The Northwest Cottage Garden, by Andrew Schulman, with photographs by Jacqueline Koch
From time to time I enjoy reading about gardening. Although I am by no means good at dealing with plants–I seem to have inherited by mother’s black thumb rather than the generally good skill with plants that my father, stepfather, and maternal grandfather have had–I like the way that gardens work. There is something immensely appealing to me in the visual as well as the horticultural excellence of a good garden, particularly if that garden has a beautiful blend of colors and includes plants that are useful for food and herbs and other purposes. The combination of usefulness and beauty is one that I have long appreciated in any sort of endeavor, and gardening has a lot to offer when it comes to such an approach. The author happens to be writing with a focus on the Pacific Northwest and does a good job at promoting the cottage garden as an appealing way for people to garden in this area, even if the complexity of the soil and microclimate of the area makes it hard to provide general statements as to plants that will work well in a given yard, unlike some areas where there is a much greater degree of uniformity in conditions.
Coming in at about 200 pages, this richly illustrated volume (the photographer has done great work here) begins with a discussion of what is old and new in the Northwest cottage garden. After that the author provides a history and overview of the cottage garden and what makes it distinctive from other types of gardens (1). This leads to a discussion of the hidden order in cottage gardens that exists underneath the seeming randomness and chaos of the garden (2) while looking at the importance of structures in helping to make someone comfortable in the garden (3). The author encourages the use of furniture and ornaments to accessorize a garden and make it quirky and unique (4) while pointing out that planting design is more than simply tossing plants around randomly (5). The author spends some time looking at the raw materials of the plants that are involved in cottage gardens (6), then moves to plants with a purpose, namely providing flowers during the winter and fall to make the garden bloom year round (7), and then talks about some preventive medicine to deal with pests in a non-toxic fashion (8) before closing with an appendix with some cultural notes for Northwest cottage garden plants and an index.
This is admittedly a book that is aimed at those who appreciate gardening in the Pacific Northwest, which is a smaller market than a more general gardening book would be. Nevertheless, as the homes and landscape of the Pacific Northwest does include a lot of homes with a little space, including townhouses, there is a lot of room for a cottage garden that includes a lot of plants that are appropriate for the local climate, that can handle the diversity of soil conditions and elevations and drainage that the area provides, there should be quite a few people who can benefit from the book. At the very least, this volume provides a gorgeously photographed set of sample gardens and discussions that should at least provide some ideas for people who want to create a garden that has order and balance but at the same time looks more wild and natural and has a high degree of density of plants that can remain beautiful year round, mixing trees and shrubs with flowers and herbs, and providing for a small but worthwhile gardening experience. And surely there are many people who can appreciate such things.