Need Help?

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

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at  gardengurumontreal.ca

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal

Entries in Phaidon Press (2)

Wednesday
May132009

The Contemporary Garden: Book Review for Bookpleasures.com

 

The Contemporary Garden  Phaidon Press 

The editors of Phaidon Press continue to impress me. They make rigorous work seem easy. In their latest publication The Contemporary Garden, they tackle an encyclopedic amount of material [as they did with The English Garden] and distill it into an easy-to-read picture essay. In this instance, the essay is about the evolution of the contemporary garden from the early 1920’s up until today.

As some readers have discovered, a garden does not always refer to a front or back lawn with beautiful flowers. Often, it is a substantial expanse of land surrounding either a residential dwelling or a public building. The type of landscape treatment used for these spaces usually reflects the aesthetic philosophy of the artist, architect or landscape architect responsible for designing it. That style may reflect trends in modernity. From that perspective, this book offers an historical summary of the modern movement in arts, sculpture and architecture as interpreted in landscape design.

The book covers many of the seminal contemporary gardens, including ones by sculptor Constantin Brancusi, landscape architect Shunmyo Masuno, architect Frank Gherry and garden designer Piet Oudolf. Among the one hundred gardens presented in this book, two stand out for this reviewer. The first is the waterfall grotto located beneath the Frank Lloyd Wright home “Falling Waters” in Pennsylvania, USA. Mr. Wright chose to leave nature untouched by positioning that home directly over a waterfall. The second is the outdoor installation designed by landscape architect Claude Cormier titled “Blue Stick Garden”. Originally created in Canada for the Metis International Garden Festival, it moved to Hestercombe Gardens in Somerset U.K. where it gained additional fame for its audacity and vibrancy.

This is a provocative book for perennial gardeners. By our nature, we tend to be traditional in our outlook. Consequently, an ultra modern garden is not always a pleasant place for us. This book reminds us that without modernity and modern building materials, contemporary artists could not be true to their times. While the modernity of some gardens may leave us wanting, at least we now can appreciate the context in which they were created. This has been an exhilarating book to read and even more exciting to review.

                                       

Sunday
Mar012009

The English Garden: Book Review for Bookpleasures.com

The English Garden, Phaidon Press 

One should not call a garden “English” without specifying the century or the designer’s name attached to it. Each age brought its own interpretation to the landscape surrounding the proverbial English manor.This publication, which is encyclopedic in its coverage of English gardens, teaches us that every landowner asked something different from his landscape designer. Furthermore, what comes to mind as a traditional English garden may be English in origin but is certainly not what some of us might call a “garden”.

What the English call gardens is what North Americans call estates or parks.These are not back yard venues.They were, for the most part, until the latter half of the twentieth century, vast landscaped acreage. Sometimes the contours of these terrains were sculpted into the vision of the landscaper and sometimes they respected the natural formations of the land. In either case, landowners had the necessary wealth to modify nature, if they so wished.That is a revealing factor that is often overlooked.

In olden times, a garden might be a large cow-grazing pasture whose borders began at the foundations of an elaborate country manor. This garden would extend for several acres. It also might have been a messy cottage garden, filled with edible crops and herbs, growing outside the kitchen door of an otherwise elaborate estate.These gardens wered filled with flowering plants whose purpose was never intended to be esthetic; they were intended to control pests. In another instance, a garden might consist of intricate geometric shapes sprinkled, maze like, on the expansive grounds of a stately home, purely decorative in essence, but otherwise very impressive not only for the expense required to create it but also for the high cost of its maintenance.

While there is a disconnect between today’s modest weekend gardener who can only admire the gardens in this book and the land owner who can afford to replicate them, there are some lessons that all of us can learn from this historical overview. The most accessible are those gardens that have been created from the late nineteenth century onwards. From Munstead Wood, designed by Gertrude Jekyll, we learn about impressionist floral landscapes “painted” in romantic color schemes. More recent designers such a Piet Oudolf, Beth Chatto and Tom Stuart-Smith have taken a modern approach and have used plants to create powerful abstract paintings that move across meadow and lawn.These landscapers, working in the latter half of the twentieth century, reflect contemporary values about color combinations that would have been considered visually dissonant fifty years earlier.

While most of the landscapers in this book are worthy of mention, two deserve special attention. One is the late Dame Miriam Rothschild, who converted her neat estate into a wildflower meadow and invented, along the way, a popular wild flower seed mix called Farmer’s Nightmare! The other landscaper of note is Tim Smit who discovered an overgrown garden at Heligan, which had been neglected for over a hundred years. Rather than restore it, he cut through some of the growth to barely expose a beautiful, but haunting, ‘lost’ garden which he successfully converted into a tourist destination.

It is inspiring for the suburban gardener to learn that world class garden designers working in Britain today are also designing  gardens for small spaces.The utilitarian value of a back yard garden, as an oasis within the inner city and as a venue to entertain guests, has inspire some designers to include furniture and to introduce rock and metal into these mini landscapes. Often, dramatic lighting is incorporated, as well, to reflect the fashion of entertaining outdoors after dark.

While this is ostensibly a picture book, it is also by inference a socioeconomic survey of English society. The text that accompanies each illustration, offers a cameo of the age in which each garden was created. This is an added bonus, easily overlooked by the reader who might chose only to admire the photographs. I was delighted to read the text as I gained some insight into the mind set of the land owners that commissioned the gardens and the landscapers that created them.These historical footnotes to the pictures enrich the book and make for a fascinating read.

When I began reviewing gardening books, I assumed that there was no need to cover the works of the romantic gardeners of the late nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries who, up until recently, have been so influential in shaping our tastes in garden design. So much has been written about them, that there didn’t seem to be anything left to say. However, by placing them into an historical perspective, as the editors of this book have done, we gain a greater appreciation for their role. And, by juxtaposing them with contemporary modernists, who speak to us in a more current voice, we come to appreciate the radical evolution in garden design that is taking place in our lifetime.

Read my other reviews at bookpleasures.com