My first choice must be that of the landscape architect Sylvia Crowe who published Garden Design in 1958. It remains the most comprehensive book on design I know… She covers Far Eastern developments, the Italian Renaissance garden, French formality, English garden development and finally the contemporary garden in the West. But it is not all history – she weaves in design theory as she describes historical settings.
The Education of a Gardener (published in 1962) by the great modern garden designer, Russell Page, is a classic. It is a restful, ‘dipping in’ book I keep by my bed… He thinks of a garden as a work of art; he is always composing a picture in which every detail has been planned. Colour and texture of leaf and flower rank equally with the architecture of substantial plants.
Reginald Blomfield’s classic is quite different to Russell Page’s book above. Published in 1892, it is a historical survey of how gardens can not only be related to the house, a reflection of the architecture, but also settle both building and garden into the surrounding landscape.
I wrote Plants in Garden History as a study of plant availability and discovery through the ages… I relished the research and learnt history starting with Egyptian tomb gardens and Persian paradise garden, to Louis XIV’s Versailles and on to the explosive 19th-century introductions that gave the Victorians colourful bedding-out flowers.
Highly readable, it is a brilliant synopsis of garden-making from Cyrus the Great’s garden in the 540s BC until the decline of the great Mughal dynasty after the death of the Taj Mahal’s builder, the Emperor Shah Jahan, in 1666 AD.
Already well-known for books on garden history and theory, the authors cover almost all the topics we have already discussed, but with an emphasis on the garden as part of the environment, so perhaps this is the only book you need.
The whole book, with pictures by Maxfield Parrish, has an aura. It captures the essence of Renaissance taste in a way no modern production can compete with.
Reference books lie in a small heap beside my desk. For me the most valuable is Hillier’s Manual of Trees and Shrubs. I have various editions, all heavily annotated by me or my husband.
Originally intended for Hansen’s landscape students at Weihenstephan near Munich, it is now widely consulted by all gardeners. Unlike other dictionaries, it puts a greater emphasis on the ecological needs of a plant than on their aesthetic value in border schemes. It was an eye-opener.
No library can be complete without at least one volume of Beth Chatto’s illuminating books. I owe so much to her. The Green Tapestry seems a good choice as it includes many descriptions of her own garden schemes and plant lists.