Mind-boggling gardens

Mind-boggling beautiful gardens


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Sweeps of salvias and agastache combine with ornamental grass Stipa gigantea. Mount Macedon garden designed by Michael McCoy. Photo by Claire Takacs.

Sweeps of salvias and agastache combine with ornamental grass Stipa gigantea. Mount Macedon garden designed by Michael McCoy. Photo by Claire Takacs.

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An international photographer who spends half the year photographing Northern Hemisphere gardens, Claire Takacs' job takes her to many fabulous gardens.

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I normally open a book to read rather than to look at. But then I came across Dreamscapes, Australian garden photographer Claire Takacs’ book of 69 of her favourite landscapes spanning the globe and all I could do was gaze. 

Claire is an artist whose brush is her camera lens and whose palette is gardens. Her descriptions are interesting and informative, but the illustrations are so mind-boggling beguiling, it took me a while to settle to the text.

The book is especially enjoyable from an Aussie reader’s point of view as its first 15 gardens are Australian. Also the cover is of Sarah and Andrew Ryan’s Hillandale, Yetholme, a serious compliment to a thoughtful, talented gardener whose glorious garden in rural NSW holds its own on an international stage. 

An international photographer who spends half the year photographing Northern Hemisphere gardens, Claire’s job takes her to many fabulous gardens. Dreamscapes includes ones that have appealed to her most, here, in New Zealand, and in often quite remote locations in North America, Britain, Europe and Asia. 

Her descriptions are interesting and informative, but the illustrations are so mind bogglingly beguiling, it took me a while to settle to the text.

Courtyards, parks and big landscaped gardens jump from the pages in an explosion of colour and light, united by the enthusiasm of their owners and the skill and artistry of their design and planting. 

Clair did a degree in environmental science and worked and travelled overseas before falling in love with photography. She studied it for two years and decided gardening photography perfectly combined of her love of art and science.

The first garden she photographed was Jeremy Francis’ Cloudehill in the Dandenongs, near where she grew up, a large formal garden with informal elements designed, planted and maintained by a passionately enthusiastic gardener. 

As with all great gardens, whatever their style, location or cost, its owner’s knowledge and love of plants and gardening are felt everywhere. This is something that Clair Takacs totally gets and it’s what draws her to a garden and gives her the connection she needs in order to photograph it.

I asked Clair by email how she acquired her gardening and design knowledge. She replied that she didn’t study it but came to it from a love of nature and wanting to work outdoors.

She learned on the go and from working with people like Gardens Illustrated magazine in UK and Noel Kingsbury. “They taught me to look closely at planting design,” she says.

This comes across strongly in her book which is full of design ideas: a large ornamental grass frames a view, repeating plants or colours gives unity, plants are placed to catch the light at the right time of day or to blur the boundary between garden and landscape.

Every shot is beautifully composed, a work of art that captures a garden’s best elements at the best moment. 

Yet at its heart Dreamscapes is down to earth. It’s one of those gardening books that makes you want to drop everything and head into the garden.

Dreamscapes: Inspiration and beauty in gardens near and far, published by Hardie Grant, 2017, RRP $70.

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