  We all know for instance that local stone is far more congruous in a garden design than stone that has been shipped thousands of miles around the globe; not to mention more ethical and sustainable.

Sarah also touched on the Arts & Crafts movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Which got me thinking about the link between the current emphasis on sustainability and the resurgence of interest in local crafts and all things ‘hand-made’.  ‘Bespoke’ is the ‘mot du jour’; ‘bespoke’ is very trendy indeed. And Acoustic, folks, is the new electric!

A few decades ago, learning a new craft was pretty much limited to pottery classes (RIP all those pottery wheels & kilns) and being made to wear a jumper hand-knitted by your mother rather than a shop-bought one could lead to merciless teasing by your peers. ‘Global warming’ was unheard of and townies growing their own were viewed with much amusement, as portrayed by Tom & Barbara’s enthusiastic dedication to ‘The Good Life’  But more recently there has been a veritable explosion in courses like woodcraft, willow-weaving, hedge-laying, bee-keeping and much, much more. And these days if you ‘grow your own’ you’re more likely to be viewed as a bit of a hero rather than as quaintly eccentric. In fact it has given rise to a new form of guilt in those of us who don’t. I’d better not even mention the ‘O’ word!

Anyway, I digress. Back to the point of this blog.

In terms of garden materials, out are pink and yellow chequerboard concrete patios (remember them?!) and in are natural products and locally sourced, hand-crafted items. In a garden design I’m currently working on we have commissioned a local oak craftsman to design and build an oak gazebo and pergola and some local willow growers/weavers to make a willow play house and obelisks.  The crafts people concerned are a total delight to deal with, their products are beautiful and the whole process is enriching and fascinating.

The Arts & Crafts design movement, amongst other things, was a kick-back against the rapid expansion of industrialisation and mass-produced goods.   Is the current renaissance in locally made, hand-crafted products born  of  a similar dissatisfaction? Or does it owe more to the the call to arms.. or rather the call to spades, to live greener more sustainable lives? Is it even an expression of our ever-growing fear that if we don’t learn how to live and look after ourselves without a reliance on oil and fossil fuels our days could be seriously numbered?

Whatever the reasons I for one think our lives and our designs are all the better for it.

And if you now feel desperate to learn an ancient (!) craft and make something by hand; here’s a little instructional video for you 😉