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Lives of the Great Gardeners

January 18, 2017

 

I'm delighted to have my first book review published in the Society of Garden Designers Journal. For those who don't get the journal you can read my review here: 

 

"Lives of the Great Gardeners.

 

What makes a great gardener? This ambitious book tells the stories of 40 gardeners from across the world over the last 500 years to find out. We meet humble “garden boys” and botanists, architects and aristocrats, a President and a poet. The result is fascinating, informative and inspiring.

 

The gardens are divided into four groups – Gardens of Ideas, Straight Lines, Curves and Plantsmanship -  these groups are then listed in chronological order. The effect of this is to organise a vast subject, to be able to see the development of the garden throughout history and to understand how the personality of the gardener shapes the garden. It feels natural to read the book organically by jumping chapters and following leads and interests.

 

The book spans continents and the reader travels through China, Japan, Brazil, Australia, North America and many countries in Europe. We are taken as far back as 16th China, where a weary civil servant Wen Zhengming created his amusingly titled “Unsuccessful Politicians Garden” - incorporating Taoist and Confucian philosophy.

 

Rich with biographical detail, each chapter brings the gardeners to life. The famous Capability Brown spent seven years as a humble apprentice gardener before he went onto to work for royalty and aristocracy across the UK and became the most famous proponent of the English landscape tradition as well as making his fortune. One detractor who couldn't forget his roots described him as a “cabbage planter”.

 

The book jumps with ease from the “garden boy” to President Thomas Jefferson who devoted much of his retirement and too much of his money to his garden at Monticello, Virginia. Here he combined the English landscape tradition with a passion for botany and tested out the huge new range of plants available to him at the turn of the 19th Century.

 

20th Century textile designer Nicole de Vésian came from the glamorous world of Parisian fashion. She developed a unique style of Mediterranean topiary - including her signature flat-topped Cypress. Her approach to gardening was very different from a landscape architect - rather than drawing a garden she worked intuitively and would often place a plant and move it until it felt right.

 

For someone with just a passing interest in gardening the book might have too much content - it is much more than a coffee table book although filled with exquisite illustrations and pictures. For the gardening enthusiast the book is heaven and could be used as a reference book for many years to come. "

 

 

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© 2017 by Robin McAfee Garden Design | Garden Design London.

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