The New English Garden – Reviewed by Georgina Craufurd, HGT Research Group Member
Tim Richardson, with photographs by Andrew Lawson
Published by Frances Lincoln, September 2013
ISBN: 97807 1123 2709, 328 pp
This is not just a coffee-table book, though the size and magnificence is impressive. The author is a garden historian, and he describes the genesis (and inspiration) of each of the twenty-five gardens he has chosen. Each one is given about twelve pages of treatment – far more than one normally sees in a book on gardens. This gives him not only a chance to explore the aims and challenges of a particular design (for instance the Olympic Park of 2012, which had to be at its peak in August), but also to explore each garden visually, often by means of a double-page spread where a smaller size of illustration would not make the point. An instance of this is the Thyme Walk at Highgrove, where the enormous clipped topiary looks small and flat when shown in a standard size of photograph. Here, however, the bushes are visibly three-dimensional and huge, and they march down the Walk.
The author has previously written English Gardens in the Twentieth Century: from the Archives of Country Life (2005), which he describes disarmingly as an attempt to give the history of the Arts & Crafts garden. He feels however that a sea-change occurred in the 1990s, when the idea of the prairie garden was first introduced, and when texture and form become probably more important than colour. This is also when grasses become popular and the wild-flower meadow is introduced; and this is the theme of the present book, as the author explains in the Introduction. (This really ought to be read carefully, as it gives the themes which the author sees in all the gardens he has chosen.) The planting too is analysed, which would help a reader who wanted to re-create some of the effects in their own garden.
It is good, too, that the photographer is given due credit, as the illustrations are ravishing. The skill of the designer of the layout ought also to be acknowledged for the small tricks he or she uses to enhance the photographs, an instance of which is the set of enchanting photographs of Arabella Lennox-Boyd’s Gresgarth in frost. These are given a pale grey page background instead of the usual white, which would have killed the delicate shades of colour and the sharp white accents of the frost. This is a book where style and content are equally well matched, and where both provoke thought.