Thursday, September 19, 2013

Garden Book Reviews September 2013

Creating Small Formal Gardens


by Roy Strong


I've had this book for a long time, and it was a pleasure to pull it off the shelf and look through it again. I love formal style, and although I love it best when mixed with an abundance of loose plantings, its the geometry, the symmetry, and the neatness of formal gardens that appeal to me.  As the author explains, a garden can be as formal as you like, or have just a touch of formality to "give both order and style to what is otherwise a random planting".


One of the appeals of a formal garden is the fact that are as beautiful in winter as in summer.  He also explains that formal gardening does not mean high maintenance, instead many formal gardens only need "seasonal mowing and an annual trim and prune."  In fact, he believes that formal gardens actually offer "ease of maintenance with maximum effect".  He also says that the layout of many formal gardens would fit easily into the area of many lots today.  If you have a large garden, you may incorporate several designs to give a feel of different rooms connected through vistas and pathways.


Included in the book are many photographs and examples of formal gardens.  Just thumbing through the pages of this book is a visual delight, and gets my creative juices flowing.  But don't just stop at the photographs!  He explains the difference between "old" formal gardens and newly planted formal gardens.  In fact, a large majority of the photos in this book are from gardens that were planted in the 15 years prior to this book.


What I liked best was the fact that he would give options, and advise which options would need more maintenance.  He also advises how long it would take for a garden, planted in the examples shown, to mature.  And he points out potential problems that may arise!  The entire book allows you to determine what would be best for your own space, with the time you have for gardening, and a realistic time frame for completing the garden.


Whether you love gardens with straight lines overflowing with abundant flowers, want to plant a potager, imagine yourself walking along evergreen pathways in the winter, or just want a touch of the formal to compliment your garden, this book will give you lots of ideas.


Photos are of the Annie duPont Formal Garden taken last October.

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Now it's your turn!  Please join us on the 20th of each month with your own garden book review.  Any book with a gardening influence qualifies.  And as always, please take the time to visit the other participants.


40 comments:

  1. dear holley, I never used to appreciate formal gardens. Now, although i would never do one myself, I do feel their appeal. I particularly love that photo you took through the gateway. I am besotted with framed garden pictures. I hope you don't mind my somewhat anarchic contribution to this month's meme. I haven't got myself organized to join in for ages, and missed you all. Somehow I haven't been reading regular gardening books lately. cheers, catmint

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    1. I have taken a break from gardening books lately, too, and that's why I took this one off the shelf to review. But just thumbing through this book has reignited my desire to start reading gardening books again. Thanks for joining in. I'm glad, too, that you find formal gardens appealing. I have always loved them, but I have always loved mathematics, too, and I wonder if that is part of their appeal to me.

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  2. It brings me back to my childhood. The formal gardens of Europe. I am always amazed at the wonderful structure of it and the care taken for every nook and cranny.

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    1. Oh, how I wish I could see those formal gardens in person. Just looking at the photos are amazing and fascinating to me. I would love to walk through them, not fast, but very slowly. I would want to savor the feel of walking through something as incredible as those gardens seem to be.

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  3. Love your photos and the idea of formal gardens too. I think every garden benefits from a touch of it.

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    1. I don't have a formal garden, but I do love touches of formality in a garden. I think it offsets the informality of loose, abundant plantings.

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  4. I do love formal gardens, but it wouldn't work for me, so this book would be interesting for elements that could be added here and there. Thanks for sharing this - and the lovely photos too!

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    1. I feel the same way as you - a highly formal garden just doesn't seem to fit in my space, but I do love elements of formality here and there. I hope you enjoy the book.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this review, I could use some of the tips he gives. Sometime in future I may participate in your garden book review share, there are so many good garden books out there.

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    1. I would love for you to join in. I'm always looking for more good gardening books to read! I think you would like the book. Just looking at the photos is wonderful, but he really does give very encouraging information in it, too.

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  6. I prefer rambling, cottage style gardens but appreciate the structure of a formal garden. But I do have to admit that whenever I see a little hedge, I just want to cut out a section of it so all the plants can escape.

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    1. How funny! In contrast, I just love clipped hedges! In fact, I wish I had more! haha Now when I see a hedge, I'll think about the plants wanting to "escape"! :) Isn't it great that we all want our gardens to look different?!

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  7. I love to look at photos of formal gardens, but I prefer the garden in which I live to be informal. It just seems more relaxing. I remember reading a review of The Laskett by the same author. It had good reviews, but my libary didn't have it, and it was a little pricey to buy. I bet the garden is beautiful! Thank you for hosting the book reviews!

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    1. I, too, love looking at photos of formal gardens, and dream of putting in a formal area somewhere. Maybe one day I'll actually do that! I have The Laskett and loved it even more than this book, I think. I hope your library gets it in.

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  8. Touches, or elements, of informality is an interesting way of putting it. I guess every garden needs a structure, even an informal, wild garden, otherwise it will just look an unattractive mess. I know when I plant things, i usually work very hard to deliberately not be symmetrical, but occasionally plant stuff symmetrically. But there are no straight lines or right angles, just as there are no straight lines in nature.

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  9. Touches, or elements, of informality is an interesting way of putting it. I guess every garden needs a structure, even an informal, wild garden, otherwise it will just look an unattractive mess. I know when I plant things, i usually work very hard to deliberately not be symmetrical, but occasionally plant stuff symmetrically. But there are no straight lines or right angles, just as there are no straight lines in nature.

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    1. I think that was the entire point of a formal garden. We "rule" over nature by putting in a garden, even an informal one, and a formal garden just emphasized that point because there are no straight lines in nature!

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  10. It never really occurred to me until I read your post, but I can see how a formal garden might actually be easier to maintain than an informal one. Most of the work is at the beginning - setting up the structure. Whereas with an informal one, there is constant work trying to keep it from degenerating into messiness. A formal garden would be totally wrong for my yard and neighborhood, but I love them in other contexts.

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    1. I don't know why formal gardens got the reputation for being maintenance heavy, as most formal gardens are evergreen heavy. And you're right - formal gardens don't easily "blend in", and I guess that's why there aren't many these days!

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  11. This sounds like a very helpful, beautiful book. I like that the author gives timeframes and how long to expect till maturity. While my garden is very natural, my arbor garden is my attempt at formality. (You may remember me calling it the Lady Garden) It seems like it is taking forever to meet my expectations! It is going into its fifth year, and maybe next year it will be worth looking at.

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    1. I do think that formal gardens take longer to mature. I can remember waiting for my boxwoods to finally grow together to form a hedge. I often wondered if they ever would! (They finally did, and I'm so glad I waited!)

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  12. I like to visit formal gardens, even though they're not my style. This looks like a great book, though--offering suggestions for adding varying amounts of formality.

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    1. I like little touches of formality in gardens. I think structure compliments abundance and the chaos that can accompany gardens when they get a bit overgrown in the summers.

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  13. Sounds like a great resource for the formal touch...I will be joining in on Monday!

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    1. Thanks for joining in, Donna! :)

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    2. The widget has disappeared and I can't add my book. Here is the link:

      http://gardenseyeview.com/2013/09/23/gardeners-guide-to-frost/

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  14. Roy Strong...now there is a name I remember from a book called The Laskett. The growing of his garden was very interesting and would love to read more of his work. Gardens are not his first career or writing subject. I use to read a garden book a month but in recent years they just are not there.... not sure if I have become pickier or if publishers have decided they are not worth publishing. Even the British books are fewer and fewer.

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    1. I read The Laskett, and loved it. I didn't even realize I had another book by the same author until I pulled this book off the shelf to do this review. No wonder I liked the book so much!

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  15. Interesting perspective, Holley. Formal gardens are not my first love, but I enjoy visiting them when I am in England. I bought several new gardening books this year and will join in your meme, if not this month, I'll start in October. P.x

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    1. I'll be thrilled to have you join in, Pam! I am very interested in hearing which books you bought, and which ones you really liked!

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  16. I love it! Thanks for the great review, Holley! I'm looking forward to reading this one!

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  17. Hi Holley, that sounds like a great book. I love formal gardens, but always thought that they are very high maintenance. It is interesting that the author states it differently. Great very inspiring photos of the Annie duPont Garden!
    Christina

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    1. I do think formal gardens need much less maintenance than say, a herbaceous perennial garden. Even in my mixed border garden, I am constantly having to do some type of maintenance to it. The author states that formal gardens went out of style when a large variety of plants became easily available, and I think he is probably right about that. Although I love formal gardens, I do seem to want one of every plant! :)

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  18. Your post made me wonder about the definition of formal. For me it means a garden, not necessarily with rules, but with structure. Mine has structure and it makes gardening much easier.

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    1. I love structure in gardens, too. And before reading this book, I thought I had a fairly formal garden. But the gardens in this book are truly and completely formal - symmetrical and geometric. They are gorgeous, though.

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  19. I think it has been ages since I visited your blog. Life is crazy -- shall I work, write my blog or visit other blogs -- just missing on my favorite hobby :-(. I love seeing both formal garden. Somehow either it should be formal garden or informal, wild, natural beauty place. I am trying to create that formal beauty in our garden now. Takes lots of time, money and energy though once established, it will be a pleasure for eons to come.

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    1. I know what you mean about life becoming crazy. It's hard to keep up with it all. I also agree with you on your last sentence - once a formal garden is established, it can be a pleasure for years, long outliving the gardener. Good luck on creating the garden of your dreams.

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  20. Hooray, I just managed to sneak in with a review! I've had the draft saved on my blog for a few days and thought I was going to run out of time :) As usual I want to read the book you've reviewed! I love formal layouts combined with casual planting, a little bit of structure definitely makes it all look more planned and less messy even when it is messy!

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    1. So glad you joined in! I hope you like the book. Like you, my favorite type of garden is structured, but with abundant, loose plantings. I agree that it makes the mess look intentional! :)

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