The Intimate Garden: Twenty Years and Four Seasons in Our Garden by Gordon and Mary Hayward belongs to the rare breed of landscape design book that is actually helpful:
- One private residential garden–not little glimpses of a dozen gardens
- The garden was developed over many years. (They figured it out as they went along)
- They tell you the problem, solutions considered, and what they finally implemented
- They tell you about their mistakes, and how they corrected them
- There is a labeled map of the whole garden
I only know of one other book with the same scope that is so helpful, and that is Mary Keen’s Creating a Garden. But Mary Keen lives in Great Britain, and even while drooling over the gorgeous photos of her garden, I’m always wondering, “Is that hardy here?”
The Haywards, on the other hand, live in Vermont, in Zone 4, and I can be fairly certain that if a plant grows for them, it will grow for me. This is a wonderful book to read in the winter, as the authors take great pains to orient you to the map and to photos that illustrate the points they are making. It as close as you can get to walking through a garden from the comfort of your armchair.
The authors believe, as I do, that a garden needs paths to give it structure and to engage the visitor. They go even further and say every garden needs an itinerary, and use design tricks to persuade the stroller to prefer one path over another. I think there should be many ways through a garden, and sometimes walking through my own garden in the opposite direction from the way I usually take helps me notice things I would otherwise pass over. On the other hand, borrowed views usually work best from certain vantage points, which means they must be approached from a specific direction, so I can see the rationale for subtly guiding the viewer.
Their garden is a mix of formal and informal elements that I find very appealing. It is also comforting to know that they didn’t get out a big piece of graph paper one day and scribble an oval here, a rectangle here, and arbor here, and we’re done! No, first a good friend points out that the apple tree out back lines up with the door. Then they find some stumps strangely appealing and incorporate them into the design. Another time they are unexpectedly given four flowering crabapples and wander around the yard wondering what they should do with them. At several points after clearing brush or removing trees, they realize they have a good view, and so begin brainstorming ways to take advantage of it.
This approach gives me hope that if I live in the same spot long enough, walking around, musing and meditating, eventually I will create a garden that feels like a garden. Their “before” pictures also give me hope. It is easy to understand why Gordon’s mother burst into tears the first time she saw the place. Between the weathered, unpainted house siding and the abandoned cars parked in the grass, it looked like a dump.
There are a lot of similarities between the Haywards’ land and my own situation. Both locations are rural, hilly properties that have been in use by farmers for many years, with resultant accumulations of old out buildings, agricultural junk, and overgrown vegetation. What they do seem to have a good deal more of is money. Money to hire stone wall builders and backhoe operators and even general gardening help. They probably also have more land than you do. Their garden proper is over an acre, plus they bought a ten acre field, presumably to preserve their view. And they have an unspecified amount of land across the road, where they pile their compost, plant forced bulbs, and maintain a nursery bed. Handy.
The fact that they have such a large garden should not discourage you, because the ideas from one small part of their garden could be applied to what would be a more significant part of your garden. They also have a very small garden in back of the cottage they own in England. (What did I tell you about money?) They approach the design of this garden in a similar fashion to their much larger Vermont garden. The same ideas work, only on a smaller scale.
And there’s more help in the appendices. The first appendix could be expanded into a book of its own. It’s all about how they maintain their garden: what they do in each season, their favorite tools, Mary’s weeding rules, Gordon’s pruning principles, and the like. The next several appendices are plant lists of various sorts, but the final appendix describes how Gordon approaches garden design for clients.
For a northern, cold climate gardener, you couldn’t ask for a better book to guide you through the long term design of a residential property. Well, yes, you could. How wonderful it would be if every region of the country had a landscape book similar in scope and approach to this one. The further away you are from the geography of New England, the less easy it will be for you to relate to the views of their garden, though I am convinced the design principles would still be valid.
Many images from the book can be seen at their website, and some of Gordon’s articles are also reprinted there. It will give you a good taste for the riches this book has to offer.
Update: I just received this in an email from Gordon Hayward:
Thanks so much for sending along the link to your blog. I’ve just returned from it and thank you for your generous comments about The Intimate Garden. By the way, we have turned that appendix on how we maintain our garden into a book that just came out six weeks ago from WW Norton. It’s titled Tending Your Garden: A Year-Round Guide to Garden Maintenance. Perhaps your readers would like to know about that. Thanks again for including us in your blog. We are redesigning our website. A new very handsome site will be up in the next 2 weeks or so.