RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design

Plant the garden of your dreams and transform your outdoor space with award-winning Royal Horticultural Society garden design experts. Whether you’re looking to revive a tired flowerbed or simply looking for new garden ideas, the RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design will show you how to make your ideal garden a reality. Grasp the fundamentals of garden design, find a style that suits you, and bring your ideas to life. This design bible is packed with advice to guide you from planning to planting. From preparation such as choosing the correct materials for your structures and assessing your drainage, to laying patios, making ponds, and planting perennials, the RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design is with you every step of the way. Discover inspirational portfolios including modernist, sustainable, Japanese, urban, family, and cottage gardens. Understand the unique features of each garden style, create your own plan, and marvel at case studies showcasing the gold standard of each garden type. With a handy visual dictionary and coverage of all the latest gardening trends, this book combines style with substance to guide you as you plant your perfect outdoor space. Previous edition ISBN 9781409325741

The RHS’s chairman of assessors has told Chelsea Flower organisers he is going to resign, while a leading garden exhibitor has criticised the judges and the best in show winning garden after failing to win the event’s top award.

Chief assessor Andrew Wilson, an RHS judge for 17 years, said he had also submitted a complaint to the RHS about the quality of feedback he received after winning a silver gilt medal rather than the gold he sought for his Cloudy Bay-sponsored ‘Fresh’ garden.
Wilson, who led an assessment team for the event’s 15 show gardens, said: “I’m in the process of resigning because of the way feedback on this garden was conveyed. It’s not sour grapes but it was unacceptable feedback, and I’m saying that as someone who delivers it. I take a lot of time to give feedback as a judge in other situations and I felt the points raised missed the spirit of the garden.”
He added: “I’ve also enjoyed making the garden and would like to design a show garden on Main Avenue at Chelsea and wouldn’t be able to do that if I remained a show garden assessor.”
Wilson said he was criticised for lack of attention to detail, having chairs too close to the back of the garden, failing to make best use of the garden’s position on the showground and having a roof that was out of proportion to the garden.
Wilson is rewriting the RHS judging system and Chelsea gardens will be judged retrospectively using his “more scientific” ideas, but he said he did not know where his planned resignation left that now.
This is the first year judges or assessors have been allowed to design gardens too, on the proviso they exhibited in a different category to the one they judged. Assessors pre-judge the gardens and make medal recommendations before before judges look at the plots.
Meanwhile Wilson had to defend judges against an attack from Daily Telegraph garden designer Christopher Bradley-Hole, who was bookies’ favourite for the coveted best in show prize but lost out to a unanimous verdict to the Fleming’s Australian garden.
Bradley-Hole said the Australians’ solar panels were “ugly” and the planting “unsubtle”, adding: “Comparing their garden with mine is comparing apples with pears. I greatly admire parts of the Australian garden – they come year after year from Melbourne at huge cost and there’s a lot to like in their garden this year.
“There’s a impressive depth to the pool and good use of rocks in the structure but other parts are not quite so good and if that garden is overall better than mine, then I’m a Dutchman.”
He added: “I think the RHS will have to rethink having a best in show at Chelsea unless it is very clear which it is. I’d be happy with an open system where the show gardens are rated from one to 15 but the sponsors wouldn’t want to be ranked as twelfth best, and I understand that the RHS need to keep sponsors happy.”
He said he would return to Chelsea but only to “make the same garden again and again until I win best in show”.
He also complained that, having told judges his garden was designed for “contemplation”, they came along as a “15-strong pack” and “only one looked at it on her own”, saying: “That goes against the brief.”
He added that he said the garden should be looked at and not walked in but one assessor “walked all over the garden”, and asked: “Would they do that at Kyoto? Why would they have someone be so ignorant as an assessor?”
Wilson said the Australian garden was voted the best in show unanimously by all seven RHS judges involved but he personally placed Bradley-Hole next. He added: “He didn’t receive feedback, he gave it to us.”
RHS director general Sue Biggs said: “I hope Andrew does not resign because he’s a fantastic judge. He’s a great supporter of the RHS and a great garden designer and judge.”
On Bradley-Hole she said: “Christopher is one of the world’s best garden designers and we’re honoured to have him at Chelsea. A different seven judges might have come to a different view. But this type of row does no harm.”
Garden writer Peter Seabrook said: “As an exhibitor and a true Brit you know what you’re going in for, and whatever happens you bite your lip and keep your counsel. I’ve been reduced to tears by what I believed to be unfair judging but that’s life.”
Kelways managing director Dave Root, who supplied the Australian garden with plants, said: “I’ve not heard a bad word about the Australian garden other than from Christopher.”
The centenary celebration show finishes on Saturday.

Award-winning garden designers Gavin McWilliam and Andrew Wilson have announced that, although they will continue to collaborate, they will be focusing on separate ventures going forward.

In 2008 Gavin McWilliam and Andrew Wilson launched Wilson McWilliam Studio. Simultaneously, Andrew Wilson, Andrew Fisher Tomlin and Mark Gregory launched The London College of Garden Design.

Wilson McWilliam Studio is acknowledged to be one of the leading design studios in the UK, winning 24 awards nationally and internationally over the past 10 years. The studio has produced outstanding and experimental work and created a huge range of successful private gardens and landscapes both large and small, together with a series of show gardens for RHS Chelsea culminating in Gold, and on the international stage winning gold and best in show at the Singapore Garden Festival.

The London College of Garden Design is now one of the UK’s leading garden design colleges based in the RBG Kew with many successful graduates now in business and winning their own awards. In addition to its Garden Design Diploma the college has also added a Planting Design Diploma and offers a range of short courses both at Kew and with the RHS at Wisley.

To allow for the continued growth of both ventures Gavin is going to take the design business forwards as McWilliam Studio and Andrew is going to focus more on the college. Gavin and Andrew will continue to design gardens, landscapes and show gardens together on a more flexible collaborative basis.

For further information on the studio and our work please email or visit www.mcwilliamstudio.com

For further information on the college please email or visit www.lcgd.org.uk

Any Questions by Andrew Wilson

Although some groups surprise me in a good way, the majority of people who come to listen to a garden design talk are actually just interested in the planting. The surprises come from the horticultural groups, perhaps because I come as welcome change to full on planting information. They are often fascinated by the design thinking, concepts and built structure into which the planting is introduced.

Well, ‘AW’ was obviously for me.

As much as I love planting design I have to accept that as a garden designer it is a part of a bigger picture and cannot take up all of my time when creating a garden. This understanding is not generally shared by people outside the garden design fraternity. In percentage terms perhaps no more than 20% of a typical project is planting focussed. For my wider audiences outside the college perhaps 80% of their garden thinking is planting focussed, revealing a substantial disconnect in what people are looking for or expecting.

I can speak very happily about plants and planting design but if I am invited to talk about garden design that emphasis has to change. So, if a course or a lecture on garden design fills with an enthusiastic audience have they misunderstood the subject?

Not the audience Andrew is referring to …

My sense is that most audiences are mixed in their needs. Some will have an empty space and will be starting from scratch – this group probably needs a complete understanding of a designer’s approach, not just so that they might use a designer but also so that they can create a successful end result. Others will have a complete garden already with a few things they want to change – for this group their need is probably more concerned with planting. It is also unlikely that they will want to undo everything they have already done.

In a lecture recently, having talked about a range of gardens that Gavin and I have designed I was asked what I would do about sustainable planting for country gardens as opposed to filling gardens with plastic and artificial materials? No gardens that I had introduced used artificial or plastic materials and approximately half of the gardens I showed were sustainably planted country gardens.

Graffiti on Andrew’s wall.

I have regular comments about the planting being the all important thing when my workload as a designer tells me it is not. There is also a frequent unwillingness in audiences to think outside their own garden situation. I was recently asked why I didn’t just talk about normal planting – not as a criticism but as a suggestion of need. I asked the questioner what he actually meant by normal as soil type, micro climate, drainage and so on can have a substantial impact on what and how we plant. We were talking at the time about the long hot and dry spring and early summer and the effect of climate change on our thinking.

Serious now.

I wonder why people would come to sit through a lecture on “normal” anything or why people might come to a design lecture when all they want to see is what they have already. I have always tried to inspire, to interpret ideas and explain possibilities – it’s what my students comment on in their course reviews.

So, perhaps I need to be more normal, more typical, more plant orientated and more matter of fact?

NOT!

Andrew Wilson

website

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Submit Rating

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Like Loading…

Tagged as: Andrew Wilson, Garden lectures

6. Home Ground: Sanctuary in the City

Above: Home Ground: Sanctuary in the City is available for $24.97 from Amazon. Designer Dan Pearson’s writing on gardens and growing always reveals a very deeply rooted passion for plants, for earth and landscapes. This sumptuous book tells the story of his urban garden in Peckham, south London and the trials and tribulations, the triumphs and failures in transforming an overgrown, unprepossessing site into a verdant, richly layered oasis.

7. A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seeds

Above: A paperback copy of A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seeds by James Fenton is $11 from Amazon. James Fenton is a poet and his lyrical approach to horticulture makes this book an absolute delight. If ever there was a clarion call to grow something from seed, this is it. As the title suggests, Fenton takes us through his favorite plants, detailing why each deserves a place in the garden.

8. Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst

Above: A hardcover copy of Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst is $23.70 from Amazon. There are plenty of books about this world famous garden and house, but this one weaves together the history of the house with the amazing story of how Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson created a magical home and spectacular gardens that have never lost their luster. The book by Sarah Raven is laced with Sackville-West’s own words from her Observer columns, which are witty, wise, and as relevant today as they were in the middle of the 20th century.

9. A Gentle Plea for Chaos

Above: A paperback copy of A Gentle Plea for Chaos by Mirabel Osler is available on Amazon. This is another book that traces the story of a garden, this time in Shropshire, England, where Mirabel Osler and her husband began with “one and a half acres of undulating land, a winding stream, stone buildings and old orchard trees” and created a classic cottage garden which appears in all its rambling, romantic gorgeousness throughout the book. Osler includes endless paeans to everything from the many hundreds of trees she has planted to the bounteous roses she has bought, but most of all she defines what makes gardeners tick in a beautifully poetic way.

10. The Education of a Gardener

Above: The Education Of A Gardener by Russell Page is $14.83 for a paperback copy from Amazon. Sage gardening advice never gets old and this book from one of the last century’s most prolific and successful garden designers proves it. This book was published in 1962 but it remains a classic; it combines plenty of pragmatic pointers on how to approach designing a garden with Page’s encyclopedic horticultural knowledge.

Above: Here’s our stack of 10 must-read books for gardeners.

Ready to read more? Browse all our Required Reading posts or skip straight to Alexa’s Library: 9 Favorite Classic Garden Books.

When I was in high school, I participated in “career day” with the rest of my class, shadowing a person who had the career that I hoped to have in the future…

The career I chose? Landscape architect.

I learned so much from my day shadowing. That day, the seed was planted that sprouted into my love of gardening.

Although I’m not a landscape architect today, I still have an affinity for the profession and consume books about the topic as often as possible.

Here’s a list of my favorite landscaping books, landscape design books, and more. I hope you get as much joy out of them as I have.

1. Lawn Gone!

Sale Lawn Gone!: Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard

  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Penick, Pam (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Author: Pam Penick

If anyone knows me, they know I’m not a fan of the American lawn. In fact, I will NEVER have one in my yard.

Pam’s book is a fantastic guide to turning your lawn into a beautiful landscape that requires less care and uses less water. She covers different types of grasses, drought-tolerant plants, and even touches on artificial grass (if you want to go that route).

Lawn Gone! is a practical guide on how to beautify your yard and remove your resource-sucking lawn. Highly recommended.

Check Current Price

2. Edible Landscaping

Sale Edible Landscaping

  • English (Publication Language)
  • 384 Pages – 11/01/2010 (Publication Date) -…

Author: Rosalind Creasy

Now, this is an idea that I can get behind. Instead of just learning landscaping techniques, Rosalind talks about how to landscape with plants that you can also eat.

It’s a double-whammy: not only do you beautify your yard, but you also get to eat it! You reduce your impact on the environment in more ways than one.

Her book helps you understand how you can add edible plants to your landscape, even if it’s just a few here and there. Rosalind is an absolute expert in her field, with tens of years of experience. The book includes an Encyclopedia of Edibles, which you may as well consider a book within a book.

Check Current Price

3. The Living Landscape

Sale The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden

  • Timber Press OR
  • Hardcover Book
  • Darke, Rick (Author)

Author: Rick Darke

One of the biggest reasons that people aren’t getting rid of their lawns is that the lawn still functions as an open space for children to play and events to be held.

Rick’s book shows you exactly how to get the best of both worlds: a beautiful landscape that doesn’t rely so heavily on the lawn, and an outdoor space that is still able to be used by children and adults alike.

With plenty of amazing illustrations and a solid framework for how to achieve this landscape for your own home, Rick’s book is a must-read for landscapers and homeowners alike.

Check Current Price

4. Taylor’s Master Guide to Landscaping

Taylor’s Master Guide to Landscaping

  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Buchanan, Rita (Author)

Author: Rita Buchanan

Landscape design is no easy feat. If gardening is hard for people, landscape design can look like an absolute nightmare. There are so many different things to pay attention to that it seems maddening, even if you have years of growing experience.

Rita’s book demystifies the craft of landscaping, even showing you how to hire landscapers and vet them for expertise. If you decide to do it yourself, it shows you how to choose plants, design beautiful spaces, and create privacy with hedges and fences.

Check Current Price

5. Step-by-Step Landscaping

Sale Step-by-Step Landscaping (2nd Edition) (Better Homes and Gardens Gardening)

  • Better Homes Gardens
  • Better Homes and Gardens (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Author: Better Homes and Gardens

This is an updated version of a classic tome from Better Homes and Gardens. It has 700+ photographs of gardens and 100+ projects that are laid out for you step-by-step.

As a beginner to landscape design, there may be no better book to get. You can’t make a mistake following the step-by-step guides, and there’s plenty of inspiration spread throughout the book.

Check Current Price

6. Paradise Planned

Sale Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City

  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Robert A. M. Stern (Author)

Robert A. M. Stern

This book is more for history buffs and landscape lovers than those who want a practical guide to landscape design. Nevertheless, it’s still a fascinating read.

It covers the history of the suburban garden, from the 1800s to today, when retrofitting the suburbs has become a hot topic among both gardeners and city planners alike.

If you want a deep understanding of how the lawn and garden culture developed in suburbia, look no further.

Check Current Price

7. Landscape Architecture: An Introduction

Sale Landscape Architecture: An Introduction

  • Laurence King
  • Holden, Robert (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Author: Robert Holden

This book is a true primer on the field of landscape architecture. It’s written for people who are pursuing a career in the field, and as such, it is one of the most in-depth books you can find on the subject.

It surpasses the hobbyist landscape architecture topics and delves into design principles, digital design techniques, and even how to manage a landscape over time.

If you have a serious interest in the field of landscape architecture, picking up this book will help you understand how deep and fascinating the field really is.

Check Current Price

8. Natural Architecture Now

Sale Natural Architecture Now: New Projects from Outside the Boundaries of Design

  • Tatarella, Francesca (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages – 08/19/2014 (Publication Date) -…

Author: Francesca Tatarella

This book is a different take on landscape architecture, showcasing people who use natural “ingredients” to build homes and other creations. While it may not be directly about landscaping, it shows another twist to the field: how to use natural products to create shelter.

Check Current Price

9. Hellstrip Gardening

Sale Hellstrip Gardening: Create a Paradise between the Sidewalk and the Curb

  • Timber Press OR
  • Hadden, Evelyn (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Author: Evelyn Hadden and Joshua McCullough

If you grew up in the suburbs, you know what the “hellstrip” is: the little bit of land in between the curb and the street.

Having grown up in the suburbs myself, I always felt that these spaces were utterly wasted. With Hellstrip Gardening, we finally get a guidebook on how to beautify and reclaim these spaces as our own.

There are plenty of photographs and how-to guides that will provide you with more than enough inspiration to start on a “hellstrip” near you.

Check Current Price

10. The Plant Recipe Book

Sale The Plant Recipe Book: 100 Living Arrangements for Any Home in Any Season

  • Orders are despatched from our UK warehouse next…
  • Hardcover Book
  • Chapman, Baylor (Author)

Author: Baylor Chapman

Who says landscape design has to be outdoors? Although this book doesn’t QUITE qualify, it’s still a great resource about plant design. There are 100+ projects that show you how to create beautiful plant arrangements.

I say plant because this is not a flower arrangement book. It’s more about creating natural groups of plants that look beautiful and add a touch of nature to what might otherwise be a dreary room.

Check Current Price

11. Design With Nature

Sale Design with Nature

  • McHarg, Ian L. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages – 02/20/1995 (Publication Date) – Wiley…

Author: Ian L. McHarg

Design with Nature is a classic tome. It’s 25+ years old and has stood the test of time. Many professionals in the field consider it to be one of the classics.

It gives you a complete look at how we as human beings interact with and design around (or with) nature. Touching on technology, science, and philosophy, you get a complete picture of how we can (and should) interact with our surroundings.

Pick this book up if you want a full understanding of landscape design and its implications on our society.

Check Current Price

12. Landscape Graphics

Sale Landscape Graphics: Plan, Section, and Perspective Drawing of Landscape Spaces

  • Watson-Guptill Publications
  • Reid, Grant (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Author: Grant Reid

If you are serious about becoming a landscape architect, this book shows you what you need to know about the graphic techniques used in the field.

It goes from simple topics like drafting all the way up to more complex techniques like full diagrams. You can follow along with the exercises and work on your skills.

This book is very much for the aspiring or already-professional landscape architect.

Check Current Price

13. Principles of Ecological Landscape Design

Principles of Ecological Landscape Design

  • Island Press
  • Beck, Travis (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Author: Travis Beck

These days, people not only want a landscape to be beautiful but also sustainable. That’s a difficult proposition unless you have the fundamentals of landscape design down.

This book by Travis Beck breaks down the basics of how landscapes work from an ecological perspective and then applies those concepts to landscape design. The underlying theory of the book is that to design correctly, we must first understand the landscape itself.

Check Current Price

14. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Whyte, William H. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Author: William H. Whyte

If you’ve ever taken a class in environmental design, urban planning, or a variety of other fields, the odds are good that you’ve seen this book already.

It transformed the way that we think about planning public areas. If you want a technical and historic look at landscape design and urban planning, this book is a goldmine.

Check Current Price

15. The Planting Design Handbook

Sale The Planting Design Handbook

  • Hardcover Book
  • Robinson, Nick (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Author: Nick Robinson

Just like The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, this book is another classic in the field of landscape architecture. It looks at the field through aesthetic, ecological, and biological lenses to provide as nuanced a view as possible.

It heavily focuses on a system-based approach the landscape architecture, stressing the importance of understanding the ecology of the system before designing a landscape.

Check Current Price

16. Digital Drawing for Landscape Architecture

Sale Digital Drawing for Landscape Architecture: Contemporary Techniques and Tools for Digital…

  • Cantrell, Bradley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages – 11/03/2014 (Publication Date) – Wiley…

Author: Bradley Cantrell and Wes Michaels

As a landscape architect, learning to draw digitally is a force-multiplier on your effectiveness. Not only are you able to design faster, but your designs are much more flexible and able to be modified in new and unique ways.

This book teaches you just about every digital drawing technique you’ll ever use in your career as a landscape architect. It’s written as a workbook, filled to the brim with practical tutorials you can work through.

Check Current Price

17. Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History

  • Hardcover Book
  • Rogers, Elizabeth (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Author: Elizabeth Barlow Rogers

This book looks at how humans have shaped the environment. Unlike other books, it goes all the way back to prehistory, delving into the structures and environmental changes that we made as a species thousands of years ago.

Of course, it covers modern-day as well and is chock full of pictures and explanations of the ways that we as human beings have taken control of our environment.

Check Current Price

18. Landscape Architectural Graphic Standards

Sale Landscape Architectural Graphic Standards

  • Hardcover Book
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1096 Pages – 10/13/2006 (Publication Date) – Wiley…

Author: Leonard J. Hopper

Poised to become the new “bible” of landscaping, this book is a primer on design as it relates to landscape architecture. It’s based on Architectural Graphic Standards, which is a 70+ year old book that has stood the test of time.

Pick this up if you want a foundational education in the field.

Check Current Price

19. Lexicon of Garden and Landscape Architecture

Lexicon of Garden and Landscape Architecture

  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Meto J. Vroom (Author)

Author: Meto J. Vroom

Think of this book as a glossary gone wild. The author, Meto J. Vroom, not only wins awards for the most unique name I’ve ever seen, but for the way he approaches this book.

Inside are 250+ landscaping terms, objects, and concepts. He defines them all and discusses how they all connect to each other. This is a tremendously important book if you want to speak “the same language” as other landscape designers.

Terms matter, and when everyone agrees on the definition, communication is much easier as well.

Check Current Price

20. Reimagining the California Lawn

Sale Reimagining the California Lawn:Water-conserving Plants, Practices, and Designs

  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Carol Bornstein (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

For those of you (like me) who live in low-water climates, you may want to give xeriscaping a try. Reimagining the California Lawn is one of the best books out there if you’re looking to ditch the turf and create a visually-appealing landscape that doesn’t hog water.

Check Current Price

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:
Kevin Espiritu
Founder Did this article help you? × How can we improve it? × Thanks for your feedback!

We’re always looking to improve our articles to help you become an even better gardener.

While you’re here, why not follow us on Facebook and YouTube? Facebook YouTube

Last update on 2020-01-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

47 Shares

An occasional column about the pleasures and pains of cultivating a (tiny) patch of soil.

Dear famous gardening writers: please shut up.

Of course you mean well. We, your tentative, inexperienced readers, shy of hosepipe and clumsy of secateur, appreciate your attempts to make our lives more beautiful. We share your fantasies of roses, zinnia, clematis; of bowers laden with grapes and pomegranates, or cool spaces for entertaining, with creative seating solutions and solar lighting. But some of us live in cities. We are merely gardeners-in-waiting, with only a tiny growing space, or nothing at all; other people’s gardens, not to mention gardening books, intimidate us. We barely have room for a strawberry plant, let alone sweeping grassy vistas. And while we may nurse secret dreams of self-sufficiency, orchards, pigs, blackcurrant gluts, and “Little House on the Prairie”-style pickles, some of us buy our apples. I know. It’s a shock.

When we are messing about in the soil, each of us experiences the same disappointments and pleasures, the same balm to the soul. So why isn’t garden writing universal? Reading is life to me, so shouldn’t I spend every non-gardening moment delighting in the classic garden writers?

In fact, I never read them. It’s not them; it’s me. Try Gertrude Jekyll, the queen of geometric Edwardian garden design, or Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf’s aristocratic seducer (described by the playwright Noël Coward as “Lady Chatterley above the waist and the gamekeeper below”): the moment they refer to blocks of pink roses, to the Lower Barn or lily ponds or, curse them, manure heaps, my empathy dies. It isn’t only the posh Englishness, the ancestral fountains, the “help.” It’s that I want to see, in actual print, somebody confess that, when, at last, she finds a square centimetre of soil, it is invariably on top of a nameless allium planted last November, much too shallowly, with insufficient grit, rather close to a horrible mauve geranium bought out of pity.

Christopher Lloyd, the great modern British garden writer, published a book in 1972 called “Shrubs and Trees for Small Gardens,” for plots “of no more than an acre”; I own approximately 0.0015 of an acre. I do try not to be bitter. But how can I engage without a bench, pond, greenhouse, log pile, sundial, decking, terracing, pleaching, topiary, water butt, gate, nuttery, parterre, arbor, beehive, stream, rockery, gravel, or hammock? I own no potting shed or wheelbarrow or, sadly, any chickens; I have nothing to topiarize. Besides, my heart is in Asian vegetables, edible perennials, fiddlehead ferns, and callaloo, not flowering shrubs or stringy English beans. The old guard leaves me cold: irritated, not inspired.

Fortunately, there are a few glorious alternatives: books by writers who happen to garden. If you are a reader who gardens, or wants to, then they wrote for you. Katharine S. White, the New Yorker fiction editor whose gardening columns are collected in “Onward and Upward in the Garden,” recently reissued by NYRB Classics, understood the deep pleasure provided by nursery catalogues and seed lists. When you’ve run out of those to read in the bath, her intelligent observations are marvellously soothing. For sheer opinionated pleasure, you cannot beat “Green Thoughts,” by the American Eleanor Perényi, whose two gardens were on a Hungarian ancestral estate and, after her divorce, in Connecticut. Perényi’s honesty, intolerance, and appreciation of all that makes gardening a joy—night, vegetables, dung, experimentation—make me forgive her everything. Even acres.

The New Yorker Recommends:

Our staff and contributors share their cultural enthusiasms.

Most urgent of all, run out, right now, and find “The Gardener’s Year,” by the Czech playwright and polymath Karel Čapek, who invented the word “robot” and, after becoming the Gestapo’s Public Enemy No. 2, died, in 1938, of double pneumonia and a broken heart. Čapek’s own gardening had taught him a secret: peonies may bloom, the sun may shine, but those of us who garden barely notice. While others are sniffing the roses, we have our bottoms in the air and noses to the ground, occupied with the part of our gardens that we truly love: dirt. As he put it, if a gardener entered the Garden of Eden, “he would sniff excitedly and say: ‘Good Lord, what humus!’ ”

“The Gardener’s Year” is warm, charming, adorably illustrated by the author’s own brother, and, almost unique to its genre, funny. Čapek is particularly brilliant on the travails of town gardeners: the lack of space; the impossibility of laying one’s hands on the ingredients for really good compost, the ash, dung, lime, charcoal, silt, guano, and moss without which our soil, allegedly, will be thin and poor. Ordinary garden soil, on the other hand,

Generally consists of particular ingredients which are: clay, manure, rotten leaves, peat, stones, shards from pint bottles, broken bowls, nails, wires, bones, Hussite arrows, foil from chocolate wrappers, bricks, old coins, old smoking pipes, sheet glass, mirrors, old labels, tin pots, bits of string, buttons, shoe soles, dog dirt, coal, pot handles, wash-hand basins, dishcloths, bottles, railway sleepers, milk cans, buckles, horseshoes, tin cans, insulating material, bits of newspaper and countless other constituents which the astonished gardener wrests from his flowerbeds every time that he hoes. Perhaps one day he will unearth an American stove under his tulips, Attila’s grave or the Sibylline Books; in a cultivated soil everything can be found.

Forget the lily ponds; Čapek is the Thurber of compost. Wit and cow dung: What more could you possibly want?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *