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

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Entries in Schiffer Publishing (1)


Use Plants for Dramatic Theater in the Garden; a book review

All the Garden’s a Stage, Choosing the Best Performing Plants for a Sustainable Garden,        Jane C.Gates, Schiffer Publishing.

Of late, the publishing industry has been adapting its books to the vast pluralistic community that gardens. Writers first identify a segment of the market and then create a book for a specific audience. The result is that a how-to publication has been written to match almost every gardener’s personality.

I consider gardening to be a theatrical production; and Jane C. Gates has written a guide for people just like me. My garden is a Broadway musical. It has an overture in May, a dramatic act in June; and just before the July intermission, a show stopping number occurs in the rose bed. After intermission, several acts, each with a showy flourish, have been scripted to run through August and September, before the curtain comes down in October.

In every growing season, there are stars: plants that take center stage in the flowerbed and wow both my audience and me. To make the production a rounding success, before casting I audition the appropriate actor/plant for every character’s role. Ms. Gates and I understand each other because, to my delight, she elaborates in depth on this topic.

Her guide to design and planning is about making one’s garden production a success. In it she deals with many other factors that contribute to crowd-pleasing performances. For example, she recommends indulging the star plants by caring for their basic needs. We are taught to recognize that each plant plays a different character in the production, a role determined by its reaction to air, wind, lighting, and temperature.

As Ms. Gates point out, Basic information on a plants growth should make you a better director and help define not only what plants look best [on stage] but which will perform the way the script of your garden demands.

The author continues by advising us to avoid glamorous but temperamental diva plants in favor of reliable leading ladies. A cast of garden growers that perform well together will make your overall design into a rave performance.

The new gardener will also be introduced to specific plant characters that seasoned hobbyists consider old friends in their repertory theatre. These include plants also known as Moisture Mayvens, Forest Dwellers, Mountaineers, Denizens of the Dry, Tropical Beauties, and more.

In this guide to “garden design as theater”, the author touches on practical subjects that enhance the enjoyment of the production. One is minimal garden maintenance; another is the contemporary concern about sustainability. As well, there is a wise and balanced discussion on lawns. Not to be overlooked is the important contribution made by garden props. The items that make the leading characters look good may range from gazebos and chicken coops to boulders and waterfalls.

An important lesson found in this publication is that a garden is animate and therefore, imperfect; it is always in a stage of transition. Like a Broadway show, there will be scene changes, and some scenes will work better than others do. The reader is cautioned not to expect perfection because the perfect gardens portrayed in magazine shoots and advertising are illusions. Even in botanical theatre, there is no such thing as ideal.

For the passionate hobbyist, the garden is live drama, created with living characters, who come together to form a community of players. When properly nurtured, staged, and directed, they put on a spectacular theatrical production. That is my kind of gardening and this is my kind of garden book.