All topics can become interesting if someone passionate is sharing their interest with you. It is always astounding how much depth there is in even the smallest things, if people invest time and energy in it. Whether it is a PhD topic in physics, Japanese knife making or garden design, these are topics that some people will never contemplate and others will spend a lifetime mastering.
It is amazing how we choose something that seems arbitrary, spend our lives understanding it, and finally it becomes meaningful.
The Englishman Russell Page, born in 1906, spent his life in pursuit of perfecting garden design. He devoted his life to gardening, something many at most consider a hobby, and I am sure that there were many life pursuits of others that didn’t inspire him at all. The privilege of being human is choosing to spend you life on what interest you.
While Mr. Page did get his hand dirty and had a thorough understanding of horticulture, his particular skill was to think about the ideals of garden design. This is what set him apart from his contemporaries. His style.
When he writes about his way of gardening, he uses the language of a designer more than that of a gardener. There is a clear architecture in his gardens, which he considered the true task of the garden designer. Flowers change, but the structure of a garden remains. In his book “The education of a gardener” he explains why he holds this view.
“We must draw a very clear distinction between style and decoration. I could consider no modern garden even remotely interesting as a work of art unless it could stand as such, stripped of every single purely decorative attribute. A garden artist will only use decoration to heighten the style, that is, the idea from which his whole construction has sprung.”
He goes on to state that good design does not necessarily mean rigidity or austerity, but that every detail should elevate the style and not distract from it.
The concept that decoration should only be used to elevate the style and not be a goal in itself is also a key concept in fashion. It calls to mind Gabrielle Chanel’s eternal law to always remove an accessory before going out the door.
It is similar to the construction and decoration of a well made shoe. The leather, the shape of the last and the construction are the core of the shoe. The elegant shape should be able to stand on its own and be beautiful.
However, Russell Page was not a minimalist. He knew that decoration could be used in moderation to heighten the style of the construction. Just like how a cap-toe can emphasise the elegance of a shoe and give a traditional reference or how broguing can be the detail that completes a shoe.