Understanding Garden Design: The Complete Handbook for Aspiring Designers by Vanessa Gardner Nagel touted itself as aspiring to be a “comprehensive resource”, and after reading it… I was surprised to find that a fairly accurate claim. Think of this book as a “mini landscape design course”.

There is a lot packed into a book of about 230 pages. It is one of those books that I think you should buy first, before spending lots of money on a slew of garden design books without half the information of this one.

“What you will learn” organizes the topics into a highlighted syllabus attached to each chapter, listed with a bold large size print in a sidebar position making it easy to locate information topics.

Nagel described her purpose for the book to be a start from scratch guide and builds from the questions “Why design?” “How does it benefit you?” on to practical matters like “How to work with contractors”. She has thought this process out and gives some of the best definitions and explanation of why design and planning matter so much.

Pithy statements like “Planning and design are intention and purpose”, and “Planning precedes design” gives the reader some of the “why” and sequence to the advice that experts offer. The book, while quite practical, takes the approach of gardening as intellectual pursuit. She doesn’t ignore the emotional impact of gardening, however and makes an early point of how garden effect emotional health. It was a point I wanted to further investigate.

And that is something every good book will offer, not just answers to questions, but inspiration to follow further into the subject matter.

In subsequent chapters, the questions continue… what is the garden context? what are your resources? can you break the plan into phased installation? Taking a tour through the thinking that such questions require and then into the work of documenting your site along with rules of thumb and how-to’s on diagramming. Nagel makes it easy and painless.

The large 5th chapter deals with design- all aspects of it: color, shape, patterns, proportion, focal points, movement and transition, texture, and more. It’s all there!

Understanding Garden Design

An essential book for your bookshelf

Here is a quick overview of some of the other chapters:


Chapter 6 deals with choosing materials and accessories, and though I don’t like all the ideas presented, they give a broad spectrum of how materials are used in the landscape.

Chapter 8 deals with the “bones of the garden” and the concepts of using plants in the “thriller, spiller, filler” combination. Another concept (new to me) entailed using “Plant punctuation”, a whole new way to look at using the semi-colon and comma.

Chapter 9 dealt with lighting and 10 was a final design summary of each step to accomplish the task. *Plus everything to plan a successful garden party.

Understanding Garden Design Reviewed by The Garden Librarian on . Landscape design how-to. Jam-packed with landscape design information and how-to, nicely illustrated advice that is constructed around common homeowner questions. Rating: 5
It is a book to buy if you are strongly interested in designing your home landscape. It will prove useful in many ways throughout a long career of working in your gardens. I’d rate it as an essential book for the garden bookshelf. I think I like it so well because it holds so much of the good garden information in one place, something that is important when you want to get right to the task of making a dream into a reality.
product image
Author Rating
Aggregate Rating
no rating based on 0 votes
Brand Name
Timber Press
Product Name
Understanding Garden Design: The Complete Handbook for Aspiring Designers
USD $11.98
Product Availability
Available in Stock