Is this the year that you will be joining the growing ranks of gardeners that have grown tired of their perennial beds and borders? There is a fast-growing group of dedicated gardeners who have come to realize that the intricacies of creating and, more importantly, maintaining just perennials, with perhaps a few shrubs intermingled, is entirely too labor intensive.
For the next few issues of this paper I will be reviewing recently published books that you may find helpful in your process of redefining your garden work and rewards. Do remember that rethinking your garden design will take time. However, we will have the dark chill of the winter months to ponder and reflect, and hopefully many of these books will bring to you an exciting new focus and clarity.
Trees are the elements within a garden that create a stately sense of place. As the trees grow on, the garden becomes more complex with the different understory requirements. Last year Timber Press published "The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest," by Rick Darke. (ISBN 0-88192-545-4; 378 pp.; 738 color photos; $49.95) Once again this is a beautiful and very worthy Timber Press production.
This book studies the essence or intent of the woodland rather than focusing just on trees. By getting a better understanding of the woodland's ecology it is possible to bring those ideas and concepts into the design and development of our private gardens. He reviews the seasonal patterns of light and shadow within the forest. He studies in depth one woodland through the seasons.
Then he moves into studying the design elements that can be found within the woodland, all the time suggesting that you will find certain elements that can be used within your garden, rather than trying to "copy" the woodland. There is a very worthwhile chapter on the horticultural requirements for planting and maintaining the ecologically complex woodland garden, followed by a generous listing of plants appropriate for a woodland garden.
He readily admits that he has not created here the ultimate and comprehensive listing for woodlands. Rather he writes about plants he loves and some he feels have been unfairly overlooked.
Throughout the book, Rich Darke's photographs shimmer and inform. The forms, textures, colors and seasonal qualities of the plants have been brilliantly captured. The accompanying text is highly informative and personal. The whole book becomes a meditative experience and also a highly useful resource to return to frequently. I believe that it represents a new type of gardening book that combines ecology principles, design concepts, horticultural information, along with essays on individual plants. The information gathered together in this book guides the reader towards seeing all aspects of the private garden, rather than focusing on floral or individual seasonal elements.
Some readers may question the usefulness of a book based only on the eastern woodland. I would counter their objections by pointing out that we all live within a forest ecology of some sort. Here in the Northwest the reader can use for specific plant reference purposes either Sunset's "Western Garden Book or Trees and Shrubs for Pacific Northwest Gardens," by John and Carol Grant.
The beauty of Rich Darke's book is in its elegantly thorough and thoughtful presentation of the idea of a woodland garden.