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Arabella Lennox-Boyd recommends the best books on

Garden Design

The award-winning garden designer recommends essential books for any budding gardener, and reveals why trees are the backbone of any good garden

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    1

    The Education of a Gardener
    by Russell Page

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    2

    New Trees
    by John Grimshaw and Ross Bayton

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    3

    In Your Garden
    by Vita Sackville-West

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    4

    The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs
    by Hilllier Nurseries

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    5

    Gardens from the Air
    by Franco Migliorini and Luigi Latini

Arabella Lennox-Boyd

Arabella Lennox-Boyd is an Italian-born English garden designer. She has won six gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show and the Best in Show Award in 1998. Over a career spanning 40 years she has undertaken commissions all over the world, ranging from small town gardens to large historical landscapes. Her client list includes Sting and Sir Terence Conran

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Arabella Lennox-Boyd

Arabella Lennox-Boyd is an Italian-born English garden designer. She has won six gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show and the Best in Show Award in 1998. Over a career spanning 40 years she has undertaken commissions all over the world, ranging from small town gardens to large historical landscapes. Her client list includes Sting and Sir Terence Conran

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What do these five books have in common?

They are all books that I am happy to have on my bookshelf and which help me with my work. But I have to say with garden design that much of what I do comes from my heart and from what I have seen, rather than from books. As well as the books, and the photos and pictures in them, I also find catalogues very useful and often have them by my bed to look at.

That sounds like a lot of gardeners I know. My mother’s house is full of catalogues. Your first choice is The Education of a Gardener by one of the great landscape gardeners, Russell Page.

This was definitely one of the books that taught me a lot – not only about the relationship of designer with client, but also about the dos and don’ts of garden design. I only really knew him vaguely because he was very, very grand when I first started. He was a kind of guru and one hardly dared speak to him. But I could see that he had a mystical side to him and a real sense of landscape. He had a terrific imagination and did things that we all do now, in terms of design and features. A lot of what he did has been adopted by landscape architects. He had a great sense of design, and he was very inspirational in the way that he treated design. He saw it in a different dimension. He understood more about design than meets the eye, and that is why for me he was mystical. He had a real sense for the place where he was working.

Next up is New Trees by John Grimshaw and Ross Bayton, which has over 800 tree species in it. Most people talk about flowers and plants when they discuss garden design. Why are trees important as well?

Because they are the backbone of garden design. It wouldn’t be a garden without trees or shrubs – or at least a garden of any importance, because herbaceous plants are here one day and gone the other. They have a short life and they mutate. The design you achieve with herbaceous plants has to be continuously looked after, nurtured and changed, whereas trees are the backbone of a garden.
I am also interested in trees because I collect them. I have an arboretum, and I have been involved in trees and shrubs for many, many years. I think that in garden design they really are the most important thing. This book talks about trees which are new to cultivation, which is extraordinary. It is also about the people who travel to find out about these new trees.

Vita Sackville-West’s In Your Garden is a collection of her gardening columns. What was it about her that made her such a great columnist?

She had a way of talking about plants that was very attractive and very accurate, and she had wonderful taste. The plants that she talked about were good plants, and I like the way she described them. My love of garden design really started with a love of plants. She was one of the first gardeners I read and she was a great inspiration.

There are so many wonderful gardeners in England but she stands out as one of the true greats.

I think it is because she just appeals to people. I am sure there are other great writers but they can be rather dry or boring. Her writing is never boring. It is very inclusive and you feel she is really talking to you.

You grew up in Italy and have designed gardens all over the world, but many people see English gardens as iconic. What is it about them that people love?

I think it is the magic, and the fact that in England you can grow so many different varieties of plant. The English have developed a wonderfully relaxed way of dealing with plants. They are not frightened of combinations. They are not frightened of using different sorts of plants and lots of them. Somehow, in countries where the climate isn’t so good [for gardening], I think people are more nervous. Also there isn’t the culture that the English have – the long-standing culture that is part of the English garden.

The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs

contains detailed descriptions of over 9,000 plants, covering a wide range of trees, shrubs, climbers, conifers and bamboos. Do you use this for your work?

Yes, I use it all the time, alongside other plant catalogues like David Austins Roses. I find it very useful from a technical point of view. It tells you quite a lot about the trees and shrubs. First of all it gives you a brief idea of botany, so you know what a pennate leaf is or something like that. It also teaches you where it comes from and who found it.

So a useful thing to have when you are wandering around London’s Kew Gardens – or indeed any garden – and you want to know what you are looking at.

Yes. If you are involved in plants you are endlessly making notes as you go around. I usually make my notes and then have a look and read up on them in Hilliers. Whenever I go and look at a garden, I always have a Hillier Manual with me.

Your final book, Gardens From the Air, is a wonderful collection of aerial photos. What can they tell us about garden design?

The reason I like this book is because it is highly original. As it is from the air, you can actually see the whole design of the garden. I was very amused to see somebody planted a wood in the shape of a foot – that sort of thing. You really have a completely different view of the garden. You see the design, as opposed to being in the garden and seeing it from that perspective. I find that quite interesting, given that we always think of gardens as though we are a bird above the garden. So it was interesting and amusing to see all the photos in the book.

We have interviewed the garden photographer

Andrew

Lawson

, who thinks that people are moving towards having more natural gardens. What do you think are the current trends in garden design?

With me, I have always liked things like long grass and natural wild flowers. Maybe it is because my first approach to gardening was at home in Italy, where we had the most fantastic wild flowers. I don’t like lawns so if I can let the grass grow I will do. And I like the contrast between clipped lawn and long grass. This type of thing has become a sort of fashion, but it has been going on for quite a long time. Miriam Rothschild was the first person who showed a wildflower garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, which was a fantastic display, and that was a very long time ago.

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