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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in Best Borders (2)


An Omitted Author.

Flower Gardens, Penelope Hobhouse, Frances Lincoln

A reader contacted me a short while ago because she noticed that I had omitted an internationally renowned author from my list of recommended books on gardening. That list appears to the right of this page. While the omission was not an oversight, it was, at first, difficult to write a response because the reader, a garden blogger in her own right, is someone I respect immensely.  At first I had difficulty replying spontaneously because I did not want to offend her. In time, I was able to collect my thoughts and deliver them in, what I hoped was, a polite manner.

The omitted author is Penelope Hobhouse. By coincidence, one of her books, Flower Gardens, is the first I ever purchased when I began gardening. It was the initial inspiration for planning and planting an English style garden. However, there were shortcomings to the book that I was unable to articulate until a few years later when I purchased a similar book by Tony Lord, Best Borders. Then, by comparing the two, I understood what made Mr. Lord’s book better than Ms. Hobhouse’s.

Flower Gardens is a beautifully written ode to gardening. The author takes us on a journey not only through her favorite gardens but also through the garden ideas in her mind. Reading her work is like walking beside her, collecting pearls of wisdom along the way. Sadly, some of us do not have the time or inclination to stop and savor all that Ms Hobhouse offers us.

The generous amount of information that she shares with us is so all encompassing that it is overwhelming. There is too much to read and too much detail to absorb. Nevertheless, this is an exceedingly well-written, lavishly illustrated, and impressive-to-give-or-receive publication. Unfortunately, it is not as useful to practical gardeners as are other books.

Mr. Lord’s book, on the other hand, is leaner and more focused; the text is more accessible, and the photographs of flower beds, some identical to those that appear in Flower Gardens, are more effective, by comparison, to those taken by Ms. Hobhouse’s photographer, Andrew Lawson.

Changing lifestyles and new technologies have transformed some of us into impatient readers. Few have the time to curl up with a book. We merely consult them to learn how-to-do things. As for the information we seek, some of us expect it to be distilled to its essentials; then to be delivered efficiently and effectively. Above all, we demand superb photographs and idiot-proof illustrations that instruct and inspire the reader rather than decorate the book's pages.

In making the selection of recommended garden publications, I have chosen those books that deliver information instantaneously. I seek out practical, quick-to-find, methodically organized, and easy-to-follow advice, because like many others, I am a time-deficient gardener.



Best Borders: Book Review for

Best Borders Tony Lord,  Frances Lincoln

This book has been in my collection for over 15 years and I return to it regularly to remind me that, in perennial flower gardening, almost anything is possible. No wonder, that the publisher was encouraged to release a new edition just last year.

A review of this book, so many years after I first studied it, was prompted when I read about the frustrations of a fellow gardener who was having difficultly finding proper guidance in creating a flowerbed. All of the books she consulted were inadequate. Her experience led her to conclude that most garden design books offer blueprints and drawings. She was looking for inspiring garden photography where the plants are all identified and clear, with contextual explanations of design principles. When I read her words, Best Borders instantaneously came to mind.

The author Tony Lord is a writer, garden photographer and horticultural consultant. He trained at Kew Gardens, in the UK and holds a doctorate in Horticulture.  Garden book lovers first saw his work when he created breathtaking photographs of English gardens for other writers such as Penelope Hobhouse and Graham Thomas. He is, indeed, an eminent authority on gardening and the photographs in this book are even more impressive.

In this publication, the author presents and discusses twelve lusciously photographed flower borders. They represent the best-looking flower combinations found in some of the most distinguished gardens in England. Each border exemplifies a variation on the theme of the English garden and demonstrates a different aspect of flower garden design. The reader will be pleased to discover many of the classical themes that give English gardens their distinctive look. These include borders that are essentially monochromatic, those that are multicolored, and some that are bold.

While this is a stunning book to look at, it is also surprisingly instructional. The author converts some of the photos into planting blueprints, complete with clearly identified plant names. Anyone wanting to try their hand at English garden design now has a manual, of sorts, to start that process. If the gardener needs to learn about flower borders and is only prepared to buy one book, it has to be this one. Its purpose is to inspire, to stimulate creatively and most importantly, to encourage the gardener to experiment. Readers will be pleased to discover that this magnificently illustrated publication has been invested with the same passion used to create the English gardens that it highlights.