Reviewed by Sara Williams for Flora Borealis, Vol. 3 No. 4, December 1990
Garden Style by Penelope Hobhouse, Little, Brown and Company, Toronto, 1988.
This inspiring book on garden design will make fine winter reading and viewing just through the shear number of glorious color photographs alone. Bringing the reader down to earth, Hobhouse begins by stating that the majority of people develop no interest in gardening until facew with their first garden plot. The first chapter, appropriately entitled 'Inspiration and Education' describes her own education as a gardener and how much she learned and absorbed by visiting other gardens. In a sense, Garden Style is a visit to many gardens, mostly British, but withe a sprinkling of French, Italian, American and others - but all of them, no matter how grand, seen as a learning experience - from which to gain some idea be it of design, structure, texture, plantings, or color, for our own gardens.
If the intention of Garden Style was to inspire more humble gardeners like ourselves (yes, even here in Saskatchewan!) to adopt ideas, it has certainly been successful. One sees Margery Fish's 'silver garden' in East Lambrook, England, and thinks: 'hmmm, silver foliage and yellow flowers in a natural curved bed with a stone bird bath: we have drought-tolerant species - that can be done here' and an idea takes root. Other chapters evolve around garden structure, 'patterned' formal gardens, more natural, park-like gardens, flower borders, and 'gardens-within gardens'.
My favorite section was entitled 'The flower garden and color border'. More good advice: it is a mistake to make all of a border show color and interest at all seasons. 'Instead concentrate on one definite part for each period of the year, allowing the other areas to appear quiet and green in the off-season'. Another is 'Borders look their best when framed against a dark background and set off by a smooth green lawn', but leave 2-3 feet at the back of the border to avoid root competition with the background shrubbery. And, 'groups of plants shaped in triangles or in drifts which weave through a scheme are more successful than groups arranged in straight lines'.
Garden Style has lots to offer and is a lot more than mere fodder for the coffee table!