Photo: Patty O'Hara (flickr)
Garden designers nowadays reflect the interests of our time: sustainability, the whole food movement, organic practices and so on. There is more melding of ornamental and edible plantings, and in fact, edible plants are considered ornamental and qualify for positions in a front garden.
The elevation of function as an important design principle, however, has its roots in the 20th-century modernist movement. Designers such as Brenda Colvin and Sylvia Crowe transformed industrial sites in Britain into beautiful spaces with gardens that looked appropriate in terms of the adjacent structures.
Fredrick Gibbard was another modernist designer who concentrated on function. He worked in the British town of Harlow in Essex and said that although garden design is “picture-making,” function must always be central to the process.
The modernist architect Walter Gropius went so far as to say that “art, industry, nature, practicality and pleasant living are all indivisible.”
All 20th-century modernist designers embraced new technology and materials but focused always on what spaces are to be used for. Their emphasis on using naturalistic rather than formal plantings has especially influenced how our current gardens look today. The space itself and the areas contiguous to it dictated what was deemed appropriate to a site. For instance, local rocks were considered more appropriate than marble for a water feature.
Although spaces have their own character, they must fit in with and merge into whatever they are adjacent to. Thus a formal garden of topiary would never be placed right next to a cow pasture or a factory.