Top critical review
9 people found this helpful
A frustrating picture book for novice gardeners
on 2 March 2014
The title of the book "The Layered Garden" and the subtitle "Design lessons for year round beauty" seemed to indicate some novel approaches to garden design, particularly as the author describes himself as a designer and plant collector. "Layered" turns out simply to refer to planting ground-cover, mid level and taller plants (trees and climbers) - a concept with which all gardeners are familiar, and which the author recognises is not original. It is also used, confusingly, to refer to planting for sequential flowering through the seasons, and sometimes is used loosely with other meanings too. I thought that as a "plant collector" the author might have followed in the footsteps of Banks, Forrest, Wilson et al., but it turns out that he means he is a plantaholic, acquiring as many plants as possible, from nurseries rather than the Himalayas. There is little here that can be recognised as garden design, and the author states that he avoids the use of plans, and prefers to plant on impulse - which many gardeners would regard as the antithesis of design. I was left wondering what he actually offers his clients. Perhaps the answer lies in his repeated declaration of Love for the Beauty of flowers, which may be a novel idea to some non-gardeners.
So what does the book actually offer? Of the 300 pages, roughly three-quarters consists of photographs, leaving perhaps 75 pages of text plus captions. About half describes the author's own garden, essentially based on photographs of adequate quality, mostly lacking detailed descriptions and without any plans that would allow the reader a detailed understanding of what is going on, or the opportunity to try the plant combinations illustrated. Some photos illustrate extensive patches of bare fences. There is a liberal use of tender plants but no information about their cultivation, labour and cost involved. The second half is titled "Signature plants through the seasons" and focuses on a few favourite genera. Thus there are 14 photographs of galanthus cultivars, with one page of text and some notes on cultivation; and others featured include, for example, hellebores, irises, magnolias and hydrangeas. Here the standard of photography is good, but really this is a personal selection of plants which the author grows rather than any systematic survey, and it is of limited value unless he is your personal guru.
Inevitably my reaction to the book is coloured by the many others that I have read, on systematic approaches to garden design (e.g. John Brookes), personal descriptions of the development of a garden (e.g. Beth Chatto, Rosemary Verey, Christopher Lloyd), or designing with plants - e.g. the superbly illustrated work of Andrew Lawson, most of which include detailed planting plans. Unfortunately the Layered Garden is not in this league, although I can appreciate the author's obvious enthusiasm.