Not since The Planthunter: Truth, Beauty, Chaos and Plants has there been a book I've so enjoyed reading while sitting in the garden. Just like The Planthunter I'm taking this one slow, savoring every story.
Under Western Skies; Visionary Gardens from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast is an unusual book because of the group of gardens that it profiles. There are public gardens, and private gardens. Gardens both large and small, those tended by famous names, and not so famous names. The visionary behind the book, photographer Caitlin Atkinson, manages to focus her camera on exactly what I would want to see if I were standing in that garden. In the preface she writes: "Gardening allows me to enjoy the last rays of sun on a stand of rusty buckwheat, take in the smell of the meadow in the cool of a summer's morning, feel an oak's delicate new growth in spring, and savor the sounds of crickets and frogs on a warm night. Gardening is the act of being fully present, accepting continual change, and looking to the future with excitement and optimism...Little by little I change the soil as it changes me."
She goes on to say: "When I conceived of this book, I wanted to capture this connection to the land. I wanted to share my love of the West. Not just the grand vistas and estates with epic views, but gardens and people throughout this amazing place. This book is about gardeners tending the earth and connecting to what surrounds them—in the suburban front yard, the small-town back lot, the hilltop estate, and the urban botanical garden. Above all, this book is an ode to gardening everywhere, a celebration of people engaging with the natural world around them and creating beauty and meaning in place they call home." It just doesn't get any better than that.
Jennifer Jewell's writing of each garden profile is spot on perfection, as a devotee of her podcast, Cultivating Place, I could sometimes hear her voice as I read the text. Each featured garden is treated in the same manner: first she writes about The Place, then The People and finally The Plants. When writing about "Rancho Arroyo/Virginia Cave—Phoenix, AZ"—a garden featured early in the book—Jennifer quotes Virginia: "Water—a symbol of money in Phoenix—and time are resources you have to be willing to choose to dedicate to cultivating a garden. Not everyone can, and everyone is willing to make this choice even if they can, Some people lose themselves in books, cooking, or jigsaw puzzles. I love to lose myself in listing to the lovebirds roosting in the arroyo or in deadheading my winter pansies."
I could go on quoting from the book, but really, you should read it for yourself! The profiled gardens are broken into sections from the Southwest, Southern California, Northern California, Intermountain West, and finally, the Pacific Northwest.
I have favorites in each section, but since the PNW is my home I will call out a couple featured gardens that I've also written about: first up, Bob Hyland and Andrew Beckman's garden (my post here)...
And Evan Bean's garden (my post here) and read his write up on the book here...
Now here's the exciting part, if you're at all curious about this book you'll want to sign up for Jennifer Jewell's Hardy Plant Society of Oregon online talk on Wednesday August 4th at 7pm—more details here. Jennifer was the last in-person speaker the HPSO hosted—for her book "The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants" and to say we went out on a high note is certainly true. That talk was amazing... and I have no doubt this one will be as well. The talk is available to HPSO members and non members... so sign up!
|Jennifer Jewell, photo credit to John Whittlesey|
...and think about buying the book, you won't regret it! Here's my book disclaimer: I was sent an advance copy by Timber Press, but I was under no obligation to write about the book.