There's nothing I like better than getting books about gardens as a gift in the depths of winter. It's always gardening season here — even if it's only in my head stuck between the covers of a book! If you have a favorite gardener on your holiday shopping list here are a few ideas . . .
Lawn Gone! Low Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for your Yard By Pam Penick. Right off the bat I have to say that Mark and I met Pam in 2009 at the Chicago garden bloggers meet-up. I took her to Olbrich Botanical Gardens and she visited our garden when she was in Madison for the Iron Man Triathalon in which her husband was competing. So Pam saw our planting choices for getting rid of lawn in a northern climate in person.
When she decided to write a book on the subject we gave her plant suggestions and Mark contributed photos of Olbrich and our garden as well. We were surprised and thrilled to get a copy of the book from Pam, especially when we discovered that two of Mark's photos were on the cover and a number of them reproduced as full page illustrations inside. And since "Lawn Gone!" was published by 10 Speed Press the quality of the design and printing is excellent.
It's a great book filled with practical and proven advice that you can put to use no matter where you live. There's a list of regional recommendations as well as a recommended reading list. If you aren't familiar with Pam, check out her blog — Digging — where you can get a sense of her style and her knowledge.
The Best Planned City in the World: Olmsted, Vaux and the Buffalo Park System By Francis R. Kowsky. This is an about-face from Pam's hands-on book and is geared to those interested in American landscape history. I got a review copy of this from the publisher, U. Mass Press in conjunction with the Library of American Landscape History, the minute it rolled off the press. I subscribe to LALH's quarterly newsletter and when I heard about this book I knew it was meant for me as someone who's as interested in the history of a subject as in the how-tos.
Beginning in 1868 Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux created a series of parks and parkways for Buffalo, NY, adding to a design that was initially based on L'Enfant's radial plan for Washington, D. C. When he displayed his plan at the U.S. Centennial in Philadelphia, Olmsted said Buffalo was "the best planned city, as to streets, public places, and grounds, in the United States, if not the world." Olmstead and Vaux are probably the greatest landscape architecture design team in American history, creating landscapes like Central Park in NYC that are so deeply rooted in our collective consciousness that it's hard for us to imagine a time when they didn't exist.
I grew up in Buffalo and lived my life on the expanses of Olmsted and Vaux's splendid design: My high school was located on one of the southern parkways (Red Jacket); my dad's high school was on another (South Park); my paternal grandparents lived on another (Bidwell Pkwy., above); we played and ice skated in Cazenovia Park and walked through it on our way to the library where I got my first library card and carried home hundreds of books. No holiday was complete without a visit to the seasonal flower show held in the great Lord and Burnham Conservatory in Olmstead and Vaux's South Park (below).
Kowsky, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts Emeritus, has put together a definitive study on one of the most far-reaching of Olmsted and Vaux's landscapes, compiling photos, drawings and original plans and documents. It's a must read for lovers — and designers — of parks and urban lanscapes everywhere. If anyone doubt's the value of urban greenspace, look at the pictures above and Imagine what it was like as a child in a big city to run out the front door into that great broad expanse of Bidwell Parkway. I am convinced that much of my interest in gardening and the larger landscape comes from growing up surrounded by Olmsted and Vaux's visionary design. Without being conscious of it at the time, living with their landscape creation on virtually a daily basis made an indelible impression on me that colors my outlook even today.
The New English Garden By Tim Richardson and Photographs By Andrew Lawson. This is a monster of a book that needs to be read sitting in an armchair that can support its large format. It's also utterly gorgeous; well-designed and laid out, and filled with Lawson's superb photos printed large enough to understand and with many knock-your-socks-off double page spreads. Given it's size and price ($60.00 in the U.S.) this is a hard purchase to justify for me since I already have a huge library of garden books, a great many of them on English gardens that I can never begin to emulate in my climate or small property.
Once I opened the cover and fell into the wild mix of plants printed slightly larger than life-size on the end papers, any argument I might have had against the book simply flew out the door. There are gardens here that I've never heard of, and even those I thought I knew, like Great Dixter, seem fresh and new in the hands of the author and photographer. And finally here are the creations in large images of some of the most creative but lesser known practitions of the gardening arts: George Carter, Arne Maynard, Roy Strong, and Jinny Blom to name a few personal favorites.
With gardens like Dixter or Highgrove, you ask how can this book include them under the rubric "The New English Garden"? Age or familiarity are not the criteria Richardson considered when making choices; rather he looked for evidence of new thinking even when founded on the bones of older landscapes and hardscapes. In his hands, it's a concept that introduces us to new gardens and lets us look at older ones in new ways with new eyes.
It's also worth noting that this is a great book if you are interested in prairies, meadows and grasses. This garden by Henk Gerritsen (below) is just one of many instances of creative use of grasses that appear throughout Richardson's book; not a plant I was expecting to see so widely and well-used. If you live in the country in the U.S. and have a septic system, the book has some wonderful landscapes that use man-made mounds as landscape features. I couldn't help but think of how this idea could solve a big landscape issue that I notice around here, namely mounds without context; necessary constructs but no thought given to incorporating them into a garden design.
A sumptous, stunning and yes, serious, book, "The New English Garden" will transport you to another world every time you lift the cover. Though I've been perusing a copy of the book from the public library, I may have just convinced myself I need to get my own!