Monday, October 9, 2017

Garden Renovation

It's almost always awe-inspiring to see engaged, talented professionals doing what they do best.  Bobbie Schwartz and Timber Press have teamed up on Garden Renovation. Ms. Schwartz has nearly 50 years in the gardening and landscaping business and it shows.  This is a meaty workbook oriented book which isn't just eye-candy.  It's full of lush and illustrative photographs of course, but more importantly, it's designed as a workbook full of really sound advice.

Our houses and environments are unique.  Our goals for our spaces are also unique to us and our expectations and desires for the places we live.  This book gives concrete advice for laying out a detailed plan to get from 'where we are' to 'where we realistically want to be'.  Landscaping (even for the enthusiast) can be very daunting, very fraught, and very expensive.  Obviously we want to avoid as many pitfalls as possible.  The author's vast experience with a broad variety of situations and budgets really shows in the work.  This is a practical book full of great advice including defining goals, setting realistic budgets and work plans, timelines for implementation, and other vital steps in success. The planning chapter encompasses roughly 10% of the total content.

The book moves on to essential landscaping concepts such as soil, amendments, climate, sunlight and other physical constraints. The subject matter is well researched and presented in a clear understandable manner.

Another important concept in landscaping and preparing and creating our perfect outdoor space is hardscaping, those permanent or semi-permanent structures, walkways, driveways, balconies etc which are possibly expensive or difficult to change.  The book presents creative practical methods for changing or incorporating existing hardscape elements into the garden design or solutions for changing them within budget.  This is an incredibly well presented chapter, easily the best and most practical I've seen on the subject. The chapter (indeed the whole book) is lavishly photographed with great illustrations showing the contrasts between different solutions for common problems. It includes sections on patios, decks and furniture selection. This chapter alone is worth the price of admission.

Plant selections in gardening are obviously essential.  However, too many books turn into basically 'flavor of the month' lists of 'essential' plants which wind up being dated in a few years. This book cleverly and classically avoids the trap of being dated by teaching the reader how to assess a plant's functionality and why to choose a certain plant over other alternatives.  By teaching the reader to train their own eye and trust their own instincts, the author educates the gardener.  It's very much the 'give the man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him forever' mentality and it really works.

Teaching and showing are all fine and well, but at the end of the day don't change the outdoor home environment one jot.  The last 25% of the book are given over to concrete advice for methods of establishing a plan and following through.  I loved that the author did NOT just toss off a bit of 'you can do it yourself' fluff, but also said 'there are things which are beyond the scope of all but the most fanatical DIY'ers.  Clearly explaining the difference between landscape designers and landscape architects and offering reasonable advice on when to call in the experts was a refreshing change from many other DIY gardening books in my experience. There's also a subchapter on how to choose and work with your chosen professional.

The last chapter includes a wide variety of before and after success stories.  These are also well photographed and practical, showing the possibilities hidden in different situations.  I, personally, am really good at 'grunt work'... I love gardening passionately, but I'm woman enough to admit that I'm a bit of a plodder when it comes to actually seeing the inherent possibilities creatively.  This book is solid gold for me for that reason.  It presents myriad creative solutions which would never have occurred to me in a clear manner. There were a fair number of 'forehead smacking' why didn't I think of that?! moments.

The very end of the book includes a bibliography, online resource section and index. It's slanted toward the US gardener, but includes so many bits of advice which are applicable to gardeners everywhere.

Five stars, wonderful book, perfectly presented, and flawlessly edited (I didn't find a single mistake, and when I'm reviewing, I LOOK).

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher.

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