Book Reviews, Gardens

Book Review: Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs by Emma Reuss

December 19, 2014


The qualities that create a memorable garden are universal and transcend time and space.

While one often feels on an intuitive level that a garden is pleasing, it is not always easy to articulate why. A well designed garden provides both tangible and intangible pleasures that reveal its genus loci – the spirit of the place.

Thus is the premise of Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs, by London-based garden writer and designer Emma Reuss. Using a portfolio of 100 gardens from throughout the world as a guide, Reuss sets out to share, in orderly fashion, how good garden design is based upon seven key principles; composition, genius loci, unity, simplicity, balance, proportion, rhythm and repetition, and focal points. When combined successfully an aesthetically pleasing, harmonious and balanced composition emerges that both inspires and serves as a practical guide for the home gardener.



The Getty Center in Los Angeles designed by Robert Irwin in 1997.

Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs includes a diverse and eclectic collection of properties chosen by Reuss to “demonstrate with ease the thinking behind the garden.” A wide range of styles and situations are represented and organized in ten thematic chapters – Art, Landscape, World, Plants, Composition Lifestyle, Color, Urban, Environment and Atmosphere. From urban rooftop to forest retreat, the gardens showcase the work of both well known designers (an appendix lists contact information for 54) and “gifted amateurs” reinforcing the democratic nature of good design.

Each garden is presented in a four page spread as a case study complete with introduction, an exploration of design intent and an analysis of key design elements (called ingredients by Reuss) that detail how each supports the project as a whole. Sidebars provide additional insight into key ideas and themes represented within the garden.



“Vertical Garden” by botanist Patrick Blanc at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris.

Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs is beautifully illustrated with more than 500 color photographs. While the text is thoughtful and clear the book would benefit from a table of contents listing the names and locations of the gardens featured within each chapter and information regarding which (if any) are open to the public. The inclusion of garden plans would also be a helpful feature to provide context and scale.

As a resource for garden designers, Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs is a comprehensive reference guide that is both practical and inspiring. By including information about basic design considerations as diverse as options for children to designing knot gardens, Reuss delivers an “every person’s guide” to contemporary garden design.

Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs
by Emma Reuss
The Monacelli Press:New York, 2014

This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, December 2014.

Copyright © 2014 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

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