University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Perennial Publications : Book of the Month

John Brookes Garden Masterclass
John Brookes.  2002. DK Publishing.  hardcover, 352pp.

One of the top garden designers in the world today, this well-known British author summarizes in words, sketches, and photos over 40 years of landscape experiences.  This book undoubtedly covers the material from his courses in England, the Americas, and Japan with his designs, and those of contemporaries, as examples.  The eleven chapters each cover a design element, such as setting--harmonizing the garden with its environment, or direction--adding movement to the design.  The extensive photos are worthy of the finest coffee tables just for browsing and inspiration, yet when studied can provide details even the smallest gardener could implement simply and affordably. 

As some examples on the ideas illustrated, as well as secondary ideas, under the chapter on surfaces is shown a sidewalk of wood ties, filled between with rounded gravel.  Yet the further ideas one can see are the regularly spaced clumps of a weeping grass to soften the edges, add continuity, and the overhead arches of a trellis and vine to define the space.  From similar steps of wooden beams for risers, the horizontal levels filled with gravel, one can see the sides flanked and softened with lady's mantle. The bottom corners have box shrubs, the top corners stone containers and a gazing globe.

While most design texts treat plant traits such as form and texture, and how these can be combined using design principles such as repetition and balance, this author looks at design differently in his chapters.  After setting as mentioned above is shape--creating the skeleton of a garden.  Following direction as already mentioned is levels--changing levels in the garden and contours.  Enclosure is about designing sheltered areas and boundaries.  House and garden entrances are discussed and illustrated.  After surface as mentioned above, structures are illustrated including arbors, loggias, and garden outbuildings.  In planting he shows combinations of flowers, shrubs, and trees.  Natural and formal pools are illustrated.  Finally ideas are shown for selecting furniture, lighting, and garden ornaments, in other words creating style. 

Although one can get ideas on novel uses of plants and combinations from this book, it is primarily about design.  The author introduces the book with his interest in the art of design rather than the craft of horticulture.  Emphasized throughout is the setting of the garden, how is it part of the surrounding environment. He closes the description of his own voyage of discovery of garden design with the current site-specific emphasis of top garden designers.  "Watch out, there's a new mood about among the new school of landscape designers, which has very little to do with plant material, at first glance, but everything to do with the nature of landscape and how the garden fits into its surroundings."

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