Ian Hodgson, Great Garden Design, (London: Frances Lincoln, 2015) £25
This will be a short review. It is the only way to be kind. Is this a book, or an extended version of the Garden Design Journal, the Society of Garden Designers magazine, or is it merely a glossy promotional brochure for all the Society members. Well, it is all of these, rolled into one, and it positively simpers with treacly self-satisfaction. And just who is it aimed at? It’s certainly not for your average gardener with a cramped back garden or potential postage stamp for a green patio on the roof. This is a publication aimed squarely at the wealthy, the well connected and the culturally ambitious.
It is pretentious – for ecologically inspired gardens read ‘Gardens with a Conscience’. But also very out-dated. Urban Chic gets dug up from the 1980s; Naturalistic Style from the 1990s; Cottage and Country from way, way beyond. We’ve heard all this before, time and again. How many more sumptuously produced volumes on re-cycled contemporary garden design do we need when there are so many more garden related topics that need publishing?
The book makes the point that to achieve anything approaching the gardens featured you will need a landscape gardener. No matter how many top tips are offered, it will take just such an experienced designer and vast amounts of money to achieve anything like these layouts. Fortunately, or perhaps one should say unsurprisingly, the book ends with a directory of 195 designers (all registered members of the SGD) with their websites. So this is the book’s true purpose. It is essentially a coffee table production for each member of the SGD to show to prospective clients – literally a showcase of their wares and their expertise.
As for the sumptuous production, so much is crammed in here that each double page spread can have as many as nine photographs, all with boxed captions and other, grey-tinted boxes with quotations from the designers. It is a dizzy-making, busy, magazine-led, fragmented layout, with an unashamedly self-serving text. And, though Ian Hodgson is an experienced writer and editor, the prose is, at times, woeful – ‘Gardens are a living art form’; ‘the modern country garden comprises an amalgam of elements’ – don’t all gardens? ‘Objets trouvés, such as shells, driftwood or even old kitchen utensils, offer the opportunity to include highly personalised elements that recall memorable experiences or associations with loved ones’. Well, I never! Sections are titled lamely, ‘Bold Visions’, ‘Great Designs’, ‘Outdoor Experiences’.
Frances Lincoln should have opted for a purely promotional publication rather than try to trick it up as a ‘how to’ guide to designing contemporary gardens, almost every example of which, illustrated here, would be out of the reach of most aspiring garden makers.