Have you ever stood in a bookstore looking for a new landscape design or gardening book only to be completely overwhelmed? I know I have. There is such a vast amount of knowledge at our fingertips and on our bookshelves that it can be hard to know where to start. That’s where I come in. Once a month or so I will review and reflect on one of the books in my collection. This will give you a bit of a preview and will hopefully guide you in the right direction as you consider your own landscape.
Today’s selection is from Julie Moir Messervy, landscape designer extraordinaire. In addition to compiling great ‘example books,’ (my term for books full of photos of different ways to approach a particular design aspect or feature, ie. pages of different containers, pathways, patios, decks, etc.) she has written several books on the personal journey of landscape and garden design.
Messervy is one of the best landscape designers in the industry today. She might be lesser known to the general public because she doesn’t host a tv show or have her own line of products, but her work stands the test of time.
In addition to designing hundreds of private and public gardens, she collaborated with world renowned cellist, Yo Yo Ma to create the Toronto Musical Garden— a reflection in landscape of Bach's Suite No. 1 in G Major for unaccompanied cello, BWV 1007. Each section of the 3 acre garden is designed to reflect one of the major dance movements in the piece. Clearly Messervy is a woman who is able to express intangible elements such as music and feelings as a journey through a garden.
You might be wondering why choosing a pretty plant and putting it in your garden is a ‘personal journey’. (I can see the air quotes now.) For some people, it’s not. They can point to a plant or a photo in a magazine and tell a designer, “I want this” and never give the process another thought.
But for others, their yard, their landscape, their garden is a place for their souls to find rest and expression. These people ask the questions like “Why do I want that?” and “What part of nature particularly appeals to me?” even “Where am I most free or at home in nature?” It is with theses questions and answers that they come to a landscape designer to sketch out the physical manifestation of these deep longings, and it is for these people that Messervy writes this book.
Messervy begins the book with a series of archetypes found in nature: the sea, a cave, a harbour, a promontory, an island, a mountain and the sky. She suggests that stages of our lives correlate to theses archetypes and can help us better understand ourselves, leading to more insightful choices and decisions in our garden.
As the book progresses, Messervy helps the reader to use their imagination as they design their dream landscape. There are a few exercises that she suggests to help uncover elements in the garden to which we are most drawn. She invites the reader to pay attention to their interactions in and around nature, for example how might we like to have a hedge versus a fence? Are there different sensations or feelings that might arise from being enclosed by one or the other?
All of these questions and queries are then balanced with detailed design theory and concrete advice. She has spent time in gardens all around the world and brings her considerable experience and learning to this book. It is full of great ideas and instructions all the while holding the tension that the most unique thing about a garden is its owner.
This book is perfect for the contemplative gardener, the person curled up all winter dreaming about their garden or for anyone who likes to delve a little deeper into landscape design.