A good place to start is the beginning, which in this case is to define a garden. This is what Chantel Colleu-Dumond does in her book, Talk About Contemporary Gardens, when she recalls the words of philosopher Michel Foucault who said, “The garden is the smallest parcel of the world and then it is the totality of the world.” Colleu-Dumond brings us into this totality as she explores contemporary garden design. Her deep love of gardens is apparent here. Her writing feels warm and her passion for the subject is clear. She says “this is an acceptable addiction and I am gently hooked.”
There is a “pluri-disciplinality” in contemporary garden design that allows landscape architects and designers, along with artists, architects, and designers, to become involved in the creation of the gardens the author highlights. This pluri-disciplinality adds to the diversity of ideas, innovative practices, and mash-up of seemingly-dissimilar styles that characterize contemporary gardens. Colleu-Dumond knows that trying to make sense of all of it may be hard to handle when she says, “You just need to let yourself be astonished, charmed, and carried along by the magic of these new spaces to live and dream in, these spots for traveling without going anywhere that gardens have become. The aim of this book is to accompany you on that journey.”
Indeed, this book could be used as a travel guide. Colleu-Dumond has gathered a list of 24 contemporary gardens that she considers “must-sees.” These gardens range from the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech, Morrocco, which was designed by Jacques Majorelle, a French painter, to the Jardins de l’Imaginaire (Gardens of the Imagination) in Terrasson, France, designed by American landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson, ASLA, and the Red Sand Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne in Cranbourne, Australia, which was designed by Taylor Cullity Lethlean and Paul Thompson, two landscape artists. These must-see gardens all over the world offer something for everyone.
Talk About Contemporary Gardens can also be used as primer for design students. There’s a chapter dedicated to the 30 influential landscape architects, artists, and designers whose work Colleu-Dumond thinks best epitomize the range and depth of contemporary gardens. She gives a brief biography, a summary of the designer’s body of work, and, perhaps, most interestingly, their philosophy and design approach. Dutch garden designer, Piet Oudolf, who did the planting design for the popular High Line in New York and Chicago’s Lurie Garden, is well known for his “in-depth knowledge of plants,” and plays “like a painter with plant structures and textures just as well as with their colors.”
This is contrasted with the philosophy of a designer like American landscape architect, Martha Schwartz, FASLA, who is known for her plantless gardens. Schwartz is “critical of the artificial nature of urban gardens” and makes us reconsider our standard idea of a garden. The only greenery in her Splice Garden is artificial topiary. Her garden is a combination of a traditional Italian Renaissance garden and a Japanese Zen garden.
Colleu-Dumond recognizes that the key to understanding contemporary gardens is knowledge of garden design history, so she has a chapter on classic styles and their present incarnations. For example, the contemporary gardens of Japanese landscape architect and Zen Buddhist monk Shunmyo Masuno are “linked in tradition and yet perfectly grounded in today’s world.”
There are a number of ways to take advantage of this book, not least of which is to flip through and enjoy the pictures. Talk About Contemporary Gardens is a gorgeous book, jam packed with beautiful photographs of the gardens that Chantal Colleu-Dumond clearly loves.
This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, ASLA 2013 summer intern and Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)
Image credits: (1) Book cover / Flammarion, (2) Mas de Les Voltes / pinterest, (3) Cheveux d’Ange (Angel Hair) Garden / jardipedia.com, (4) Marjorelle Garden / allindesign.com, (5) Jardins de l’Imaginaire / flickr, (6) Red Sand Garden / flickr, (7) Lurie Garden / cityinagarden.com, (8) Splice Garden / flickr, (9) Kojimachi Kaikan Zen garden / Michael Freeman Photography