Flash Forward to Spring with These New Garden Books


Bay Area garden

Left:Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry expanded their understanding of California gardens while writing their new book, Private Gardens of the Bay Area (Monacelli Press). Right: I’Lee Hooker,  a ceramic artist for 20 years before taking up gardening, created the upright terracotta forms on her Tiburon property. Photos by Marion Brenner

Tired of the view out your window? Private Gardens of the Bay Area (Monacelli Press), Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry’s beautiful and exhaustive successor to their Gardens of the Garden State, transports you to a selection of gardens in and around San Francisco. The authors report that they visited more than 100 before choosing 39 that best typify the range of microclimates, the diversity of terrain and the abundance of plants to be found in the Bay Area. In working on their book, they write, they expanded their understanding of what defines a “California garden,” concluding that it is not limited to a particular style but rather encompasses a variety of voices and visions.

Marion Brenner’s stunning photography supports their finding and reveals an astonishing array of plant material. It seems that almost anything can grow in California, from roses to succulents to tree ferns, delicate grasses and gnarly olive trees. The marvelous diversity of approaches employed by owners and designers in response to soil, weather and landscape can make a reader gasp.

Our tour begins with a group of coastal and hillside gardens in the San Francisco Peninsula. Green Gables, in Woodside, is a lavish and beautiful property and far and away the most historic in this section of the book. Both house and grounds were designed in 1911 by Charles Greene, of Greene and Greene, California’s preeminent Arts and Crafts architecture firm. The garden is magnificent and boasts a grotto, a double stone staircase, a dramatic pool, an allée of Camperdown elms and even glazed pots designed by Greene himself.

Next come a number of examples within San Francisco and the East Bay. I was particularly charmed by the contemporary roof garden in South Park belonging to Lenore Pereira and Rich Niles and designed by Loretta Gargan. Gargan created a garden room thick with succulents and grasses, with structure provided by a long boardwalk and randomly placed concrete pavers.

Then, it’s on to Napa and Sonoma, where contemporary-art collector Frances Bowes’s Ricardo Legorreta house is surrounded by symmetrical swathes of lavenders and imposing groupings of huge ancient olive trees.


In this view of Frances Bowes’s Sonoma garden, a gnarled olive tree is juxtaposed with Richard Serra’s Serpentine. Photos in this slideshow by Marion Brenner

This play space in the Mission District, designed by Monica Viarengo, features a living wall on the side of the children’s slide. The ground cover isn’t real grass but artificial turf.

The Tiburon garden of I’Lee Hooker features a colorful succulent display on a hot, dry section of the hillside.

Andrea Cochran redesigned the grounds of this Telegraph Hill cliffside home, adding two Corten-steel balconies and a shade garden.

Meadow Farm was designed by Bernard Trainor, who collaborated with pioneering green-building architect William McDonough to create a sustainable, productive garden.

At Green Gables, a double staircase sweeps down 400 feet to the blind arcade and the Roman pool.

Purchase This Book

or support your local bookstore

Japanese garden

Left: Sophie Walker’s first book, The Japanese Garden (Phaidon), explores some of Japan’s most impressive horticultural masterworks. Right: Zenkō Adachi, who founded Adachi Museum Garden, believed that landscaping could be composed as a “living painting.” Photo by Malcolm Raggett


Garden designer Sophie Walker, who was on the short list – along with Zaha Hadid Architects and Anish Kapoor – to design Britain’s Holocaust Memorial, has recently released her first book. The Japanese Garden (Phaidon) is impressive in so many ways. Walker, who has designed projects all over the world, has a remarkably informed understanding of the spirit and feel of Japanese garden design. “I first visited Japan in my early twenties, and I began to spend more and more time there, sitting with the gardens without understanding what it was I was looking at,” she tells Introspective.  “In fact, the more I looked, the less I understood!”

Clearly she figured things out, because her introductory essay alone offers a formidable exploration of philosophy, culture and Buddhist principles as they are reflected in Japanese garden design. Her grasp of the opposites and paradoxes of scale and context leads her readers to better appreciate the geometry and esoteric abstraction of the Japanese garden.

The concisely captioned photographs of Japan’s most important gardens, mostly in Kyoto, and a glossary of plants are interspersed with a useful map and essays on different aspects of the Japanese garden by such luminaries as John Pawson, Tadao Ando and Kapoor. These elements combine to make the book an intellectually rigorous guide for both actual and armchair travelers.


Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, “describes, unusually, the positive yang or sunshine, in contrast to most Japanese temples and gardens, which represent in or kage, meaning shadow, negative or yin,” according to the book. Photo by Sophie Walker

Cherry blossoms bloom over a wooden bridge at Kōraku-en. Photo by Sophie Walker

The Ise Grand Shrine is a deeply sacred site set within a forest of ancient Hinoki cypress and sakaki trees on the banks of the Isuzu River. Photo by
Aurora Photos/Alamy Stock Photo

Kyoto’s temple at Entsū-ji was originally constructed as an imperial villa by Emperor Go-Mizunoo. Photo by Travellinglight/Alamy Stock Photo

At the garden of Genkō-an, in Kyoto, the Window of Enlightenment is a perfect circle, which, according to Buddhist philosophy, simultaneously points in all directions. Photo by Akira Nakata

Shisen-dō Temple, in Kyoto, includes a space that looks out onto a garden with cloud-like karikomi clipped azalea bushes. Photo by Toby Musgrave


Purchase This Book

or support your local bookstore

Italian garden

Left: The English edition of Paolo Pejrone’s Private Italian Gardens highlights a range of landscapes that he’s designed. Right: A Cap Ferrat garden features Brugmansia and “Penelope” roses. Photos by Dario Fusaro


Private Italian Gardens (Mondadori Electa) is the new English edition of a book by Paolo Pejrone first published in 2008 in Italy. With photography by Dario Fusaro, it offers an enjoyable romp through a rich array of 13 private Edens created by the author, now a grand old man of Italian landscape design. Pejrone, also a journalist, has impeccable credentials: He was a pupil of Russell Page and also studied with Roberto Burle Marx. The examples profiled range from a lighthearted maritime plot in Portofino to a traditional rose garden outside Turin, in Poirino, and a sprawling planting of rosemary shrubs, heather and cork oaks on the promontory of Monte Argentario, near Porto Ercole. It’s hard to distill Pejrone’s style down to a few words, but it’s safe to say that his gardens are imbued with atmosphere and respect for the terrain, not to mention charm – something that abounds as well in the two delightful photographs of the man himself with watering can in hand and dog at his side.


Lazzarini Pickering Architetti designed this swimming pool along with the villa in Tuscany’s Monte Argentario overlooking it. Photos in this slideshow by Dario Fusaro

The Monte Argentario property contains an 18th-century structure and old-growth olive trees.

This established garden in Turin features contemporary artworks, including Porfido Ellipse, 2000, by Richard Long.

Roses, Callistemons, daisies, euphorbias, lavenders and valerians abound in this Portofino garden.

This Cap Ferrat garden is called La Roseraie because “wherever the sun has allowed it, roses have run the show,” according to the book.


Purchase This Book

or support your local bookstore

Mediterranean garden by Jean Mus

Left: The revised edition of Private Gardens of the Mediterranean (Flammarion) showcases the work of landscape architect Jean Mus. Right: This walled garden in Portugal shelters four-seasons lemon trees. Photos by Vincente Motte


Jean Mus, a French landscape architect who has been creating gardens throughout Europe for  decades. Judging by Private Gardens of the Mediterranean (Flammarion) – a revised version of a 2005 publication – this old-school practitioner is clearly still having a good time. The book, with exquisite photographs by Vincent Motte, offers a delightful sampling of Mus’s work: from a planting of laurels and lavender belonging to Dutch owners in Valbonne, Provence; to a garden near Evora, in Portugal, where he created four enclosed garden rooms around a quinta (country farmhouse) dating to the 16th century. It is a feast for the eyes and another book to inspire both envy, admiration and dreams of escape.

This garden’s beautiful view is the work of Jean Mus, who “created it by taking a stand of gigantic cypresses and transformed it into a grand avenue which descends to a round pond surrounded by laurel trees,” according to the book. Photos in this slideshow by Vincente Motte

Mus helped the owner of this property, a Greek shipping magnate, realize his dream of a terrace above the Aegean Sea. Here, an orange grove brings color and fragrance to the grounds.

“In every garden, there have to be stars,” says Mus. “Here, the trees echo mythology and tell of the loves and hates of Greek men and gods better than any history book.”

“The sea tends to weaken plants,” Mus notes. “Planting must be carried out in spring so that the plants can adapt. If they are spared the wind and the salty, winter blasts then their leaves and wood can toughen up and ripen.”

In designing this property, Mus “knew the taste of the owners for the Age of Enlightenment and invented for them a garden as fit for the reveries of a solitary walker as it was for masked balls.”

At the same property, ponds at different heights flow into the main canal, which surrounds a collection of citrus trees.

Purchase This Book

or support your local bookstore

Loading next story…

No more stories to load; check out The Study.

No more stories to load; check out The Study.