Hellebores and snowdrops
February's flowers

"Green" gardens can be modern and stylish

Graham Rice,Stephen Orr,Tomorrow's Garden,Rodale,review. Image ©Rodale (all rights reserved)It’s always interesting to see what other people do with their gardens. The gardens featured in Tomorrow’s Gardens by Stephen Orr (Rodale) all have an environmental awareness in their background, and it’s a pleasant surprise to find that many are so determinedly modern in style… being “green” doesn’t always mean being green, if you get my drift. Paving, stone, concrete, steel and gravel are everywhere.

The old idea of a garden as a room outside is the other theme that pervades the book, good living made easy with tables and chairs and easy-to-walk surfaces extending the inside to the outside.

There are some intriguing ideas for dealing with unusual spaces, some lovely clean designs allied with sensitive planting, plants are used as architecture more than as individuals (Anne Wareham, author The Bad-Tempered Gardener, will be pleased to see) and chosen to minimize the need for irrigation. Water features are crucial in many designs.

I liked the author’s own idea of planting tiers of different bulbs in large holes in his upstate New York garden to create a long display from different species, especially valuable in a small space. The thoughtful layout of a Texan garden, following the removal of the asphalt driveway, retains storm water and allows it to soak into the soil rather than rush away into the street.

The writing is loose but crisp, the pictures atmospheric or clearly explanatory. But Brits might wonder why we need pictures of the garden owners: “Is this a book or a magazine?” they’ll be thinking.

For this is a book that will appeal more to North American than British readers, I feel. While American readers are more familiar with, and more comfortable with, this magazine-style approach to creating a book, with the gardens’ owners and designers in focus as well as the gardens themselves, I think Brits are still more locked into the distinction between books and magazines – they’d expect the author and the gardens to interact, with the owners and designers as personalities set aside.

The other issue for Brits is that the gardens are chosen from across the USA so their content is related to the climate of each area in which they’re created. American readers are used to adapting on the fly and will garner great ideas, British readers may be unable to draw useful lessons from the design and planting of a Texas garden.

But hey, this is exactly as it should be. So many publishers still fail to appreciate that few garden books work well on both sides of the Atlantic. They think all that’s required is a change in the spelling. Often it’s better not to try to make it universal and the result is a better book - for one side of the Atlantic, if not the other. This is a valuable book for American gardeners looking for sustainable design ideas.

* Oh, before I forget. This book is from the same publisher as the text-only Grow The Good Life by Michele Owens, which I reviewed here recently. It’s larger in format and packed with color pictures – and it’s same price, $24.99, and discounted on amazon.com by the same amount. Something wrong here, surely…