23 February 2014

On Living —With Taste

The thing about good designers is: they are just trying to make sense of space. There is a logic.

Touring around the garden of an interior designer is an exercise in strict visual hierarchy. When the drawing room is configured, it is inconceivable that the view just outside should not be given lengthy consideration as well. This is certainly the case at The Grove, the garden designed by the late David Hicks, society decorator and taste polemicist.

"It is amazing how few people bother to cultivate their taste," wrote David Hicks in 1968, "and how very many there are with no taste—whether good or bad." 

Taken from one of my favourite coffee table books On Living—With Taste (is it the title?), what David Hicks is saying is that people ignore their innate taste and the decisions that taste requires. Their lives are thus chaotic and less lovely. Hicks' garden is about manning up to decision-making; a designer designing. The garden is all straight lines and vistas, always leading away from the house. The garden exists in terms of the people inside looking out.

On visiting The Grove in Oxfordshire last week I was interested to see plastic pots, harbouring cardoons and tree peonies. Plastic has a place because it's more practical than terracotta and besides it's hidden in cubes of box, or in the case of the cardoons above, in clipped hornbeam. It's not beautiful in itself but as we know, there is beauty in utility.

"Attention to detail must be ruthless," said David Hicks and there is a ruthlessness about this garden.

One of my favourite details were the wooden boxes fixed on brick walls, built to cover "unsightly" garden hosepipes. The grid pattern on each varied from the last but all were distinctly Hicks-ian, like the garden doors and the miles of hornbeam, both hedged or pleached but always clipped.

For design appreciators, The Grove can be viewed by appointment via Ashley Hicks. He also has a lively Instagram account in which the garden makes a regular appearance.

The David Hicks hosepipe box.