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The Bold & Brilliant Garden

The Bold & Brilliant Garden
Sarah Raven
Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Media Corp
Publication Date: 

cloth, 168 p., $29.95

Just as English society is more class-driven than its American counterpart, so too are English garden books. Their authors seem compelled to struggle harder to define themselves against their historical antecedents, horticultural or otherwise. Sarah Raven's The Bold & Brilliant Garden challenges the dictates of traditional good taste. As Christopher Lloyd says, "She shuns polite colors" and advocates gardening "unashamedly aimed at enjoyment, with scents and textures joining the party." This party requires much commitment and preparation, for its guest list includes many annuals, biennials and tender perennials. If low-maintenance practitioners wish to crash this party, they should be prepared to appreciate Ms. Raven's fiery beds voyeuristically.

While she mentions a few trees and shrubs, by "garden" the author means perennial garden, and perennial gardens require constant vigilance. She has honed her palette down to 24 shades, primarily hot colors with a few blues, grays and silvers mixed in as soothing foils. Ms. Raven also favors plants with dramatic foliage that make bold architectural statements in tandem with her color scheme.

Text and small design prototypes clarify and translate the author's vision. Yet the photographs are why you are drawn to this book. While individual plant portraits are gorgeous, it's the companion plantings that really instruct. One should be cautioned, however, that (as with any plant from England) similar plants might not bloom here simultaneously. Plant hardiness can be determined by referring to an index that lists zones for individual cultivars.

Sarah Raven's cultural notes provide good information. She describes plantings by season, light requirements and soil conditions. Each section includes planting for damp ground, perhaps more useful for the gardener with clay soil than with sand. The author's practical advice marries well with her bright illustrations. This publication would happily distract any gardener during the fallow winter months. It may well also inspire its readers, as the author acknowledges Christopher Lloyd did for her, "to break the rules."

— Julie Siegel, Contributing Writer, Landscape Designer, and Master Gardener at the Chicago Botanic Garden.