The extraordinary range of approaches and styles one sees in gardens throughout the world, in different countries and different cultures can be quite bewildering. It is fortunate to have one such as John Dixon Hunt, who seems to have a comprehensive knowledge and grasp of all matters of garden design, to organise such divergent and wide-ranging approaches and present them to us in a way that is easily comprehended. I cannot say that I didn’t find this book challenging – I am no more than an amateur domestic gardener – but I also found it informative, insightful and, very importantly I believe, enjoyable. To be educated without enjoyment would be a dreadful trial and educated I was while certainly enjoying the process.
The traditions of garden design stretch back over the centuries and while many of today’s gardens play homage to this tradition, garden designers of today also seek to be innovative, fresh, spontaneous and reactive to the differing situations with which they are presented as they seek, in the words of the author, to make a place for respite in nature. The author discusses approximately one hundred gardens ranging from large to small, public to private, botanical gardens, campuses academic and industrial, parks large and small, memorial and sculptural gardens, festival and reinvented gardens, even gardens still only on paper, a wide range from around the world – the United States, Australia, China, Germany, United Kingdom and France. Each is discussed and each is assessed for its contribution, importance and influence in landscape design and it is particularly heart-warming that the author can be unhesitatingly honest and critical where such is demanded.
John Dixon Hunt’s early academic career was in teaching English literature. He wrote extensively in this area before pursuing an even more successful and highly regarded academic career in the study of gardens and landscapes. He is presently Emeritus Professor of the History and Theory of Landscape at the University of Pennsylvania, edits the journal Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscape and is the author of many books. Given that he normally writes for an academic readership or those already familiar with gardening philosophy, theory and history it comes as a pleasant surprise that this book is written to be easily accessible to all who are interested in gardening, amateur and domestic as well as academic and professional.
The author’s knowledge seems to be encyclopaedic and his grasp of the subject comprehensive yet he presents a wealth of information and comment in a manner which is a pleasure to read and which gives the reader an overview of the current landscape and gardening scene – quite an achievement and a joy to read.
[The Making of Place: Modern and Contemporary Gardens, John Dixon Hunt, Reaktion Books, London, 2015, Hardback, 304 pages, £25, ISBN: 978-1-78023-520-2]