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DESIGNER PLANTS (article first published : 2001-06-10)

“All gardens, no matter what their size or location, have the power to arouse the emotions: excitement, pleasure, contentment and happiness. Designer plants are among the gardener’s most powerful tool in creating a magical space that is simultaneously physically relaxing and mentally invigorating, vitally important attributes to anyone living a highly pressurised modern life.”

So says Sunniva Harte in the introduction to her book Designer Plants, a beautifully illustrated 144-page coffee table book edited by Christine Rista and designed by Roger Hammond. A well-known and highly respected plant photographer and gardening author, she believes that “designer plants act as punctuation marks in a garden” and her book aims to illustrate that key visual points invite the eye to move easily from one section to another.

These key visual points could be anything from shrubs clipped in the shape of balls to tall cypresses and strong-coloured flowering plants to Grecian urns or rustic terraced walls. For instance, espalier apple trees make a vibrant living wall between one area of the garden and another.

She contends that the book is for both novice and experienced gardeners but I believe that you would have to have a fair measure of gardening experience and knowledge of plants and their botanical names to be able to follow her suggestions appropriately. This book is for the serious gardener who loves to spend time in the garden and has the time to keep it under control.

Classical Italian gardens, coastal gardens, cottage gardens, Mediterranean gardens, are well depicted. Dry gardens, suitable for South Africa with its abundance of dramatic plants such as cactii and aloes, would be most successful. The Japanese garden layout could provide wonderful inspiration towards creating a vista of tranquillity.

A nice feature of the book is that Sunniva describes fairly detailed use of espalier (spreading) work which can hide boring walls highly successfully. She gives examples of how a light-hearted touch can be brought into the garden by the humorous use of topiary. If you’re really into intensive gardening, today’s aspiring Capability Browns will revel in the idea of using computers or graph paper in designing modern parterres (geometric gardens with extensively clipped shrubs).

A most enjoyable chapter is the one that deals with sculpting with natural resources. There’s a whole new business awaiting someone with clever hands capable of creating sculpted geese and swans out of willow and bamboo leaves!

A comprehensive plant directory is provided and the useful resource directory includes seven outlets in South Africa. The superb photographs are provided by a positive battery of photographers. Sunniva Harte is a contributor to specialist gardening magazines, including BBC Gardener’s World, The English Garden and RHS The Garden and the author of Perfect Country Gardens and Zen Gardens.

Designer Plants is published by Struik Publishers and retails at R139,95.




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