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Required Reading: ‘What Makes a Garden’ By Jinny Blom

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Required Reading: ‘What Makes a Garden’ By Jinny Blom

November 10, 2023

It is not often that one can say with confidence that a coffee table book is “long awaited,” but nothing that landscape designer and writer Jinny Blom creates is so easily boxed, not even her books. Although What Makes A Garden is generously proportioned and handsomely produced, you might find yourself carrying it around wherever you go until it is thoroughly digested. Like her last similar-sized book, the best-selling The Thoughtful Gardener, it’s not a volume to be flicked through.

Instead, What Makes a Garden is a glorious compendium that takes readers deep into the nitty gritty, amply demonstrating that a garden is much more than a collection of things and not limited to a particular ecological manifesto. “A garden needs to be suitably planned to allow the senses true freedom,” writes Jinny. Personal pleasure still matters.

Photography by Britt Willoughby, from What Makes a Garden.

Above: A landscape in Italy, repaired and designed by Jinny Blom. “The success of a garden is when, after a build, the animals and birds return.”

This is not an eco-memoir or a rallying cry to ditch the old ways. Jinny has always designed nature into her gardens, promoting shaggy shrubs and laid hedges when few others were talking about habitats for ecosystems. King Charles noticed this over 20 years ago when he asked her to design his Healing Garden for the Chelsea Flower Show. Jinny’s gardens are happily “unfettered by definition,” as is the book, which leaves no stone unturned in the discussion of every element of what makes a garden, whether “esoteric” or “exoteric,” via a thorough consideration of prima materia as well as anima mundi. Yes, it will have you reaching for a dictionary, which is partly why it can only be read slowly.

Above: Italy. “Garden planting that can semi-naturalize a place is my personal preference. It seems to give a relaxed quality that I enjoy.”

This deeply detailed book zips along because of Jinny’s humorous intelligence, a quality too often missing in today’s garden writing. Lively subheads introduce themes such as “Dung,” while her design thinking avoids dogma and jargon. Steering clear of terms like “closed loop gardening,” she incorporates these ideas in a more everyday manner: “I hate taking material to landfill and we are, on the whole, very proactive recyclers. Truth be told most ‘muck’ has value.”

Above: A project in the English countryside. “The house looked incredibly severe when I arrived, stripped of any green.” Now, it “looks as though it is floating on a big pink hovercraft.”

Where clients are concerned, there is clearly an overlap in the section of the population that can decide whether to commission a designer to reconfigure a country estate, or turn it into a rewilding project. Jinny sets out her stall from the introduction, reminding us that a garden is different from wilderness, and it is a division that people have been interested in creating for millennia. A garden “allows us to express our reverence for trees, flora and fauna for their own sake in a place of good order.”

Commissioning somebody with the breadth of experience that Jinny has in the many arts and crafts discussed here has got to be the ultimate luxury, and Jinny does not pretend that her clients are ordinary people. She never tells us who they are, but we know that they are extremely fortunate: “A good garden takes away your desire to know where you are–liberating you to meander through changing experiences safe in the knowledge that another hand has mapped the journey with your pleasure in mind.”

Above: A wall in Italy that was topped with marble coping, in a response to the local vernacular. “Nothing beats the permanence of a confident wall.”

“Walls are the mainstays of my gardens. I love building them,” writes Jinny. As explored in her last book, superlative craftsmanship is an exciting element of any garden and she uses it to good purpose in her own designs. “Locally quarried stone is a low carbon choice so apart from local appropriateness, there is a strong eco-conscious reason for choosing it.” And if that is not reason enough: “Dry-stone walls are a citadel of crevices perfect for insects, lizards, toads and, later in life as they age, holes big enough for small birds.”

Above: Agastache foeniculum stands up to the breezes of an English garden. On the positive aspects of American suburbia, Jinny goes persuasively against the grain. Recalling an unprotected attack from all manner of bugs in an American meadow, she writes: “I have more sympathy with the ‘clean and tidy’ notion, for the wilderness is not at all like the benign one I grew up with in Britain.”
Above: So much to do, so little time. “I studied metalwork at school. It was my favorite subject bar none and I would love to have pursued it.” This is a classic Jinny statement. She tells writer Olivia Laing, in a series of podcasts that she has produced to accompany the book, that she also wanted to be a plumber. She was able to channel that need to unblock things (or rather, people) in her former career as a psychologist, and is still addressing blockages as a landscape designer.
Above: In the city. “Light is a vital consideration in small gardens.”

Lest you feel that Jinny Blom has the answer to everything, she talks about her own garden as a work in progress. On storage: “My shed is far too small and I can’t decide where to put a bigger one. Anyway, it needs sorting out.”

Above: What Makes a Garden: A Considered Approach to Garden Design by Jinny Blom is published by Frances Lincoln, $50.

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Frequently asked questions

What is the book 'What Makes a Garden' about?

The book 'What Makes a Garden' by Jinny Blom explores the essence and fundamental principles of creating a beautiful garden.

Who is the author of the book?

The book is written by Jinny Blom.

What is Jinny Blom's expertise in gardening?

Jinny Blom is an esteemed garden designer with extensive experience in creating stunning and innovative outdoor spaces.

Is the book suitable for beginners in gardening?

Yes, the book is suitable for both beginners and experienced gardeners. It provides valuable insights and guidance for anyone interested in creating a garden.

Does the book cover specific gardening techniques?

Yes, the book covers various gardening techniques along with insights into the design principles and elements that make a garden aesthetically pleasing.

Are there illustrations or photographs in the book?

Yes, the book includes beautiful illustrations and photographs that serve as visual references and examples of stunning gardens.

Where can the book be purchased?

The book can be purchased online through various retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly from the author's website.

Is the book available in digital format?

Yes, the book is available in digital format as an e-book, which can be downloaded and read on e-readers, tablets, or smartphones.

Does the book offer practical tips and advice?

Yes, the book provides practical tips, advice, and insights from the author's own experience in the field of garden design.

Can the book be a source of inspiration for garden enthusiasts?

Yes, the book is highly regarded and has been known to inspire and spark creativity among garden enthusiasts and professionals alike.

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