Emerging natural architecture - Westbury Windows and Joinery

Emerging natural architecture

Back in 2016, designer Alexandre Grivko successfully transformed the historical Jardin D’Etretat from a perfectly pleasant French garden into an internationally renowned, one-of-a-kind art space by using architectural principles in the planting design. This week we explore the fascinating concept of living architecture in more detail…

Back in March, we were lucky enough to speak with the talented garden designer Paul Baines, who shared his expert tips on using planting to complement your home and soften your garden room. During our interview, we were interested to hear that Paul had initially started out as an architectural technician before embarking on a career in landscapes.

“I did some freelance work for a garden designer who encouraged me to pursue my interest in gardening,” Paul explains. “I realised that landscape design and architecture have a lot in common, as they both focus on balance and proportion.” Paul’s gardens are based around his belief that the fundamental elements of good design are balancing scale and proportion – similar to what our designers do when designing our garden rooms and orangeries.

The Golden Ratio of Design

The Golden Ratio is a design concept that artists, designers, and architects have aspired to achieve in their work for hundreds of years. This clever geometric theory is applied when you have two quantities; the ratio between the sum of the two quantities and the larger quantity should be the same as the ratio between the larger and smaller quantity. Achieving the Golden Ratio is said to give an aesthetically pleasing and balanced look, helping something to stand out by giving it a sense of being ‘just so’.

When applied to architectural design, the golden ratio usually takes the form of the golden rectangle – or just any shape that can be wholly divided into up into a square and a rectangle that, when combined, establishes a ratio, approximately equating to 1:1.61. As both the length and width of these shapes correspond to the ratio, it should be possible to up or downscale a structure while still maintaining these golden proportions.

Applying this architectural concept to planting was common practice in the past, but it eventually grew out of fashion as homeowners preferred a natural, free-growing look. Now, it seems to be enjoying a revival, and we are starting to see some exciting garden designers and horticulturalists who are developing these fascinating concepts for the 21st century.

Les Jardins d’Etretat

Set on the clifftops overlooking the small fishing village of Etretat in Normandy, Les Jardins D’Etretat is a public open-air art museum and garden that looks out over white tumbled cliffs and the English Channel. Originally a part of the Villa Roxelane, which was owned by famous French actress Madame Thebault, (who planted the very first tree), the garden benefited from its idyllic setting and expansive coastal views. Thebault happened to be good friends with the renowned artist Claude Monet, who used to come to the garden and paint. Eventually, he inspired her to create a spectacular avant-garde garden which she filled with a vast collection of rare orchids, which was one of her passions.

Originally, landscape designer, Alexandre Grivko, was appointed to revive the gardens back to their original glory, but he certainly did more than that when he took over in 2016. Brilliantly combining garden design with parametric architectural principals, the architect brought something completely new to the garden, effectively forging his very own experimental garden style.

Influenced by designer and architect Vito di Bari’s 2007 ‘Neo-Futuristic City Manifesto’, which calls for the blending of art, technology, ethical values, and nature, Grivko re-imagined much of the planting.

Specifically focusing on building structure with the plant compositions, the Il Nature’s art director and co-founder was inspired by the impressionist (and keen gardener) Claude Monet himself, who had once loved the original garden so much.

Choosing to see plants as art themselves, Grivko used them to create magnificent living sculptures that move and grow. Combining them with the art already on display at Les Jardins d’Etretat, it’s safe to say that his innovative ideas took the garden to a whole new level – it’s a truly wondrous place indeed. Summer is the ideal time to visit the garden, when the vibrant blue Agapanthus steals the show.

‘Les Jardins d’Étretat not only draws attention to the biodiversity and natural beauty of the ecosystem but also demonstrates new architectural methods in the art of landscaping.’ – www.ilnature.co.uk


Large shrubs, trees, and bushes are shaped into a spectacular topiary display that reflects the surrounding landscape. Crashing waves, arches, spirals, cones, and whirls of foliage seamlessly balance with the proportions of the sculptures they surround, including one of Claude Monet at his easel.

Guiding the visitor through the clearly designed footpaths and routes, the garden could be compared to a maze – but there is so much to discover as you make your way around, feeling nurtured by the beautiful blend of plants and artwork.  

Architectural Plants

Nursery and landscape specialist, Architectural Plants, has been turning heads in the garden design world in recent years, with new MD, Guy Watts, at the helm to expand the nursery and bring a fresh perspective to the business.

Known for stocking plants that are both shapely and exotic since their establishment in 1990, their nursery has everything you can possibly imagine from Japanese topiary, hardy palms, bamboo plants, and a range of rare evergreen trees; if you’re looking for something unusual or eye-catching then Architectural Plants will probably have it.  

Image Credit: Architectural Plants

Behind everything that they do, the specialist nursery believes that garden design should be about creating shape through plants – they celebrate the weird and wonderful species that can create strong and bold structures in your outdoor space, with interesting silhouettes and strong textures balancing with the proportions of your garden walls, steps, garden rooms, and paved areas. As far as their designers are concerned, a garden should display plants with spectacular shapes that are used to perfectly cohere with the principles of architectural design. The bolder and bigger, the better.

Image Credit: Architectural Plants

Architectural Plants is set within 32 acres of open fields, surrounded by farmland and views of the South Downs. With symmetrical avenues of mature trees, Japanese topiary and a picturesque lake, it’s always been the perfect location for photo shoots, weddings, and outdoor performances. Now the nursery has more to offer, with a café, shop, art sculptures, specialist horticulture courses, seminars, and markets. Their recent pop-up supper club with Greg Wallace went down a storm, and these new and innovative ideas are making people take note. It will be interesting to see what Guy and his team does next, but this is certainly a trend to watch! Architectural Plants Nursery; Stane Street, North Heath, Pulborough, West Sussex, RH20 1DJ www.architecturalplants.com