The Gardener’s Garden

Image of The Gardener's Garden
Release Date: 
February 21, 2015
Reviewed by: 

“a big investment, but one that will pay off with years of pleasure.”

From the comfort of your armchair you can enjoy a whirlwind tour the world’s greatest gardens through the pages of The Gardener’s Garden. This significant tome features more than 250 outstanding public and private gardens from 5 continents and 45 countries around the world. More than 1,200 photographs bring those gardens alive.

The featured gardens are a mix of both public and private, historic and modern, and the designers range from the world class professionals throughout history such as André Le Nôtre, Capability Brown, Gertrude Jekyll, Russell Page, Sir Roy Strong, and more recently Isabelle Greene and Christopher Bradley-Hole, to presidents and emperors such as Thomas Jefferson and Emperor Shah Jahan, as well as private individuals. The result is a rich variety of gardens from different cultures, continents, and centuries that reflect an enormous range of design sensibilities. It is an eye-opener.

Although the photographs are lush, the book is much more than eye candy for people passionate about gardens. Each pithy write-up, although brief, is rich with background information, history, and garden descriptions. There is much to be learned in the economical 350-word summaries.

Featured is a little-known English garden open to the public called Plaz Metaxu. We learn that, “The name Plaz Metaxu is Greek for ‘The place between,’ expressing the idea of transition and a sense of tentative, searching space. A recurring design theme in the garden is the transition from enclosed spaces to open vistas . . .”

Visitors to this “garden of the mind,” which was created by the owner, Alasdair Forbes, can choose to concentrate their minds around the ideas and concepts inherent in this garden’s structure or design, or simply relax and enjoy being there. Insights to the deeper meanings can be found by pondering the Greek deities and mythological figures garden that are dedicatees in various garden spaces, as well as Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and the works of numerous poets.

Travel through the pages to Nishat Bagh, a 17th century garden on Dal Lake in Kashmir designed by Asaf Khan IV. The name in Urdu means “Garden of Joy.”  “Originally each of the twelve terraces was associated with a sign of the zodiac, and the garden was divided into two: a public pleasure garden and a private harem garden used only by the women of Asaf Khan’s household.” 

The second largest Mughal garden in the Kashmir Valley, this is a garden on a grand scale with a long axis that draws the eye from the upper terrace down the length of a 13-foot wide canal, “with the water descending by means of chadar (sloping chutes) that make it jump and catch the light,” to the view of Dal Lake in the distance.

The botanic garden in Oaxaca, Mexico is a marvel of the effective landscape use of local desert plants. “For those tempted to believe that botanic gardens are fusty places, Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca will be an epiphany. Its fusion of contemporary art and an array of native plants from the Mexican state of Oaxaca would convert even the most disaffected visitor.”

Inspired by ancient, indigenous Zapotec hieroglyphics motifs and designs, the garden layout includes zigzag rills that flank and crisscross paths. Along a straight path that culminates in a reflecting pond, a grove of tall organ pipe cacti line the walkway, and are echoed in the water’s reflection. The author concludes, “This garden manages to educate, inspire and stimulate while enveloping visitors with a great sense of calm.”

Among the brilliant private properties featured is the pool garden at El Novillero in Sonoma, California. Designed by Thomas Church for Dewey Donnell in 1947, the home now belongs to his heirs, and the original Church design has been treasured and preserved. With its “kidney-shaped” swimming pool and the ancient live oak trees growing through the pool decking that provide the only vertical element in the otherwise horizontal design, this is one of the most influential gardens of the mid-20th century. The free-form swimming pool was, at that time, unique in North America.

The Gardener’s Garden is a book that passionate gardeners will want to read and reread, as there is so much to learn. Traveling gardeners will want to refer to it when looking for places to visit while on the road, and anyone will enjoy browsing its beautiful pages. At the $79.95 retail price, it’s a big investment, but one that will pay off with years of pleasure.