What makes American gardens American’?
That is the question author Tim Richardson seeks to answer in his stunning new book Great Gardens of America.
Richardson’s tour of America’s great gardens includes historic properties such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charleston, Virginia, and Middleton Place outside of Charleston, South Carolina. But he also includes more unusual gardens, such as the Donnell Garden in Sonoma, California with the most beautiful swimming pool in the world” and the wonderfully stark Baja Garden in the Sonoran Desert surrounding Phoenix, Arizona.
But what makes these gardens uniquely American?
By contrasting them with the historic and famous gardens of Europe, which heavily influenced the design of many American gardens, Richardson concludes that American gardens embrace what he calls the wilderness ideal.” Sweeping vistas that celebrate the unbounded feel of American wilderness are celebrated by American garden makers. In contrast, says Richardson, even the most naturalistic of European gardens display nature as carefully managed and under control rather than wild.
American gardens as celebrating the wildness of nature is a theme that Richardson revisits throughout the tour of the 25 gardens showcased in the book.
The photographs in the book are by Andrea Jones, an acclaimed photographer who also produced the sumptuous volume Plantworlds.
Don’t mistake Great Gardens of America as a dry an academic treatise or just another coffee table book though. Richardson’s writing is well-researched and often sprinkled with a wry phrase that makes you chuckle when you least expect it. He manages to convey the expanse and feel of the gardens’ character through his narrativea not insignificant task, if you’ve ever tried describing a garden. There is much to learn from his descriptions and his overarching theme of the American garden as embracing wilderness.
Thank you Frances Lincoln Ltd for giving us a publication that allows us to visit some of the great gardens of North America, without having to leave home. This book surveys garden estates and private parks in practically every climate zone in the U.S. and Canada. Twenty five gardens with 300 brilliant photographs are included. For each garden surveyed, the author provides an interesting combination of historical and architectural background that helps to identify the landowner’s personal contribution to the garden design.
This is a remarkable publication in that it defines the uniqueness of North American gardens in contrast to their European counterparts. What makes them different is the American appreciation for wide vistas as opposed to the building or object-focused gardens in Europe. In addition, there is a markedly different attitude towards wilderness. The British gardens were intent on keeping out bandits and wild animals. In North America, there is a frontier mentality of living in harmony with nature. Consequently, we see how American gardens include distant vistas into their design by framing these perspectives with trees and shrubs planted in the foreground. As well, by living in harmony with nature and allowing pastureland to creep up to the front door of the home, the ”cult of the American lawn” was developed.
From The National Gardener
A British garden historian and critic of contemporary landscape architecture, Tim Richardson, puts forth his selection of the top gardens in the United States and Canada in this lavishly illustrated volume on landscape design. Gorgeously photographed by the award-winning photographer Andrea Jones, these enchanting sites are generally located on the east and west coasts of North America and typically on large estates and display gardens. In his appraisal of twenty-five places he summaries the distinguishing qualities of the individual landscapes, ranging in styles from the colonial to the avant-garde; he reports on their histories; their owners’ interests; designers’ goals; and important horticultural collections. Richardson skillfully contrasts the highlighted properties through his organization of chapters, expertly maintaining reader’s interest throughout the book. His critical analyses of the works of leading contemporary landscape architects is insightful and provides the reader with cutting edge knowledge on the direction of modern design. Destined to be a classic for its scholarly survey, the book is a pleasure to read.
From C Magazine
It should come as no surprise that five of the 25 gardens in Great Gardens of America are in the Golden State. From the public wonders of San Marino's Huntington Desert Garden, Cornerstone Place in Sonoma, Santa Barbara's Lotusland and Woodside's Filoli to the private sanctuary of Sonoma's Donnell Gardeneach define what author Tim Richardson calls "America's embrace of the wilderness ideal."