Two Garden Styles – Two Books

  • Post published:02/12/2011
  • Post comments:7 Comments

Every gardener is an individual with different dreams, desires, skills, interests – and constraints. Thus every garden is unique reflecting those differences.  William Robinson (1838-1935) was a British gardener who propounded a new flower garden aesthetic, away from hundreds of annuals being bedded out each season, to a wilder, more informal planting of perennials, shrubs and trees, many of them natives. He wrote several books, most notably the influential  The Wild Garden.

That book went through several editions. There is now a new edition, expanded by the noted landscape consultant and photographer Rick Darke. To the fifth edition of The Wild Garden, illustrated with the original detailed black and white drawings, Darke has added his own thoughts of Robinson’s book, his own experiences in the garden, and his own gorgeous color photographs. The Wild Garden – Expanded Edition by William Robinson with new chapters and photography by Rick Darke ($29.95) is published by Timber Press.

Neither Robinson nor Darke is talking about a wilderness, untouched by human hands. Their wild garden is a place that makes use of native plants that spread gracefully, in either sun or shade as the plant requires, and requiring much less of the gardener’s labor than the elaborate bedding out system.

Robinson has set out his chapters by type of plant and landscape, from the Example for Hardy Bulbs in Grass of Lawns or to Meadows, to Woodland Drives and Grass Walks to The Brook-side, Water and Bog Gardens.  In his Explanatory chapter he talks about the beauty of hardy and native plants as well as how that beauty can be enjoyed over many years as the plants increase.

For example, in his list of benefits he says, “. . .because we may in this way settle the question of the spring flower-garden. Many parts of every country garden, and many suburban ones, may be made alive with spring flowers, without interfering at least with the flower-beds hear the house. The blue stars of the Apennine Anemone will be enjoyed better when the plant is taking care of itself, than in any conceivable formal arrangement. It is but one of hundreds of sweet spring flowers that will succeed perfectly in our fields, lawns and woods. And so we may cease the dreadful practice of tearing up the flower-beds and leaving them like new dug graves twice a year.”

Robinson’s prose is straight forward and his principles are very modern in our own day as we talk about sustainability in the garden.  Darke’s opening thoughts point out how Robinson’s ideas have come to be carried out a century on; both of them are sure to inspire any gardener, whether one with large acreage, or one with a suburban lot.

Andrea Bellamy is a young mother in the Pacific Northwest, devoted to urban organic gardening, as well as permaculture, and has a blog  www.heav She now has a book Sugar Snaps and Strawberries with photographs by Jackie Connelly (Timber Press $19.95) which encourages people with little or no land to grow their own food. This brightly illustrated paperback subtitled “Simple Solutions for Creating our Own Small-Space Edible Garden” is simple and encouraging enough for the newest gardeners, but the information about soil, starting seeds,  fertilizer, transplanting, pruning, composting and worm composting, common pests, and handling edibles planted in containers will be useful for more experienced gardeners as well.

As a cook I have become aware of the occasional need to provide vegan alternatives for my guests.  Bellamy points out that vegan gardeners need alternatives as well. Soft rock phosphate will increase phosphorous levels in the soil and is a good substitute for bone meal.  Alfalfa pellets sold as rabbit food can provide extra nitrogen as well as a little phosphorous and potassium  She notes that rabbit pellets will heat up the soil “making it a good compost accelerator”, so advices against adding it to a planting hole where it might toast your plants.  Yes, indeed. New information for experienced gardeners.

The final section of the book is devoted to a dictionary of edible plants and their needs from apples to zucchini. She includes information about fruit trees and even grains. She has her own ‘Top Picks” like peppers, tomatoes, squash and any number of herbs which are easily grown in pots or containers of one sort or another.

The book is so bright, cheerful, and motivating that you will wonder why anyone would ever hesitate to grow a few edibles even if they have only a fire escape or deck.  Of course, edibles do require sunny fire escapes and decks. Sun is a key requirement for most edibles.

As I sit and watch the snow sift down over the landscape, yet again, I have no way to feed my desire to be in the garden except by reading, admiring alluring photographs, and considering the different approaches other gardeners have taken. I wonder which, if any, of these approaches might suit me, and help me to improve my garden so that it will more closely approach the elusive idea I hold in my mind.

Robinson inspires with his ideas about ornamentals and a natural landscape while Bellamy exhorts us to consider the benefits of home grown food. Both promise delight. ###

Between the Rows   February 5, 2011

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. I’ve just gotten my hands on Sugar Snaps and Strawberries and am reading through it now for a food-book roundup I’m doing soon in the Herald. I don’t know the Robinson book but will be going in search of it. You do a nice job reviewing.

  2. Beautiful reviews well written. I’m amazed I didn’t even pick up on Andrea’s writings about vegan planting alternatives. Very good catch on your part. As for William Robinson, love his writings. Grateful for his style of gardening in which changed many of the parks in the U.S.~~Dee

  3. Pat

    Jodi & Dee – Thanks for the kind words. The Robinson book is a beauty and Andrea has advice for beginners and manages to include new information for all of us.

  4. Bill

    I really liked the rabbit/alfalfa pellets use as a fertilizer: great tip. I’m always interested in finding new soil building tips. This is a good one.

  5. Pat

    Bill – I also make a compost tea with a combination of rabbit pellets and Epson salts brewed in a trash barrel for a few days. Less smelly that manure tea.

  6. Holley

    Great reviews. I find it very hard to design a more natural garden. I would love to have The Wild Garden! I’m certain I would learn a lot. And Sugar Snaps and Strawberries sounds like a great book to read for all kinds of little tidbits of advice. I would love for you to link in this post to the garden book review meme this month.

  7. catmint

    both books so different, Robinson really important pioneer in the history of garden design. I’ve taken it out of the library, now tempted to buy new edition, sounds very appealing. Thanks for the reviews. Can’t imagine what it’s like to be unable to garden for months because of the weather. It would have some advantages, like giving more time for thinking and dreaming and reading …

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