There are very many books that have inspired me to try new things, especially in the kitchen and garden, but here are four that have influenced the way I think about, and work in, the garden. The first two are books that are my constant companions this spring, as I tackle the projects that they inspired; the second two radically changed the way I think about plants and planting schemes.
I have recently been involved in creating two Japanese-style gardens here in Scotland and, for the first, I sourced and installed a ‘cloud-pruned’ Ilex crenata. Such specimen trees are breathtakingly expensive, which led me to wonder how easy it might be to create one in situ, which in turn led me to this fantastic book by Jake Hobson. I now fully understand why mature specimens are so expensive to buy off the shelf – the creation of niwaki (effectively a big bonsai, grown in the ground rather than in a pot) is an extremely time-consuming process, involving years of pruning, training, micro-pruning and primping. Don’t let this put you off though, as the pruning techniques are the same as those used to train fruit trees in this country, and on this basis, I am going to ‘have a go’ in my own garden – I will post pictures of my initial efforts as I work my way round the garden. Watch out shrubs!
The benefits of putting plants and wildlife back into the heart of towns and cities are well known, and increasingly architects are taking the opportunity to make use of all those barren roof spaces and cliff-like walls, but these projects are on a civil engineering scale and the relevant technical information is a little daunting for those looking to introduce a little green into their own urban spaces. This book is a fantastic ‘how-to’ manual for anyone looking to retro-fit a green roof onto their shed, garage, bicycle store or any other structure that is an eyesore or ‘wasted growing space’. In the course of planning my own green roof project I have discovered a source of locally grown sedum and wildflower matting – a major result, as haulage costs from suppliers south of the border can be very steep. Once again, I will post pictures as the project evolves.
When I first became interested in gardening I enjoyed reading Christopher Lloyd’s newspaper columns, but it was this book that changed the way I planned and planted my own garden and which influences the planting design I do for clients now. The art and craft of succession planting ensures that at no point in the gardening year is the garden a dull place to be – there are always new things to savour, new combinations waxing and waning, a variety of plants sharing the same space but peaking at different times. One of the most common complaints that clients have about their existing gardens is that ‘it only looks good in spring or early summer’ – a problem solved by intelligent planting design and the canny use of seasonal bulbs and, if they are keen gardeners, annuals. The other great thing about this, and all of the late Christopher Lloyds book, is his writing style. It is as if you are sitting next to him on the sofa, listening to him talk, scurrilous comments and all.
During my Garden Design course I was introduced to the ‘new perennial’ planting style that started on the continent and is now being used widely in gardens in this country. The ability to have a densely planted, but relatively low maintenance, perennial garden was a revelation to me, and I now have many clients who are enjoying ‘naturalistic’ areas within their gardens. There are a range of key practitioners, including the authors of this ‘bible’, Henk Gerritsen and Piet Oudolf. The 1200 plants listed in this book are divided into three categories: Tough, Playful & Troublesome and contains only plants which they deem to be ‘reliable’ i.e. which can be maintained in an average garden without the need for artificial props or bolstering (staking, feeding, dividing, etc) or which need special conditions (water, desert, alpine, etc). So, a very different palette of plants from that used by Christopher Lloyd, and a very different planting effect, but perfect for many British gardens.
I have always been a great proponent of the adage ‘if you do not know how to do something, buy a book’ and, for me, a great book is often a long-standing friend who I can turn to again and again, and introduce to others. Long live the printed page!