Over the years I have read so many garden books that I am always surprised when I discover something new. In this case it's something I've thought about but rarely seen discussed: why design a garden at all? Vanessa Gardner Nagel doesn't pull any punches in "Understanding Garden Design," another great new title avialable from Timber Press. Nagel worked as a commercial interior designer before she switched gears and moved outdoors. How to talk to clients and break down a project from initial questions through concepts to finished projects is her forte. While this book is inteded as "The Complete Handbook for Aspiring Designers" it is useful for those of us trying to design our gardens on our own.
Among the very useful topics Nagel (pictured below) details are the critical practicalities that must be attended to if your garden is to succeed: how to measure your slope, how to calculate how many gallons of water come off your roof for harvesting, how high and deep outdoor steps should be to name a few.
She also suggests that one make a "scope statement" which describes and ennumerates all the things you want your garden to be and do. This is a generalized list of items like creating a space for evening activities or allowing room for pets. Nagel creates a "scope statement" for a hypothetical property and then uses that imaginary home as an on-going example as she goes through the design process step-by-step.
Nagel also includes a section on plants, considering them from a structural perspective and cataloging them as "thrillers, spillers and fillers." You get the picture. Once you've created your plan, she gives advice on working with contractors, including how to find and screen candidates.
And lastly she deals with post-construction issues: adding furniture and art and dealing with guests. This may be the first garden design book I've ever read that squarely offers "crowd control techniques" and strategies for having a successful garden party and open garden events. Nagel brilliantly ends with a list of protocals she calls "garden etiquette for the unintitiated." The question is, would it be rude to hand out this list to the next group that visits the garden?
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Vanessa Gardner Nagel's "Understanding Garden Design" is available through the Wisconsin South Central Library System.