Book shines light on the world’s most spectacular gardens

THERE’S one thing that we gardeners love at this time of the year, apart from gardening, and that’s sitting in the armchair and leafing through seed catalogues, gardening magazines and gardening books.

I can spend hours partaking of this pursuit, admiring pictures of new species, good design features, ideas for planting combinations, and in my own head I have committed to buying nearly a whole seed list and redesigned my entire garden.

That’s what is so great about books and magazines, they wake up your imagination, allowing you to dream and let your creative juices free rein. Well this year my imagination has been sent into overdrive as I have been enjoying what can only be described as a tome of gardens.

The Gardener’s Garden by Madison Cox is the culmination of several years work by the notoriously publicity-shy designer. Madison Cox, who is possibly the most important garden designer you have never heard of. He has designed hundreds of acres of gardens for many clients in ten countries, but much of his work has not even been photographed such is the low profile he and his client’s keep. Two of his gardens that we have heard of, were for the former Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and Sting.

The book is a global survey of favourite gardens from around the world, including world famous and unknown, public and private gardens from all areas of the globe and different climate zones, and of course, differing styles from the most formal Chateau de Brecy in Normandy, France to more natural looking Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex.

Personally, Cox likes to create gardens in context with their natural surrounds and locations, and like all good designers he works very much with his clients, not forcing his ideas, rather moulding their needs and wants with his knowledge, artistry and expertise.

The word ‘passion’ is one that you will come across more than once in this book and that is exactly what is needed by any designer in any field, to create a work of art. You can’t help but feel his ‘passion’ even in the foreword when he writes about gardens that he feels are special:

“I can recall with precise vividness 35 years later the damp, fresh wetness of the terraced gardens after a spring rain at Villa Noailles in Grasse, France; or nearly two and a half decades ago, the sultry dense heat of August afternoons spent in the deep shade of the modest village garden on the remote island of Patmos, Greece.”

The format of the book is simple, a page or two pages given over to each garden, with a column on the left outlining the details of the garden, such as location, creator, period, size, climatic zone, design style and a few hundred words of the author’s feelings on the garden.

Most of the page or two, is taken up with spectacular photography. To say that this is the ultimate coffee table book is to do it a disservice — yes, it is just that, but there isn’t a coffee table in the world that won’t be improved by having it lie upon it. More than that, however, this is a collection to refer to for ideas, a book for students of horticulture and garden design to use as a reference and to see different styles illustrated. I defy any reader to open any page and not be inspired.

Open on page 66, Liu Yuan, Jiangsu, China, and you will feel cool and calm looking at the photographs. It is a garden where I know I would feel reflective and serene because this is what the design and landscaping has achieved. Then have a look at the photographs on page 18 and 19 of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, Australia, and go ‘wow’ at something that is so different — so in-your-face ‘designery’. I’m not sure if it’s for me or not but I love it for pushing boundaries, for daring to be different.

If you think all gardens are what we have here in this part of the world then think again — a garden is any outdoor space and what can be done with it is up to each individual. As sure as architecture varies hugely in different parts of the world, so too does garden design.

Ireland again punches above its weight by being featured at all. We are well represented with Helen Dillon’s garden where the author notes ‘the garden and gardener are inseparable’ the garden being successful due ‘partly because Dillon is very good at what she does and partly through the sheer force of her personality’.

I am thrilled to see the Harold Peto designed gardens at Ilnacullin, Garinish Island, West Cork, are also featured. What I, up to now have regarded as the finest garden I have ever seen in the world is here on page 110 — Mount Congreve in Waterford.

The culmination of the lifetime’s work of Ambrose Congreve (and what a lifetime, he died in 2011 aged 104 on his way to the Chelsea Flower Show), I can remember visits to Mount Congreve with my parents from my childhood in such detail that the gardens are for me full of living memories.

I say that Mount Congreve is what I have regarded as the finest garden I have ever seen, and the only reason that I am no longer so certain is Madison Cox’s book. If you don’t have a good enough coffee table, go get one, for this book deserves the best.

* The Gardener’s Garden, €66.66: Hardback; Phaidon.


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