The Landscape Guide

Lorna Lister Exploring London's Gardens: a seasonal guide (Lorna Lister:Ripon, UK, 2001 ISBN 0 9540532 0 6)

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The author is a botanist and has worked as a researcher and writer for a number of museums and gardens. The book is engagingly written and has a well-chosen selection of 83 parks and gardens. Most of the famous places are included and there are many places that those with many years of garden-visiting under their belts will be delighted to learn about. The Rookery Gardens, for example, are introduced as follows: 'Make your way up to the top end of Streatham Common and your efforts will be rewarded with a fine garden to visit and sweeping views to gaze upon. The old Rookery Garden is peaceful and well-maintained and includes a burgeoning old English garden, a secluded, interesting rock garden and a white garden which looks its best in June and July'. Who can resist?

The first section of the book comprises the 'Seasonal Guide'. This is a really good idea for a garden guide book. It suggests where to go at each season and what plants are likely to be at their best. In January and February for example, to take the hardest months, the lists includes suggestions to see the Christmas Roses at Myddleton House, the Winter-flowering Heathers at Cannizaro Park and the Witch Hazels in Richmond Park's Isabella Plantation.

Garden guide books serve two main purposes: to advise you what places to visit and to to tell you what to look for when you arrive. From a botanical viewpoint, this book serves both purposes. From a design standpoint, it does not. The author writes so enthusiastically about all the places in the guide that one can hardly tell that the Horniman Museum Gardens, for example, are a pretty dull while Battersea Park is a very interesting place. There is also a lack of information on design history. Le Notre is not mentioned in regard to Greenwich Park. Nor are Henry Wise or  Charles Bridgeman mentioned with in the entry on Kensington Gardens. This is a pity. Good gardens and parks do not just happen; they are designed.