Since the art of garden design brings together people, places and ideas, it is eminently sensible to organise a book on this relationship - which Andrew Wilson has done with verve. He gives us a group of some 50 designers from the past century with information on their lives, their influences and their work. About half the biographies have photographs of the designers - and one wishes there were no exceptions to this rule. 'Le style c'est l'homme'. ('The style is the man') said George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon. A phtograph of the man helps us understand the style of his garden design. Or, of course, a photograph of the woman. Should it be a surprise that only a third of the featured designers are female? Few of the fine arts could boast so high a figure, but women have always had key roles in garden design, as clients and designers.
The analytical framework for the ideas treated in the book is summarised by two of the illustrations on the front cover, reproduced above. The gardens of the twentieth century are seen as having been dominated by two trends:
One's understanding of the framework is helped by the portrait photographs. Christopher Tunnard and Kathryn Gustafson, for the desgners, are represented by black and white photographs with extraordinarily similar expressions on their faces: looking to distant horizons. Dan Kiley, though in colour, looks in the same direction. Rosemary Verey and Penelope Hobhouse are set amongst flowers, appropriately. Dan Pearson looks unsure as to which of tendencies calls the loudest. Mien Ruys sits with gardener's footware but a designer's gleam in her eye. Jellicoe has the smile of omniscience - a good-humoured Buddha.