Ten book reviews on gardening as hobby, philosophy, art, and science.

Bending, Stephen. Green retreats: women, gardens and eighteenth-century culture. Cambridge, 2013. 312p ISBN 9781107040021, $40.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2014

When wealthy 18th-century women needed a distraction from their life or needed a hobby, they had very few options to choose from. One acceptable pastime was gardening, which frequently meant simply picking flowers or performing the smallest of actual labors in the garden. Male gardeners were relegated with the difficult physical work, and men were also deferred to in terms of “true” gardening, e.g., planning formal garden beds or relocating trees to create proper views. However, some women went beyond merely picking or deadheading flowers and became proper gardeners in their own right. In his fascinating book, Bending (English, Univ. of Southampton, UK) traces not only the gardens that these women created, but also the reasons they turned to such an all-consuming pastime. Many records left behind by these women showed that they had “retired” from society—some due to great scandal. They were turning their minds to the landscape around them as a way to survive and recover from their experiences, while living in a form of exile. Much more a societal study of the garden as feminine refuge, and less a horticultural text, Green Retreats is nonetheless an intriguing work that would be heavily used in almost any academic library. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above. —S. E. Brazer, Salisbury University

Cooper, David E. A philosophy of gardens. Oxford, 2006. 173p ISBN 0199290342, $35.00; ISBN 9780199290345, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2007

Cooper (Univ. of Durham) offers a finely crafted essay on the meaning of gardening in a surprising discussion that turns out to be rich with insights about the “good life,” understood as serenity induced by responsiveness and care to what is “gifted to us” from nature. Gardening, in this view, is no mere hobby to be pursued when the mood strikes, but a fusion of “co-dependence” and creativity that shapes the very soul of the gardener. Drawing upon such philosophers as Aristotle, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Wittgenstein, Iris Murdoch, and Zen Buddhists, Cooper articulates and interprets the experience embedded in this activity. Just as “the garden” exemplifies an epiphanic relation with nature, this book exemplifies the best of philosophy: fine analysis fused with depth of insight—especially valuable in a “time of lost spirit.” Although unique in its achievement, this book could be complemented by David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in the More-than-Human World (1996). Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-level students, graduate students, faculty/researchers, and all who grasp meaning “with their hands.” —S. A. Mason, Concordia University

Frida Kahlo’s garden, ed. by Adriana Zavala, Mia D’Avanza, and Joanna L. Groarke. New York Botanical Garden/DelMonico Books/Prestel, 2015. 136p bibl ISBN 9783791354569, $34.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2015

This book accompanies the exhibition Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life at the New York Botanical Garden. It focuses on the exquisite garden at Kahlo’s home, the Casa Azul (Blue House), in Mexico City. Over the years, Kahlo’s home and garden underwent many transformations to express the wide-ranging interests and cultural tastes of Kahlo and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera. The collections of pre-Hispanic sculptures, folk art, books, animals, and diverse plant life in the garden were important to the development of Kahlo’s artwork. This richly illustrated volume explores the garden’s connection to Kahlo’s work, which frequently employs complex symbolic flora and fauna imagery to express personal experience and expression. Included are thought-provoking essays about the history of landscape and garden architecture in Mexico City, indigenous building traditions, and unique insights into the unusual home and garden that inspired and fortified two of the most renowned artists of the 20th century. The book concludes with a list of the plants in Kahlo’s garden, drawn from archival sources, photographs, and the botanical elements in her art, and a chronology of Kahlo’s life and key moments in the evolution of her home and garden. Summing Up:Recommended. All readership levels. —C. B. Cannon, Brand Library and Art Center

Keane, Marc P. Japanese garden notes: a visual guide to elements and design. Stone Bridge Press, 2017. 270p ISBN 9781611720358, $59.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2017

Having lived in Japan for nearly 20 years, Keane, a landscape architect, provides the reader with his insights pertaining to key elements of Japanese gardens. The book is divided into six sections. The first section, “Intent & Time,” is organized around the concept of garden flow, encompassing the intent of the original designer and contributions of the passage of time. “Space & Passage” gives examples of the arrangement of objects, which create passages. “Function & Art” provides examples of the balance between these two elements. “Architecture” emphasizes the need for harmony with nature, which also applies to the section entitled, “Garden Ornaments.” The last section, “A Heart for Detail,” is a study of design aspects so carefully crafted, they are said to “hide in plain sight.” The most outstanding feature of this book is the author’s excellent photographs, which strikingly illuminate his analyses of more than 130 design elements from 100 gardens—some famous, others more obscure or private. The text is sparse but thoughtfully and sensitively related to the photographs. This is not a “how-to” book, but it serves as an inspirational source for any individual interested in Japanese gardens and their design. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —L. G. Kavaljian, California State University, Sacramento

Kingsbury, Noël. Garden flora: the natural and cultural history of the plants in your garden. Timber, 2016. 368p bibl index ISBN 9781604695656, $40.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2017

Beautiful to behold, Garden Flora explores (by genera) the more recognizable gardening plants—from Abutilon to Zinnia. Annuals, perennials, and woody plants are included in the discussion. Some entries are extensive, while others are spotty. Primula are blessed with numerous, significant illustrations. Others, including HebeRudbeckiaVerbascumVerbenaVeronica, and Wisteria, are not illustrated at all, which is a pity, because Kingsbury (a designer, commentator, and writer) has a knack for providing fresh imagery. The text emphasizes the botanical range of each genus and offers interesting facts about plant origins and nomenclature. Helleborus is one of the reviewer’s favorites—the balance and quality of the text and illustrations are outstanding. The work’s “Epilogue: These We Have Lost” laments plants that were once commonly grown but which, in some cases, have entirely vanished from cultivation. This is a pleasurable book for an interested amateur. It is more informative than a seed catalog and its end results, unlike the seeds one might order, never disappoint. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers. —I. Richman, Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg Campus

O’Sullivan, Robin. American organic: a cultural history of farming, gardening, shopping, and eating. University Press of Kansas, 2015. 382p bibl index afp ISBN 9780700621330, $34.95; ISBN 9780700621583 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2016

Charting the rise of the organic movement from its humble roots in the 1940s to the flourishing industry it has become, O’Sullivan (Troy Univ.) describes the compelling, often-conflicting world view and struggles that continue to beset the organic movement today. The story starts with Jerome Rodale and his influential role in bringing organics to the US from Europe in the 1940s and goes on to recount the rise of the organic movement in the public consciousness during the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The author describes the increasing acceptance of organics and the transition from a grassroots movement to a flourishing industry. Finally, the work explores the transition of organic agriculture from associations with ascetic health food to privileged status symbol and concurrent accusations that it has sold out to big business and government regulation. The author uses numerous quotes and examples to illustrate the story. Although somewhat repetitive at times, American Organic is a readable, in-depth, often entertaining treatise on the history of the organic movement in the US. See Philip Conford’s The Origins of the Organic Movement (2001) for a history of the organic movement in the UK and other parts of Europe. Summing Up:Recommended. All library collections. —J. R. Reeve, Utah State University

Oudolf, Piet. Gardens of the High Line: elevating the nature of modern landscapes, by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke. Timber, 2017. 319p bibl index ISBN 9781604696998 pbk, $40.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2017

The High Line, once an abandoned area filled with wildflowers, has been transformed into an art museum, a community area, a walkway, and a botanical garden. It stretches for more than a mile on an elevated railway structure through sections of Manhattan and attracts over seven million visitors a year. Unique? No; William Robinson’s The Wild Garden (1870) highlighted this type of model garden. However, the High Line is an especially noteworthy amalgamation of an authentic industrial ruin transformed by the skills and knowledge of inspired landscape designers. The copious photographs are the book’s glory; they illuminate the major part of the work that describes the 13 sectional gardens covering the entire distance of the original tracks. Manhattan’s urban vistas provide a wonderful background for the nearly constantly changing, carefully selected vegetation. The original wild flora of the High Line consisted of 161 species. The design team expanded the plant diversity to about 400 species, including many grasses, perennials, and even trees. How such diversity is exploited for color, form, and seasonal variation in such a restricted environment gives this book instructional value for any garden designer. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —L. G. Kavaljian, California State University, Sacramento

Remington, Vanessa. Painting paradise: the art of the garden, by Vanessa Remington with Sally Goodsir. Royal Collection Trust, 2015. 312p bibl index ISBN 9781909741089, $75.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2015

Accompanying the eponymous exhibition on view in London at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace (March–October 2015), Painting Paradise traces the history of gardening in eight chapters, focusing on the artistic representation of cultivated nature from the 15th century to the reign of Queen Victoria. Beautifully illustrated, the book highlights the prominent role of courts for the history of gardens, from Persian and Mughal miniatures to Tudor portraits, panoramic views of Baroque palace grounds, and luxurious decorative arts inspired by gardens—including tapestries, porcelain, and furniture. A 22-page appendix provides color illustrations of the more than 200 works featured in the exhibition, and the volume succeeds on multiple fronts as an independent publication. It is particularly good on the shifts that occurred between the Restoration and the 19th century, from Dutch and French conceptions of cultivated grandeur to more “natural” ideals of the 18th-century landscape garden, the privatizing of royal gardens, and (at the same time) the opening of royal gardens to the public—at Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, and Kew. Treats abound here for gardeners, art enthusiasts, and academics alike. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —C. A. Hanson, Calvin College

Vercelloni, Matteo. Inventing the garden, by Matteo Vercelloni and Virgilio Vercelloni with Paola Gallo; tr. by David Stanton. Getty Publications, 2011 (c2010). 275p ISBN 9781606060476, $74.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2011

Exquisitely illustrated to accompany the information-dense text, this book is a work of art as well as a highly informative guide to the evolution of gardens. The premise of the book is that “since the time of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the garden has been the locus of the soul and the earthly paradise….” Indeed, architects Matteo Vercelloni and the late Virgilio Vercelloni expertly unfurl the history of gardens. The authors include examples from the most famous gardens, but they do not dwell on them as they can be clichéd. A notable chapter is “Structures for the Romantic Garden,” which explores grottos, green temples, stone temples, and seating. Italian garden architecture is represented more prominently than in other similar books, but this is understandable given the authors’ training and work experiences in Italy. The book also covers the American garden design movement. One criticism is that the book has a decidedly Western theme, giving little space to Asian garden history and design. Excellent references and the names of all gardens discussed are thoughtfully included at the end. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —M. J. Stone, Western Kentucky University

Weaner, Larry. Garden revolution: how our landscapes can be a source of environmental change, by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher. Timber, 2016. 328p bibl index ISBN 9781604696165, $39.95; ISBN 9781604697490 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2017

By understanding plants, their ecology, growth requirements, and ranges, a gardener can broadly think about what he or she creates. These ideas are the foundation of this work. Rather than thinking of composition and imposing a particular design on the landscape, and then maintaining that design, the author takes the view that one should plant in such a way as to emulate natural ecosystems and processes. He indicates that some common horticultural practices make it difficult to achieve a stable landscape. Plants that are suited to the environment will be much more successful (and will have less maintenance) than those that require changes to the habitat, such as pH adjustments or the addition of organic material. This ecologically informed style of gardening also provides benefits to local ecosystems. Many tips are provided regarding how one can create sustainable landscapes. A well-conveyed message is that patience is required, and that this patience will prove rewarding with ever-changing views. Practical advice abounds from planting instruction to thinking about the proliferation of particular plants. The book is lavishly illustrated with color photographs that seem to urge the reader to experiment. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and professionals and practitioners. —D. H. Pfister, Harvard University