It is a cliché of garden writing that a picture is worth a thousand words. Then a book came my way that knocked this on the head, the more so as the illustrator is award winning and internationally renowned garden photographer Claire Takacs, author of (among other books) Australian Dreamscapes (2018).
Who is the writer whose words rival Claire's stellar photography?
Noel Kingsbury is a British plantsman, garden designer, author and lecturer based in England and Portugal. He co-runs a garden education company and since 1994 has written more than 20 gardening books. In 2009, he earned a doctorate for his thesis on the long-term performance of ornamental herbaceous vegetation, an area he continues to research.
He is currently touring Holland working on a book on contemporary Dutch garden design. How he finds time to breathe remains a mystery. His latest book, Wild, came about because he had observed the increasingly naturalistic way plants were being arranged in gardens, parks and public spaces, with wildflower meadows, prairie plantings and ornamental grasses replacing formal features and big, brightly coloured flowers. He discusses how and why the change occurred, analyses its aesthetics and emotional appeal and best of all, explains the various ways we can make it happen.
Wild features over 40 - stunningly photographed - gardens including two Australian and several others in similar climates. Garden descriptions are interspersed with half a dozen full page essays on naturalistic planting. Topics include block planting versus intermingling, mixed planting and other randomised systems, natives versus exotics, self-seeding, dry gardens and seasonal approaches.
It is the essays which make the book a standout and I keep going back to re-read them, they contain so much.
They explain complex issues simply. In the essay on block planting versus intermingling Kingsbury describes how the traditional way of grouping the same plants for foliage or floral effect has been replaced by mixtures of individual species resembling more closely what occurs in the wild.
I'd been stumbling in this direction for the past couple of years, since changing our front garden to what I call my paddock garden, using rocks and low growing plants. But it took this essay to make me understand what I'd been striving for, and, I hope, how finally to achieve it.
Australian gardeners' understanding and use of native plants comes in for high praise. Kingsbury recognises that Australian plant enthusiasts form one of the most impressive non-academic native plant research networks in the world. Information on how to grow and propagate native plants is readily available and our nursery industry is doing excellent work selecting cultivars and exporting them to other dry climate zones.
Overall what I love most about Wild is how it makes you want to try it for yourself. Don't cut perennials down for the winter, mix grasses with bulbs, chuck out those dahlias, plant more natives. Let's do it!
Overall what I love most about Wild is how it makes you want to try it for yourself.
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