Many of us are very reluctant to put together a flower arrangement. We see photos of complicated bouquets accompanied by complicated descriptions of color and texture and know we could never aspire to making such a thing. In her book Windowsill Art: Creating one-of-a-kind natural arrangements to celebrate the seasons (St. Lynn’s Press $18.95) Nancy Ross Hugo, shows us a way to make arrangements that are beautiful in their simplicity.
I am a person who is known for looking at the big picture. For me the delight of Windowsill Art is the way it encourages me to look at the details, of a flower or twig or leaf.
Hugo knows about plants, big and small. She is the education manager for the LewisGinterBotanical Garden in Virginia and has written four other books including the magnificent Seeing Trees with photographer Robert Llewellyn. In Windowsill Art she explains that she has great fun making windowsill arrangements because there is no anxiety. She also considers making these regular arrangements a kind of spiritual practice that prompts her to notice the changes that every day brings to the natural world.
This little book with its glowing photographs is divided into four sections beginning with Getting Started that will push aside all worries about finding plants or containers or even windowsills. In the next section she goes on to Explore the Process, and then on to Experimenting with Styles and Technique. The final section is a photographic record of windowsill arrangements through the seasons of the year.
Sometimes an arrangement goes solo, a single vase filled with the plants of the season. Sometimes she shows the power of massing when she puts an assortment of related flowers in un-matched containers.
Throughout all this it is clear that there is no plant or part of a plant that Hugo does not find stunning. Vegetables, herbs, weeds, and shrubs find their way into her arrangements in addition to familiar flowers. She even finds drama in the arching branch of dead leaves.
I think this is the value of all her teaching. She knows how to entice us into new ways of looking at the common things around us. And if we learn to see the elegance of a cabbage leaf while we wash dishes, it will not take long before we see the beauty of many other everyday details.
Hugo says, “ . . . although I had been meaning to create something ‘pretty’ every day, it is seldom the beauty or design success of an arrangement that moves me . . . it’s the way they capture the seasons.”
This beautiful little book is the kind of book that would even please a non-gardener. Any walk outside might result in a bit of grass or leaf or flower, all you need to make Art.
Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs by Emma Reuss (Monacelli Press $45.) is also about details, but it is the big details of landscape design: repetition, pattern, geometry, symmetry and proportion. Those are big details and Reuss takes us to 100 contemporary gardens around the world to show how they can play out to very different effect.
My garden is not contemporary in the sense that a landscape designer would use that term, and yet any successful elements I have achieved can also be credited to repetition – of my gingko trees in the Lawn Beds – and rhythm – of the curving Rose Walk.
Water features abound in this book. Many years ago I was reading one of Beverley Nichols charming books about his garden where he insisted that ornamental water was essential in any garden. Since I could not imagine how I could get water into my garden I dismissed his dictate. However, more and more gardeners have found ways to put water in their gardens, reflecting pools, fountains, and ponds. Water in the garden is not a contemporary idea
This is the point I want to make. Although you might think that this book would be of limited use on our suburban plots, there is something to learn and adapt from almost every detail described in this book. For example, many kinds of path grace these gardens. In one formal garden the path is closely clipped and edged grass; one path through a meadow is a boardwalk; one is cement pavers arranged in an idiosyncratic pattern; a brick path ends and segues into ‘ sympathetically colored gravel of the dining area.’
One of the techniques I liked, in opposition to severely clipped hedges, is the ‘staggered hedge’ which is made up of several different shrubs. This is a softer, and less work intensive, way to create a boundary. The shrubs would be different depending on your climate.
For each garden the defining details are listed, photographed and an explanation is given for how it works within the design of the whole garden. The instruction is brief but dense as elements reappear throughout the book in a number of different ways. Five hundred photographs make the principles very clear.
Reuss is British, a member of the Royal Horticultural Society and lives in London, but the ideas in this book range from the formal to the more ecologically concerned, as well as from the Arizona desert to Tokyo, Japan.
Reuss stresses that the “key to successful garden design is to be true to the character of both the site and the house – the genius loci . . . and environmental conditions.” That is where we all must start.
Between the Rows September 27, 2014