In The Authentic Garden: Naturalistic and Contemporary Landscape Design, Richard Hartlage, affiliate ASLA, and Sandy Fischer, ASLA, founders of Land Morphology in Seattle, show us the planting designs that have shaped landscape architecture, featuring “never-before-published” examples of 60 influential gardens. Organized by design movement, the book features more than 250 full-color photographs highlighting the work of well-known designers such as Andrea Cochran, FASLA, Raymond Jungles, FASLA, Christine Ten Eyck, FASLA, Michael Vergason, FASLA, and many others. The book’s strength is its breadth, even within the seemingly-narrow focus on planting design.
Plants as Architecture
Plants can create structure for a larger landscape. This idea is the very “essence of landscape architecture, and essential to garden- and place-making,” the authors write in the book’s first chapter, which focuses on how plants can be used to divide and manipulate spaces. The chapter begins with the history of English topiary gardens dating back to the 1700s before transitioning to more contemporary interpretations.
OLIN’s design for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a contemporary standout, with mature trees creating a striking division between the museum and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The mottled trunks on these London plane trees also provide a complement to the fossilized limestone of the buildings’ façade, while drawing attention to their height.
Artfully Naturalistic Gardens
Those familiar with naturalistic planting design, an approach that appears seemingly natural but is actually constructed, will undoubtedly recognize the names of William Robertson and Gertrude Jekyll who pioneered the style in the late-1800s. While the approach has remained popular over the last 125 years, The Authentic Garden delves into how it has evolved from the 1800s to present day. Over the centuries, two design principles came to the forefront: first, create multi-seasonal gardens and, second, make them ecological. These principles, according to the authors, have helped to ensure the naturalistic approach endures as designers adapt English traditions to their own climates.
One of the most compelling examples of this evolution is California-based Elysian Landscapes’ design for a courtyard beside an Isabel Marant store in Los Angeles, California. Using native plants adapted to the dry southwest climate, the firm formed “casual massings,” out of “loose tufts of perennials” that are bright and exotic, but subtly pay homage to a more traditional planting system. Such examples, found throughout The Authentic Garden, provide inspiration to designers in all climates.
Graphic Planting Design
Graphic planting design — which incorporate plants in large, often mono-color blocks to create a graphic effect of the landscape — were perhaps made most famous by Brazilian landscape architect, artist, and ecologist Roberto Burle Marx. Known for his affinity for strong forms and bright colors, Marx has inspired many generations of designers. However, as with other traditional planting styles, graphic planting design has evolved over the decades since Marx, becoming even more popular today, the authors assert.
Attracted to the strong aesthetic of these designs, as well as the ease of maintaining larger masses of plants, firms such as Sonoma, California-based Roche+Roche have made this style their own in the 21st century. Using massings of copper, blue-green, and lavender plants “that hold up well in strong light” at a Napa Valley residence, the firm created a memorable landscape striking within the pages of the book.
Subsequent chapters highlight more contemporary planting design styles, such as ecological, seasonal, and temporary planting. The authors show how climate-sensitive adaptations of traditional, European-style planting approaches can be achieved in gardens in dry and tropical climates, too.
Though the book is defined by its large, vibrant imagery, The Authentic Garden is more than just a coffee-table book. A must have for landscape architects and horticulturalists alike, it serves as reminder that even as beauty should be ecological today, there is still nothing wrong with adding in some “beauty for beauty’s sake.”