Cutting Back, and Glorious Shade are two new books that held a particular appeal to me. For me Japanese gardens and shade gardens share an atmosphere of serenity and calm. There is no rushing, no ecstatic clamor at the brilliance of blossoms; there is a quiet peacefulness when you are strolling through a wild woodland garden or an artful Japanese garden. Both types of garden use design to emulate the beauty of nature in different ways.
In Cutting Back: My apprenticeship in the gardens of Kyoto by Leslie Buck (Timber Press $24.95) Buck gives us a memoir of the six months she spent in Japan working six days a week in every weather with expert gardeners.
Once we are in our mid-30s, most of us cannot imagine turning back to the beginning by presenting ourselves as a novice welcoming criticism and instruction. And yet, this is what Buck did. As a garden designer in the San FranciscoBay area she loved Japanese gardens and worked in them, but wanted to learn from the masters in Japan. She left her work and friends and without arranging a job in Japan she left California. She was amazingly fortunate because she did land a job with an elite Japanese landscaping company.
When you go to a foreign country to take a job the experience is as much about adjusting to a different culture as it is to learning or refining skills. As a woman Buck was an unlikely member of an all male crew, taking her place in the lowest rank. She is the first woman to train in Japan with this company. The Japanese aesthetic is to create a landscape that looks completely natural, but this requires gardeners with an artistic eye, fine pruning skills and patience to attend to every detail of a garden down to cleaning pebble paths. Buck, with her minimal fluency in Japanese, found all this challenging, exhausting and sometimes disheartening, but she was also inspired by the gardeners in her crew and appreciative of their teachings.
Cutting Back describes the work and skills of a Japanese crew, but it is not a how-to book in any sense except possibly the joy ultimately found when you cast aside your fears and move on to fulfill a dream.
Leslie Buck had a dream, but she already had an aesthetic education. She has a degree from the University of California, Berkeley and attended the Bordeaux School of Fine Arts in France. She has taken to heart the Japanese worker’s creed that to become a master you must continually practice and you must teach. She has worked, taught and volunteered in hundreds of private landscapes and many public gardens including the PortlandJapaneseGarden and the gardens at TassajaraZenCenter.
Glorious Shade: Dazzling Plants, Design Ideas and Proven Techniques for Your Shade Garden by Jenny Rose Carey (Timber Press $24.95) will give you new ways to look at shade in your garden. I certainly have moved from thinking of shade as some static thing that has only a single quality to appreciating the many facets and changeability of shade.
Glorious Shade begins with chapters on the Shades of Shade and Gardener’s Calendar, reminding us that shade is not static but varying over the seasons, even over the course of a day, and that green foliage is not a single shade either. The book is heavily illustrated with beautiful and instructional photographs.
The third chapter Down and Dirty focuses on the intertwined, underground world of soil and roots, a world that is getting more and more attention. Nowadays we are fortunate to be learning more about soil and roots, and worlds of life that we never knew about before. We all become better gardeners when we pay attention to the most basic part of our gardens – the soil.
Planting for Success gives us those techniques and schedules for maintaining a garden over time.
Designing in the Shadows gives us many bright ideas for gardening in the shade with ideas on how the many types of shade can be used to create the areas of calm and peace that I welcome.
The next 150 pages begin with information about layering the garden, trees, shrubs, perennials, and then provides one of the best plant lists I have ever seen. From trees and shrubs: Aesculus parviflora (buckeye) and Aesculus pavia to Viburnam tinus; vines from Aristolochia marophylla (Dutchman’s pipe) to Passiflora caerulea; ferns from Adiantum, (maidenhair fern) to Polystichum setiferum; and Perennials from Aconitum carmichaelii to Viola labradorica, our common American violet. There is also a short list for tropicals and annuals.
These lists are comprehensive including information about the different cultivars of a single species, including growing zone, depth of shade, need for water, and height and spread of plant. There is also more specific information about each species or cultivar than is usually given in more general plant lists. This gives the gardener a fuller understanding of a plant’s requirements.
Carey is the director of the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University which includes shade gardens as does her own Northview garden shown in her blog.. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, NPR, the Pennsylvania Gardener and other publications.
Between the Rows May 20, 2017