Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Education of a Gardener, by Russell Page

Russell Page was one of the premier landscape architects and designers of the 20th century, and created gardens throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As my family has some history in this area of concern, including our own English gardener, I grew up knowing of Mr. Page and his unique style, and had the privilege of visiting some of the exquisite gardens he created.

Perhaps it's this shared history or knowledge that made the book so profoundly appealing to me. For someone who does not know plants by their Latin names, this book may be a bit of a muddle trying to picture what he means when he talks of drifts of this interspersed with islands of that. As I have the almost-useless party trick of recalling the horticultural lexicon safely stored away from earliest youth, I was able to picture the gardens in beautiful technicolor, imagining the progression of bloom and scent just as he described. The book has runs of pictures, all in black and white, but as the gardens were created before color film was common, these are likely the only pictures extant of his creations at their finest.

Page was an artist of the first order. He painted with trees, flowers, shrubs, and hardscape, but he created art as surely as any of the great masters. He wrote as beautifully as he planted; the final chapter in the book acknowledges that he ought to have called the book "Other People's Gardens" had the name not already been taken, and he proceeds to reward the reader with the most lovely creation of all as he poetically imagines a personal garden which his peregrinations had never allowed him to have. One finishes the book hoping that he had the opportunity to create the garden of his dreams.

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