Garden Design Study Group

Book Review:
The Australian Garden: Designing with Australian Plants

by Diana Snape

Published by Blooming Books, Melbourne, 2002.
232 pages, over 100 colour plates, hardback

Reviewed by Tony Cavanagh

This is a beautiful book and both the author and her associates, and the publisher, should be proud of it. The quality of the illustrations and their incorporation within the text make the book a delight to read. In her introduction, the author Diana Snape, states that she is "passionate" about her garden, a garden that she and her husband Brian created over a thirty year period, and which is still evolving. Drawing on inspiration from the Australian landscape, and the versatility of Australian plants to be incorporated into the design of gardens for all purposes and locations, she emphasises the need to work in partnership with nature, not in conflict, and to recognise and accept what the Australian environment has to offer - "our garden celebrates nature's charms and strengths". This same belief and enthusiasm underlies the purpose and presentation of this book - to show how Australian plants can be used in all gardening situations and to challenge the reader to try to incorporate some of the ideas into their own gardens.

   Photo of garden
   Photo of garden
  Two of the beautiful illustrations from
The Australian Garden: Designing with Australian Plants

Photos: Simon Griffiths; Trisha Dixon

Diana Snape is the former leader of the Garden Design Study Group within ANPSA. The group has researched the use of Australian plants in garden design over the last ten years and this book can be regarded as a "distillation" of the knowledge and input from several hundred members. In her first book, Australian Native Gardens: Putting Visions into Practice (Melbourne, Lothian, 1992), the author featured 30 outstanding native gardens, describing and photographing them and interviewing their owners for their "personal gardening philosophies". The present book is a natural follow-on but this time emphasising the overall means of creating one's own outstanding Australian garden. It is divided into five major sections. The first outlines design principles and planning the garden; the next discusses some twenty styles of garden including lists of plants that suit each; the third examines the role of the plants themselves in garden design, from trees to groundcover and those that perform the four design roles of "framework", "feature", "ornamental" and "infill"; the fourth brings much of the above knowledge together in looking at some of the practical aspects of the garden - the importance of the "hard" landscape, paths, fences etc., the beauty and tranquility of water, use of colour, the "sensuous" garden and bringing wildlife to the garden; and finally, an all-too-brief section on problems and challenges and the need to manage the garden. Each section has numerous suggested and recommended plants but the real joy are the magnificent photographs, some in large-format over two pages, admirably chosen to emphasise the theme of the section. The book concludes with an appendix of indigenous plants for use in garden design in the various capital cities, an excellent thematic bibliography and information on and addresses of the various SGAP/APS groups in Australia.

I found this a beautifully laid-out book with very pleasing use of coloured pages and boxes to enhance the text. The wealth of information could almost be overwhelming were it not for the numerous illustrations (at least one per page spread) and their helpful text. It will take time to digest but the author writes in an easy and informal style and many of us will concentrate on the sections that interest us. I was pleased to see the range of garden styles discussed - "walkabout gardens" (a garden to wander in), "naturalistic gardens" (a modified version of the "bush garden"), "tapestry gardens" (using foliage to create patterns and contrasts) and tlie "blended garden" (a garden that contains plants not indigenous to the area, but generally applied to a "mixed" native/exotic garden). My only criticisms are the brevity of the discussion on theme gardens and collectors gardens (less than a quarter of a page on each) and on garden maintenance and garden rejuvenation. I am sure that many APS members would like to know more about how to indulge their passion for collecting native plants and still make a designed garden; this could perhaps be considered in a future edition. I suppose my pet "gripe" about most of the pictures we see of Australian gardens is that most of the gardens are young, just a few years old (or the age is not given), and rarely do we see what the same garden looks like in 10 or 15 years. Many native plants become straggly with age and shading and it really is a challenge to maintain a designed garden over many years. I would like to have seen this issue discussed in greater depth and also the allied problem of rejuvenating an old garden.

These minor issues aside, this is a delightful and useful book, well worth its cost for the pictures alone, and would make a great Christmas gift. The information is invaluable for anyone wishing to know more about how to use Australian plants, and for growing them with more flair than simply putting them in the ground.

Highly recommended.

Reprinted from "Growing Australian", newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria), December 2002.

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