Title: Shade; Work with the light, grow the right plants, bring dark corners to life
Author: Susanna Grant
Subject: Gardening, Planting Design in a specific environment (shade)
Type: Softback & Kindle
RRP: UK £12.99 US $18 CAN $23
Pages: 159 inc, contents and index. Full colour, matt.
Publication Date: 2022
My very first comment on this book is that it discusses a subject that is not readily enough written about, but when it is, the book tends to be well-written and full of personal insight. The late great Beth Chatto's 'Shade Garden' book (see below for link) is one of the finest to this day and Beth is cited by the author as an inspiration. Tough then to make your place in the arena. I'm pleased to say that the author has done a very good job in bringing insight and new comment to this subject, with obviously and apparent understanding and personal experience running through the text and images.
'If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty'
Jun'ichirõ Tanizaki In Praise of Shadows (link below)
The book opens with the quote above, very much setting the scene, describing the author's approach to working with shady gardens; embracing the darkness rather than lamenting the lack of light. In the first line of text we understand the value of this book to the reader described, as it is, as a 'handbook', a user's guide if you will. Not just knowledge and experience, but an appreciation of shade and a guide to undertake planting projects rather than simply admire the handsome imagery of the book for its merit alone. This makes sense as the author is a plantsperson and garden designer and I understand much of her sites are in London, where shade is ubiquitous to most gardens, courtyards and private spaces. She also has a shady plant shop called 'Linda' (click to visit online shop) where she sells plants described in the book, again speaking to her knowledge on the subject.
Chapter 1 introduces shade as something to embrace, appreciate and even a quality that we should seek to create more of in our gardens. Reading this in the summer of the year in which it was written, it makes perfect sense. Cool retreats have been too few and far between in the summer of 2022 across the UK. Practically, it introduces the factors that determine shade, first with climate and then aspect (pictures above). I have always found that people struggle more with aspect than most other concepts in gardening, despite it being fairly simple in principle. We then consider types/levels of shade before heading to a couple of pages on soil. In terms of plant selection the difference between moist shade and dry shade is a crucial one, so glad it was considered. The chapter ends, perhaps a little strangely with a description of the Garden Museum, though this is repeated with other shade gardens at the end of each chapter giving it a sense of place (see image below).
Chapter 2 considers climate and specific spaces in which we may create planted areas from open gardens right through to stairwells. Throughout the text is punctuated with sympathetic images and planting suggestions - I like this a lot. Native plants and wildflowers, neighbours and borrowing landscapes are all discussed as elements required to design thoughtfully. Plant form and their ornamental value are considered, as is something all too often neglected for texts, which is views into a landscape from buildings. The necessity of container gardening in small spaces, particularly in urban settings is considered and a pictorial guide to planting in pots provided. Container gardening is embraced over several pages and discussed in several settings.
Chapter 3 serves as a plant guide and is broken down into sections on bulbs, climbers, roses (personally, I'd avoid in shady spots, but I concede that it depends very much on how shady), shrubs, groundcover, ferns, grasses, herbaceous perennials, trees and finally edibles. Each segment is well written and rather than being an encyclopedic entry, is based on the qualities of each plant and where they are of good use. At the end of most segments a page is given to plant combinations for pots and borders, which I like and would have enjoyed more of as a reader. As I said previously, personal understanding and experience of plants is so much more enjoyable to read about than regurgitated waffle from other texts. It is good to see and I'm sure of use to a domestic gardener looking for inspiration. Chapter 3 is far and away the lion's share of the book and so anyone looking for guidance on what to plant, where and why, will find this book of considerable use. Some of the plant selections are more suited to the elevated microclimate temperatures of a London garden, but most are well-suited to temperate gardens in general and could be in northern Scotland or Southern England and everywhere in between. (Temperate America, Canada, New Zealand and Europe included).
Chapter 4 provides guidance on growing these plants from initial planting, through to maintenance, including of containers and a short page on pests. After the Index, there is a list of UK nurseries that the author values - I agree entirely, though I'd struggle to limit myself to these alone.
I enjoyed this book, it is well written and a personal perspective without being at all preachy or unrelatable. The images throughout support the text very well and it will serve as a useful guide for domestic gardeners, especially those setting out on their learning journey. It skims a lot of detail on the technical side of things, which is as much a strength to its readability as it is a weakness leaving readers like myself wanting more. A5 format on 150 pages doesn't allow for a huge amount of detail and I think it was well served in being focused on the plant directory in Chapter 3. A worthy addition to a bookshelf and really good introduction to the subject, which I especially valued as being focused not on a large garden, but on small spaces, often paved and much neglected.
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A few of the best older books on the subject.
In Praise of Shadows, as mentioned in Chapter 1 with a quote.
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