In landscape design, there seems to be a constant gentle friction between gardeners who see a landscape as a setting for plants to shine, and people who come from a more architectural standpoint and see the plants themselves as secondary to the design aims. You can tell from the title, Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor Plants, Place, and Spirit, that the Ogdens are among the first group.
They start out with a manifesto about just that balance:
Gardens are certainly for people, but in order to be gardens, they must be created with plants first in mind.
This is not to say that architecturally driven landscapes cannot be beautiful. They often are, in the same way that well-proportioned buildings are beautiful. But if their fixed geometry goes too far, so that the composition rests only on the static beauty of paving, walls, sheared hedges, massed bedding flowers, and repeated lines and beds of matching trees, shrubs, and other architectural subjects, there is little to love save architecture.
In these kinds of landscapes nature has been utterly defeated.
Then they bring out the real distinction:
The error made my designers of these spaces is assuming that a garden is a place or thing. As any gardener knows, what’s missing from this view is the sense of process. The noun garden only comes into being when it is also a verb.
I loved their emphasis on the experience of a garden as an ongoing process. So many designers and writers focus on the end result, which as all gardeners know, is never the end – it’s a cycle.
Visit any gardener and you’ll hear that they wish you’d come two months prior, or would come again in two weeks when the such and such will be in bloom, or “you’ll have to forgive the Nepetas, they get so scraggly this time of year.”
Gardens are ever-changing, and so much of our enjoyment comes from intimate fellowship with the plants and wildlife that give a landscape its LIFE!
Of course a random collection of plants, with no relationship to the surroundings or to each other, is obviously not a pleasing place to spend time. It’s only when we use plants with respect and attention to their finer qualities, and place them in settings appropriate to their surroundings that we have a place that really moves and teaches us.
With that in mind, the Ogdens spend a wonderfully thorough amount of time on HOW to design with plants – how to view light, how to work with your natural surroundings or the things that make your region special; in short, how to design a garden when your primary consideration is the connection and composed beauty that a lovingly-planted landscape brings.
Then, throughout the book are exceptionally detailed lists of plants for different uses in the garden. These aren’t your usual “flowers for shade” and “purple flowers” types of lists, and many of the plants are unusual varieties that you may not have heard of before, which gives us a lot of room to grow into this book.
Some of my favorite lists:
Deciduous Woody Plants with Precocious Flowers (flowers that arrive on bare wood)
Evening-Fragrant and Night-Fragrant Plants
Herbaceous Plants with Good-Looking Spent Flowers
Plants for Dry-Stack Stone Walls
Companions to Bold Succulents and Fiber Plants
I think you can tell by the lists and by the writing style that this is a book you’ll return to time and time again. My copy is covered in sticky notes where I wanted to remember to come back and read more, or that I should refer to the list again soon.
If you’re a beginning gardener, some of this may be the type of writing that you don’t fully understand the first time through. That’s OK. The writing style and advice are of such fine caliber that as you grow and learn, you’ll find yourself developing an even greater appreciation for it, and you’ll gain new insights on each reading.
If you’re a landscape designer or particularly an architect, this book is absolutely required reading. The plant lists alone are worth far beyond the cover price, and the poetic and thoughtful text will give you new insights into how to work with the natural attributes of plants to create landscapes that honor region, architecture, and our human desire to connect with plants and nature.
Read reviews for Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor Plants, Place, and Spirit by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden on Amazon
My other garden book reviews
Note: Timber Press sent me a copy of this book for review.