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Encyclopedia of Garden Design & Structure and The Magic of Monet's Garden

Kip reviews Encyclopedia of Garden Design & Structure and The Magic of Monet's Garden by Derek Fell

Derek Fell's Encyclopedia is not what you might expect. Rather than containing a series of dry, tedious entries, this book offers an array of well over 100 stimulating articles on subjects ranging from "Alleys and avenues" to "Mounds, islands and pyramids" to "Woodland gardens." Each section is from one to several pages long and lavishly furnished with photographs.

Ruins are an unexpected embellishment to a garden, giving it a sense of antiquity, romance and mystery. [...] Where a garden lacks a ready-made ruin, one can be constructed.

I've seen ruined gardens, but this is what I'd call a rather ambitious idea, one of hundreds to be found here, covering everything from the preposterous to the sublime, with examples shown from around the world. Encyclopedia of Garden Design & Structure will stretch the imagination of any gardener and perhaps cause a few non-gardeners to pick up a shovel.

The Magic of Monet's Garden is a different sort of book altogether. It is, of course, about a single garden, the garden of Claude Monet, the Impressionist painter, at Giverny—or as the account unfolds through recent photographs, the restored version of that garden. Monet once declared that he was good for only two things in life: painting and gardening. He did both very well, and when you think about it, arranging flowering plants in the garden, in terms of the visible results, is not a far cry from arranging paint on a canvas.

Monet felt that the successful use of color harmonies came not from studying a color wheel but from observing nature. For us, better than studying nature might well be observing plant combinations utilized by Monet. Anyone interested in color theory will find lengthy discussions of the topic in this book.

Green is perhaps the most misunderstood color in the garden. Indeed, many novice gardeners don't even consider it a color since green is generally the background... . The Impressionists knew differently. [T]hey realized that... green produces nuances of tone like few other colors.

Yes indeed: black-greens, blue-greens, silvery greens, lime-greens, and bronze-greens. If color theory is not your thing, then perhaps you would find the lengthy section on Monet's favorite plants more to your liking. As thorough as the book itself is, one comes away feeling even more impressed by the thoroughness of the people who restored Giverny. I'm beginning to think I should take up painting.

As I've tried to convey, both books impart a sense of awe (and yes, perhaps a tinge of garden envy) for what can be accomplished using plants as a medium; but both books also offer a great deal of useful information which, if implemented, could lend a bit of that ability to inspire awe to almost anybody's garden.

Kip Anderson has been the Victory Garden's head gardener for over 20 years.

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Published September 28, 2007