CLASSIC GARDEN FEATURES

reviewed in GARDENS ILLUSTRATED

 

Through a series of chapters devoted to traditional garden features - such as water, topiary, walls, gates, paths, seating and containers - the author of Classic Garden Features creates an evocative tapestry telling the story of gardens through the centuries, their changing styles and the influences that brought these changes about.

The content is well laid out and the book reads easily. It contains delightful snippets of information such as the fact that ancient Romans dined around a raised pool with food floating from guest to guest, aqnd that French gardeners used to protect their glass bell jars with neatly woven straw covers on chilly nights.

Throughout the book, the author marries his descriptions of features with planting ideas that how the features off to their best advantage - such as lime-green fennel and dark-red nasturtiums clambering over a scarlet-painted trellis obelisk or corkscrews of box planted in earthenware pots. The book is beautifully illustrated with colour photographs that show a wide range of garden ornaments in diverse garden settings throughout the world. Where else but California would you find a beautifully detailed pavilion designed solely for practising meditation?

Classic Garden Features claims to be 'a comprehensive source book of the structures and ornaments that are an integral part of garden design'. However, the photograph on the front cover - a striking sculpture called Greenhead by Patricia Volk - does suggest that the book contains more information about contemporary garden features than it actually does. There are some inspiring modern ideas such as a serene water garden in Australia; a simple slate bench set among clipped box in a London garden; a magnficent herd of corrugated iron elephants in a woodland garden; and, in a garden in the Netherlands, pastel-coloured plastic seats, designed by Phillipe Starck, under a stainless steel arbour. These Lloyd-Loom-inspired chairs are described as 'the classics of the future' so it is a pity that the book does not include more examples like this.

Historically, many garden features would have been commissioned by the garden owner. A selection of these is presented in the book and there are familiar fountains, sundials, sculpture, stone seats and urns, all created thanks to a patron. Today, a wide variety of artists continue to create objets d'art to decorate our gardens, which fulfil the same design functions as they did in the past. In the chapter on 'Containers', a splendid large pot by Monica Young (Issue 62) situated in woodland at the Gibberd Garden in Essex, is described as'...more a piece of art than a pot for storage or planting'. In fact, this pot was never created for function - it is a work of art, and in the way it has been positioned in the garden, it has been treated as such.

The reader is encouraged to seek out the work of contemporary craftspeople and a short paragraph in the chapter on 'Centrepieces' recommends that readers consider work created by modern artists.
Disappointingly, however, the emphasis in the list of 'Suppliers' at the back of the book is on traditional reproduction features. A handful of individual craftspeople are mentioned but no sculptors, or even galleries that exhibit such work. Indeed the author does artists no favours by suggesting that not all artists would have time to carry out small-scale commissions - in reality this is seldom the case.

Professional designers, and amateur gardeners aware of the wider options, might not find Classic
Garden Features as comprehensive a source book as it claims to be, but it informs about garden history, with delightful tales and lovely photographs to stimulate ideas.

Rachel Bebb is a garden designer and proprietor of The Garden Gallery, Hampshire.
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