“The Story of Gardening,” by Penelope Hobhouse and Ambra Edwards (Princeton Architectural Press)
It’s an opportune time for an update to this lavishly illustrated history of gardening and landscaping. “The Story of Gardening” might sit (heavily) on a coffee table, but it transports the reader out into the yard or the park with some new perspectives and ambitions.
We all appreciate green space more than ever these days. As always, gardens offer the promise of beauty, serenity, artistry and practicality. They’re also a relatively safe place to spend time, and gardening as a pursuit has taken off in the age of coronavirus.
“We can picture the garden-owner gradually beginning to derive pride, status and pleasure from the plot that it was within his power to make fertile and beautiful,” write the authors, Penelope Hobhouse and Ambra Edwards, imagining humankind’s very first gardens. They could just as well be describing many people this summer.
The authors show gardening to be an age-old struggle to appreciate and amplify nature’s beauty while also imposing order on it. It’s about finding a balance, too, between what looks good and what is practical.
“The Story of Gardening” begins in the Fertile Crescent and travels around the world and up to the present. For those of us wondering what to do with our yards and gardens next year, there might be inspiration in seeing how different cultures have approached layout and plantings, from Islamic walled gardens to the “power-gardening” formalism of French royalty to the more naturalistic English cottage gardens to pared-down Japanese gardens and more.
The American idea of the endless front lawn, one rolling into another, was an attempt to democratize the landscape, doing away with the walls and formal plantings of colonial estates, the authors say.
A new final chapter includes recent projects, including New York City’s High Line and Piet Oudolf’s sweeping meadows of grasses and perennials, and focuses on sustainability, ecology and other gardening concerns today.
Hobhouse, an English garden designer and author, wrote the original edition of “The Story of Gardening,” published in 2002. Here she is joined by Edwards, a gardening historian and columnist.