Lots of teenage kids earn spending money doing yard work, but Gordon Hayward took his childhood summer job more seriously than most. He began working for a gardening friend of the family when he was 12, and by age 15 he had designed his first woodland walk. But making a career of gardening wasn't in the cards for a young man growing up in Connecticut in the 1950s, he says. So he went off and got his teaching degree and taught writing to high school students.
Then in 1978 he and his British wife, Mary, moved to her village in the Cotswolds of England. Nothing like English country gardens to stir up his dormant longing to get his hands in the dirt. He took a job restoring the gardens around Manor House on his wife's family's estate, met famed garden designers Rosemary Verey and Penelope Hobhouse, and visited gardens far and wide in England. The experience was a turning point.
Gordon returned to the states passionate about designing gardens. He believed in learning by doing so he began to study with a mentor -- a garden designer -- and took on small design jobs on weekends, while teaching school during the week. He added writing for Horticulture magazine to his already full schedule, and began laying the groundwork for a career change.
"I long ago lost track of what a weekend means," says Gordon, who is now a nationally known garden designer and lecturer, and has just published his fifth book, Your House, Your Garden: A Foolproof Approach to Garden Design. Gordon is still a teacher at heart, only now his books have replaced the classroom. His new book focuses on the connection between the house and surrounding landscape and provides garden design solutions for challenges such as how to visually connect a house and garage, or how to hide the driveway from view.
"I'm trying to teach useful design principles that any reader can put to work in their garden," he explains. "So I looked at the whole subject of garden design and realized that the relationship between the house and the garden is the key to a balanced life inside and outside the house. If I show readers how to create a garden by consulting their house -- that is: its dimensions, its doors, its windows, its material, its color - they can then apply these design principles and gain confidence as a designer of their own gardens.
"Gordon's designs are influenced by the English model of an architecturally strong, informally planted garden, which he combines with what he sees as the distinctly American style of creating gardens around living spaces. "The new American gardener is very interested in getting among his or her plants, living outdoors with plants, as opposed to the English garden where you walk past long perennial borders," Gordon explains.
He also tries to honor the history of a place. For instance, he might incorporate an old barn or tree or other landscape feature into the design. People in suburban settings can create the impression of history by using trees to frame a view of an old church steeple, or using rocks that will support the growth of moss or lichen and give that impression of age.
When the first flake of snow appears in the air, Gordon switches gears from designing gardens to writing and lecturing about them. "I have a yin-yang, inner-outer balance to my life that follows the seasons," Gordon says. This coming winter he will tend to his next book -- about the design principles he and Mary used to create both their 1-1/2 -acre garden in Vermont and their teeny pocket handkerchief garden in the Cotswolds of England. For those adventurous gardeners who aren't content with simply reading about inspiring gardens, Gordon and Mary also lead eight-day tours to private English gardens.
For more information about his books, tours, and design services, visit Gordon's Web site: www.haywardgardens.com/
Article published on September 9, 2004.