A NEW BRITISH VIEW OF AMERICAN GARDENS, Great Gardens of America (Frances Lincoln, $50), takes off from the intriguing notion that there is such a thing as a uniquely American garden style.
The American garden “celebrates the natural landscape by opening out to incorporate the surrounding wilderness,” writes author Tim Richardson, a well-known British garden historian. This expansive, unbounded quality is the key difference, he says, between American and European gardens, which are defined by enclosure, shutting out the world beyond.
The book, with abundant photographs by Andrea Jones, is an ambitious, wide-ranging survey. It presents 25 American gardens, public and private, spanning states and centuries — most surrounded by nature in the raw. They range from 18th century landscapes (Jefferson’s Monticello) to the early 20th century estates of American plutocrats (the Rockefeller’s Kykuit, which bores me), Beatrix Farrand’s magnificent Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., modernist gardens commissioned by bold patrons like the Miller and Donnell families for private residences in Indiana and California, and contemporary ‘curated’ gardens like Cornerstone Place, in Sonoma, California, which I find mostly off-putting. (Blue plastic balls covering a dead tree? No, thanks.)
Always on the lookout for ideas I can translate to my own modest lot, it’s the Long Island gardens that interest me most — especially a private garden in Amagansett designed by Oehme van Sweden, top and above, with the firm’s trademark drifts of perennials and grasses.
I haven’t yet been to Jack Lenor Larsen’s 16-acre, sculpture-filled Longhouse Reserve in East Hampton, (that’s its Red Garden, ‘a study in heightened perspective,’ above), but I’ve now had a fine armchair visit to it, and many other gardens, too.