Q&A with Rose Bartlett, co-author of The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements

(Image credit: Rose Bartlett)

Every beautiful garden large or small is a composition of carefully chosen details and the choices can be daunting. The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements written by Michael and Rose Bartlett offers a practical and comprehensive compendium of inspired design details for garden enthusiasts, whether amateur or professional. Over 1,000 photographs, taken by Michael and Rose Bartlett in 24 countries, accompany a text filled with insights into the history, design, and implementation of garden elements around the world. Read on for more information about The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements and find out how to win a copy of the book, courtesy of David R. Godine, Publisher!

1. Over the last 30 years you have traveled to more than a thousand gardens in 21 countries around the world. Of those gardens, if you had to pinpoint three that exemplified the best garden design, which would they be and why?

I have an affinity for gardens that combine both formal and informal garden design as well as examples of fine craftsmanship. Three gardens that come to mind are:

  • Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC...dating to the 1920's and designed by Beatrix Farrand, the only female founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Dumbarton Oaks is one of the finest gardens in the United States and incorporates an extraordinary number of garden elements....in fact very garden element discussed in our book is found someplace in this garden yet it never seems busy or "over" designed.
  • Les Quatre Vents, La Malbaie, Quebec...created by Frank Cabot over the course of about 30 years from 1970 until 2000. Mr Cabot inherited this property situated in the inhospitable plant hardiness zone 4. He was a passionate gardener and set about transforming the landscape into a series of gardens full of architectural and horticultural interest inspired by his garden travels. The climate is so harsh that there are few plant nurseries. As a result many of the trees, shrubs and hedges in the garden were tranplants found growing on the property.
  • Mount Stewart, Newtownards, N. Ireland...Lady Londonderry undertook the construction of the gardens not only to create beauty but to provide work for the men returning from service in World War I. The garden is full of sculptural elements -many tell amusing stories. Although situated in a quite northerly location, the garden is warmed by the Gulf Stream and many surprisingly tender plants are found here.

2. Designing a garden can be an overwhelming or challenging task. How does your book facilitate this task? Our book provides a wonderful reference for undertaking the challenge of designing a garden. Both visual and practical information are clearly presented for twenty-four garden elements. This gives both the amateur and professional designer concrete information for making design decisions. 3. Before we tackle a garden design project what questions should we be asking ourselves and why? There are both design questions and horticultural questions that should be addressed. From a design perspective: What is the purpose of this garden (or portion of the garden)? Entertaining, screening a bad view, a play area, a place to relax, etc.? From a horticultural perspective: What kind of sun exposure is there, what kind of soil is on site, what is the plant hardiness zone, etc.? 4. What is the most weird or unusual object that you ever saw incorporated in a garden and why did it work or not work in the overall garden design? There is a garden in Bishopville, South Carolina full of the most abstract, fantastical topiaries. It was created by a man named Pearl Fryar. In the 1980's he began collecting plants that local nurseries had thrown on the compost pile. He know little about gardening but became passionate about turning these cast away plants into artistic statements. These objects work for many reasons but mainly because of the love and care devoted to this collection of topiary. 5. What are some of the common threads amongst well designed gardens?

  • Well designed gardens take the complete picture into account...even if the entire garden cannot be completed at once the master plan is in place.
  • Details...details...details - the best gardens pay attention to every detail from the design of a special entrance gate to the cover for a drain.
  • The best craftsmanship that is feasible.
  • Planning for the proper long term maintenance.

6. How can people with a limited budget make a maximum impact with garden design while making the impact on their wallet minimal?

  • Minimal impact on the wallet requires patience.
  • Having a master plan is an excellent idea because this allows the garden owner both a short and long term vision. If you can't afford to implement the entire plan start with the parts that are most important and do them the best way affordable. Over time the attention to quality will pay rewards.
  • Take advantage of free advice. Most counties have an extension service that will analyze soil and answer horticultural questions.
  • Start with smaller plants. They usually catch up with bigger transplants in a few seasons.
  • Learn to love dirt under your fingernails.
  • Find an independent garden center (rather than going to the big box) because even though you may pay a little more, you are likely to find greater plant selection and staff with expertise.
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WIN A COPY OF THE BARTLETT BOOK OF GARDEN ELEMENTS!To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Thursday, November 19, 2015 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question: "The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements features many different elements such as bridges to gates, gazebos to fountains, and sculptures to bird houses, just to name a few. What are some of your favorite garden elements?"The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See Rules for more information.)

UPDATE 1/3/2016: Congratulations to Kara Kudro, the winner of The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements book giveaway!

Shelley Pierce

Shelley Pierce was a writer for Gardening Know How, contributing to hundreds of articles for the site.