In the dead of winter, I had time to shovel through the new
garden books piled up under my desk, and here are the ones I
couldn't put down.
"The Inward Garden: Creating a Place of Beauty and Meaning" by
Julie Moir Messervy (Little, Brown, 1995, $35), looks at garden
design with an Eastern-trained eye. Messervy, who has a degree in
architecture, went to Japan more than 20 years ago to sign on as
the first woman apprentice in a traditional landscape design firm
She sees the world as a garden, be it the vista from a hike in
the mountains or the ripples made by a stone skipping across a
quiet pond. She talks about the archetypes of gardens and invites
gardeners to plumb their memories for the most affecting moments
and places, and then to create a garden that elicits those feelings.
She tells of one shy client who walked around his yard until he
found a corner with the kind of canopy and view and light that
reminded him somehow of the nooks and crannies he had sought out as
a child. There he built a terrace for daydreaming and rest. For
someone else, it might be a little magic glade or the trickling
sound of water.
"Elements of Garden Design," by Joe Eck (Henry Holt, 1996,
$22.50), is a collection of short, pithy essays that contemplate
the essence of what makes a good garden. Eck, who gardens in
southern Vermont, devotes solid, intense attention to singular
In his essay on shape, for instance, he points out the
profoundly simple truth: "Plants make their most forceful
contribution to a garden not through their flowers, or even through
their foliage, but through their shapes." Some plants, like roses,
he goes on, have decidedly unpleasing shapes, which are tolerated
for their blooms. But then he considers Fothergilla gardenii,
"whose many stems, whimsically crooked, never seem congested."
He's also right about lilacs, which are lovely to smell, of
course, but their best feature is their wood: "gaunt, stern and
sinuous, mottled with patches of white and crusted with lichens."
The eye longs for shape, he says, be it as simple as a wild
dark green juniper rising out of a sea of heather. And when your
eye is pleased, stop and ask yourself, "What makes this work?"
It'll be the shape, Eck wagers. And draw it, even if you can't
draw. You'll learn something.
"Garden Artistry: Secrets of Designing and Planting a Small
Garden," by Helen Dillon (Macmillan/Horticulture, 1995, $35), is
one of those rare books in which the gorgeous photographs really
tell you something. Dillon, who has gardened for 25 years on less
than an acre, a half-hour's walk from downtown Dublin, is an
incorrigible plant collector with an artist's eye.
She is also a recordkeeper and can name all 23 alliums she
tried to grow, most of which died of root rot. She advises that the
best hope for the plant fanatic is a garden with strong lines, so
that all those plants can billow and blow against something. …