Books of the year: gardening

Tiny plots, sexy botany and posh designs

Garden book of the year
Landscape of Dreams by Julian and Isabel Bannerman

Pimpernel £50
Grand, eccentric, romantic, theatrical, humorous — all are characteristics of gardens created by Julian and Isabel Bannerman, the latter an occasional contributor to our gardening pages. Here, in a beautifully photographed and endearing part-biography, part-overview of the thinking behind their work, they generously acknowledge the many people who have helped and influenced them, as well as their own eclectic set of references that go far beyond the boundaries of the garden.
Read an extract on the Sunday Times website
Capability Brown, Britain’s most celebrated garden designer, was born 300 years ago and features heavily in this year’s publications. Sarah Rutherford’s Capability Brown and His Landscape Gardens (National Trust £20) looks at the design approach and the life of the great man, who worked at more than 250 sites, while John Phibbs’s Capability Brown: Designing the English Landscape (Rizzoli £45), lavishly photographed by Joe Cornish, concentrates on the works themselves: the likes of Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth House and Milton Abbey.

Brown also features in Stephen Anderton’s Lives of the Great Gardeners (Thames & Hudson £24.95), an ambitious roundup of 40 of the world’s most influential gardeners and designers, from the 15th-century Chinese painter and poet Wen Zhengming to the Canadian Alexander Reford, born in 1962. There are gaps, of course, but it is an entertaining and informative introduction to those who have helped shape our landscapes.

Luciano Giubbilei hasn’t made it into Anderton’s top 40: his work, by his own admission, is still evolving. Much of this has been due to the border he was given at Great Dixter, in East Sussex, where he has restricted himself to experimenting with plant colour, form and combinations. The Art of Making Gardens (Merrell £45) is a thoughtful book that would be helpful to those planning their own garden, full of exquisite photographs by Andrew Montgomery, giving materials, light and space as much respect as the flowers themselves.

Giubbilei does, however, turn up, talking about his time at Dixter, in Tim Richardson’s You Should Have Been Here Last Week: Sharp Cuttings from a Garden Writer (Pimpernel £16.99), a collection of lively articles by one of the most intelligent garden critics writing today. Richardson is not afraid to prod, tease and question received opinion.

The novelist Charlotte Mendelson is another skilled writer with a sense of humour, something she has applied to writing about her tiny north London garden. Rhapsody in Green (Kyle £16.99) chronicles her love affair with her space: not beautiful, not always successful, but hers. It should strike a chord with those also in the throes of a new passion for horticulture.

Another book to help newbies along the path to their particular paradise is Noel Kingsbury’s New Small Garden: Contemporary Principles, Planting and Practice (Frances Lincoln £20). There is lots of practical advice on plants, light, design tricks and how to entice the right sort of wildlife, with inspiring photographs of lush and beautiful spaces by Maayke de Ridder.

On a far more ambitious scale, Gardens of the Italian Lakes, by Steven Desmond (Frances Lincoln £35), is a hymn to the extraordinary creations of the region: from the baroque theatricality of Isola Bella to the quiet elegance of Villa Melzi. With histories of the gardens, grouped by region, plus maps and contact details, it can be used as both the perfect preparation for visiting or simply as a virtual journey via Marianne Majerus’s sumptuous photographs.

Finally, in his chatty, accessible Plant Love: The Scandalous Truth About the Sex Life of Plants (Filbert £14.99), Michael Allaby does his best to make botany sexy, with chapter headings such as Tarts and Hookers, Boozers and Chancers. While he might not succeed in creating steam, he certainly has fun.