In Plant-Driven Design Scott and Lauren Springer Ogden take a very different and somewhat philosophical, yet inspiring approach to designing a garden--starting with plants and everything else will fall into place. They literally turn the conventional garden design and landscaping process on its head by placing plants ahead of other elements in the landscape, including everything from architecture and pathways to outdoor kitchens. By taking the reader through a logical progression in their argument we understand why plants should drive the garden design process. This book is beautifully written and wonderfully illustrated with great photographs--most of them taken by Lauren of their own gardens in Texas and Colorado.
Published in 2008, this award-winning book both challenged and drew me in from the beginning. It can be a rewarding read for both the beginning gardener and those who seek to take their gardens to new heights. Since it provokes deep thinking about the subject it is not an easy read. Even so it is enjoyable, and almost poetical at times. The overall premise of this book elevates the plants to garden supremacy and demotes everything else to a supporting role. In this Oscar-award winning status the plants, not the architecture, are pre-eminent.
Why challenge the order of things when most books and articles on designing a garden recommend laying out the hardscape first? This book's argument is borne out by the end results. Choosing the wrong plants for the location or placing them in a less than optimal spot for their needs will result in a problematic garden regardless of how well-designed the surrounding architecture or garden layout.
See the point? The concept seems so logical that, without having read the book, I focused first on plants when I began to build the gardens at our retirement home in San Antonio back in 2009. Elevating plants to the leading role allows creation of a garden where the right plants for the location are in the best places to show off their assets and creates a sense of connectedness along the entire expanse of the garden. And this is so regardless of whether you have a balcony garden or 100 acres. One issue that kept crossing my mind is that most of us begin with existing homes and structural elements already in place as do the authors. While they do address these issues, I would need to give this more thought before completely embracing the idea. No matter what kind of garden you start with, and the authors are clear that they like formal gardens too, this book will help to keep the focus on the plants while not allowing existing features of the garden to dictate solutions.
Having made the argument for putting plants first, Plant-Driven Design is part observation and part textbook when the authors turn their attention to how the goal of creating gardens that honor plants, place, and spirit is achieved. Instead of listing rules, they explain why you should pay attention to important garden design principles and illustrate with real examples and beautiful photos--many from their own gardens in Austin and Colorado. They back it up with detailed descriptions of natural plant communities accompanied by extensive plant lists for many different garden designs such as Plants That Thrive In Limy Soils and (on the facing page) Plants That Thrive In Acid Soils. Just a few of the other categories include Plants For Dry-Stack Stone Walls, Plants For Between Stepping Stones, and Plants for Dry Shade. The section on light in the garden categorized plants by different types of light. I have already purchased one plant specifically because I found it on the list. It's not all academic and philosophical when the authors get down into the nitty-gritty with discussions of soil types, compost and mulch, and even the effects of animals both wild and domestic on the garden.
Inspiring? When it came to selecting a quote for this review I found myself stumped because the entire book is so quotable. With that in mind I simply opened the book randomly and took a quote from the page which just happened to be Page 129.
"So it is the elusive essence of a wild place that awaits discovery, and this then needs to be reinterpreted with plants through patterns, placement, and process."
Did I say this book is beautifully written? Every sentence is designed to bring you around to the concept of allowing plants to take the lead in your garden.
My first thoughts on reading the book is that I have found an important resource I need to continue to grow my garden the way I envision. Because the authors live and garden both in Colorado and nearby Austin, the examples work well for my South Central Texas location. However, their plant lists and concepts will work well in any region and they do provide numerous photo examples from around the U.S. and other parts of the world. I felt a bit conflicted about which gardener this book might be best suited for. Overall I thought it might be too conceptual for the beginning gardener looking for specific ideas on how to create a garden, yet it is exactly at the beginning of the process that these concepts should be put to work. I have concluded that this book is for anyone who loves plants and wants to express that better in the garden. Either way, the authors have done a marvelous job writing a beautiful book which is thought-provoking yet practical and which I have greatly enjoyed reading and re-reading.
You can find many other garden books you would enjoy by checking out the reviews at Roses and Other Gardening Joys.