Wednesday, 25 June 2008


Alice has reviewed 'The Complete Plating Design Course' by Hilary Thomas.
A black market trade in planting design handouts from Hilary Thomas's course at Capel manor maybe brought to an end with the publication of this tome, which is essentially a compilation of the sought after course notes.

The impressive volume of knowledge condensed into this book is staggering. It really does attempt to cover everything. This information has been broken down into concise, well written paragraphs that explain each planting design principle in just a handful of sentences. Each design point includes well chosen examples of specific plants to try - and how to use them.

Toward the back of the book, there are also some really useful lists of plants for specific environments, for example ground-cover plants for shady areas and trees for dry shade. There's also an excellent section devoted to the practical aspects of working as a planting designer, such as sourcing plants and producing maintenance schedules.

What lets this book down is the weak choice of accompanying images. The sparse illustrations are effective (and it is a shame there are not more of them) but the general layout of this book is frustratingly busy and the numerous photographs are often to small to be clear. I appreciate that this publication was never intended to be a lavish picture-lad format, nut when dealing with something as visually exciting and evocative as planting design, it seem strange that the photographs have not been as carefully considered as the text. Some of the images tat do wok well are those that have been annotated to show plant groupings transposed from a plan, or the specific role each plant plays in an overall composition.

As a textbook, this publication is destined for success and is sure to appear on the book list for every planting design course in the UK and beyond. It efficiently reduces the complex art of planting design into easily understandable nuggets, so start here for the basics - but you will need to visit lots of gardens and ready widely for further visual inspiration. Garden Illustrated is a good place to start.

Alice Bowe is a garden designer who also writes for The Times and run online store Garden Boutique.

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