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”.
“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.
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!
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.