HOW TO READ GARDENS: a crash course in garden appreciation

by Lorraine Harrison

Publisher: Herbert Press (2010)
ISBN 978-1-4081-2837-4

Paperback £9.99

This attractively and lavishly illustrated book is an ideal present for friends who claim (truthfully) not to know much about the history of gardens, but delight in visiting them. It is not a reference or handbook, such as one which Cornwall Gardens Trust members might keep on their bookshelves. Its ever-so-slightly patronising title accurately describes what the author, Lorraine Harrison sets out to achieve. Harrison who has written several books on gardens, has a master’s degree in Garden History from the University of London.

The Table of Contents gives the flavour of the work: ‘Types of Gardens, Styles of Gardens, Trees, Plants and Flowers, Landscape Features, Garden Buildings, Features.’ Each section is preceded by a double spread illustration, not necessarily linked in subject matter to the succeeding chapter, and a short ‘Introduction’.  The rather arbitrary organisation of the topics is redeemed by tiny but charming pen and wash drawings illustrating the features described. These are credited to Coral Mulan in the acknowledgements. The format is pocketbook sized and the type (nine point) is something of a challenge to those without 20/20 vision.

A personal ‘user test’: if you consult the Index for ‘beeboles’ you are directed incorrectly to page 244, instead of 224, where they are described but not illustrated. The Glossary defines one as ‘an arched niche set into a wall to protect traditional bee skeps from the weather.’ ‘How to Read Gardens’ is a preliminary taster for further exploration.

The foreword is written by Juliet Nicolson, the granddaughter of Sir Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, who describes the experience of growing up at Sissinghurst.

Pam Dodds