[Front Page] [Features] [Departments] [Society Home] [Subscribe]

Australian Plants online

A Good Read

.....what's worth a look?

Reviews in this issue cover "The New Native Garden: Designing with Australian Plants" by Paul Urquhart, "The Natural Australian Garden" by Gordon Ford with Gwen Ford and "Listen....Our Land is Crying" by Mary White.
Books Diagram


The New Native Garden: Designing with Australian Plants
Paul Urquhart

Published by Lansdowne Press 1999
222 pages, colour photographs

Reviewed by Diana Snape

This is the first book to focus clearly on the use of Australian plants in garden design. It features six gardens of Garden Design Study Group members plus the work of five of our professional designers.

The aims and views presented in the book are very similar to those of the Study Group. It begins with a look at the history of gardens in Australia and the use of Australian plants in them. In writing of a 'truly Australian style', Paul Urquhart puts the use of 'art and decorative elements distinguishable as Australian' ahead of 'plants to reflect the character of the overall landscape' - I would reverse this order of importance.

The section on building a garden is thorough, covering the 'big picture', design principles, getting started and choosing plants. There is a long section on colour (the 'living palette') with mainly close-up photos. Garden style as 'the convergence of art and nature' is well treated, with reference to a selection of styles and the relevance of climate. Twelve individual gardens of different types are described, with photos and plans of parts of these gardens; the accompanying illustrations are disappointing. One name I'd question is a 'meadow garden ' - not very Australian ! ('grassland garden' is probably a more appropriate term).

Design detail, including access routes, boundaries and pools, are followed by a short treatment of 'design principles in action' and a rather mixed grouping of topics including groves, garden art and attracting wildlife. In 'plant selection' about 50 plants (in 7 categories) are described in some detail with photographs. I think this is a somewhat limited approach with too much focus on plants of and for the Sydney region. A better treatment could be to discuss families or genera of plants and their roles in garden design with less emphasis on individual species.

The section on garden care includes pruning techniques, with details for some favourite plants (only 5). Mulching and low water use are mentioned and pests and diseases receive a lot of attention (useful - but is it part of garden design?). Finally there is a resource list - good to have but not extensive.

Altogether a book I would recommend. It is well done and contains many good ideas. Unfortunately there are minor errors and typos which should have been edited out, but these do not spoil the overall enjoyment of the book.

Reprinted from the February 2000 issue of the newsletter of the Garden Design Study Group.


The Natural Australian Garden
Gordon Ford with Gwen Ford

112 pages, black and white and colour photographs, $AUS33.75

Reviewed by Diana Snape

Although he did not live to see his book in print, just before his death Gordon Ford held some of the page proofs in his hands, which must have given him great satisfaction. It is not a long book but it is liberally illustrated with historic black and white and beautiful coloured photographs. There is a moving prologue by Morag Fraser and an apt foreword by Graeme Law.

The book reveals Gordon Ford as a wonderful, gentle man as well as a perceptive designer and a creative gardener. I like the quotes "We must feel part of the land we walk on and love the plants that grow there ... if we are to achieve a spirit in a garden." and "The flora, fauna and landscape of a nation contribute to the identification of a national soul."

Gordon outlines his design influences - his childhood landscape, then later the Eltham scene and his mentor Ellis Stones. Influential books included Brenda Colvin's 'Land and Landscape' and Sylvia Crowe's 'Tomorrow's Landscape'. He identifies three important influences on the natural garden style in Australia as being the informality of the 18th century landscape school in England, the cottage garden movement and the older Japanese garden culture. Key factors were the recognition of masses and voids and the principles of asymmetry. He began work in 1952 and pays tribute to the pioneer nurserymen: he regretted the preference then of many people for the imported over the indigenous (don't we still!).

In design principles he discusses creating a bush garden. There are examples of his favourite genera for upper, middle and lower storey plants, and groundcovers, grasses and reeds. He loved working with rocks - "My heart sings when I see a truck load of boulders coming onto a job" - and also with water.

In the last section are 15 examples of 'principles at work' in gardens he has designed, mostly large gardens but including 6 small ones (0.1 or 0.2 ha), scattered around Melbourne. All have the distinctive 'natural' style for which Gordon Ford will long be remembered with pleasure. Those attracted by his 'natural' style will enjoy this book.

Reprinted from the February 2000 issue of the newsletter of the Garden Design Study Group.


Listen....Our Land is Crying
Mary E White

Published by Kangaroo Press 1997
Hard cover, 296 pages, colour/black and white illustrations; $AUS69.95

Reviewed by Lorna Murray

This book by geologist Mary White is the third in the series, following her previous titles "The Greening of Gondwana", and "After the Greening". The sub-title to this book, "Australia's Environment: Problems and Solutions" very adequately describes the content. It looks at the present situation after 200 years of unsustainable land use practices and treats Australia in the global scene. As stated in the introduction by the publishers, "Listen Our Land is Crying" presents the big picture of land use, the degradation of land and water resources, and some of the wonders of this amazing continent and provides a prescription for ensuring a bright future for Australia.

The early chapters which look at water problems, climate and geological history, lead to discussions of biodiversity and the extinctions of some species. Problems considered in later chapters include soil erosion, salt and soil salinity, with discussion on the situation in the Murray-Darling basin, the riverine plain of New South Wales and other catchments in the national dryland salinity program. Other topics addressed include the problems with feral animals and woody weeds, and mining and the environment. Later chapters deal with specific environments such as temperate grasslands, which are the ecosystems most drastically reduced in the country, the tropical north, the arid rangelands and coastal and marine environments.

Although the book is stated to treat the 'big picture of land use', there is a lot of detail provided for all the problems discussed in the various chapters. This detailed discussion makes the book an excellent reference work for all the subjects covered and the extensive list of references gives the necessary lead to anyone wishing to pursue any topic further. Throughout the book there are many excellent photographs, interesting and informative maps, graphs and diagrams illustrating the subjects discussed.

Although most of the text seems to be concerned with the problems, in some chapters there is discussion of the efforts of various organisations, of volunteers in bush regeneration groups, landcare groups and of individual workers who are making efforts to remedy the situation in a certain field. SGAP is mentioned in the chapter on forests and wilderness, and the work of Lloyd Bird and the Ipswich SGAP Branch at Opossum Creek, Springfield is discussed as an example. In the epilogue, the author speaks very strongly against "sustainable development" and the attitudes of governments for the welfare of the economy. However she concludes on an optimistic note that "Australia could be a world leader in bringing about the necessary change in attitudes which offer hope to an embattled Earth".

This very well-written and scholarly publication, with its excellent diagrams and photographs, would be a worthwhile addition to the library of everyone concerned about the future of our country.

Reprinted from the June 1998 issue of the "Bulletin", newsletter of the Society for Growing Australian Plants (Queensland).

[Front Page] [Features] [Departments] [Society Home] [Subscribe]

Australian Plants online - June 2000
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants