Monday, January 26, 2015

Cool Garden Blog Discovery

An almost unknown blog about a fascinating subject.

I've been following an incredibly interesting blog recently: American Gardening, which is about American garden history. Anything with the word "history" in it may sound dull, but I can't believe how fascinating it actually is -- there have recently been brief (but nicely illustrated) posts about such topics as:


... how Chrysanthemums became popular in the 1880s (I had no idea how recent an introduction they are, unlike most other "old-fashioned" flowers we grow)




... how women weren't recognized as serious gardeners until the late 19th century
Beatrix Farrand (Pinterest)

... a number of posts about nineteenth century seed catalogs, which are beautiful art in their own right, as well as fascinating for modern gardeners to look at



... and many short reviews of garden and garden history books that the author recommends.



The author of the blog is Thomas Mickey, a retired communications professor, avid longtime Master Gardener and garden historian, who has written a beautifully illustrated book: America's Romance with the English Garden, which I bought when it was published in 2013. There are any number of garden history books about British gardens, but not so many about American gardens and gardeners, so Mickey's book was a nice addition. His book focuses on 19th century seed catalogs and the role they played in influencing our tastes toward English style gardens, rather than Italian, French or other national historic garden styles.

A book full of beautiful images from
nineteenth century gardens.

Anyway, I highly recommend taking a look at Thomas Mickey's blog. It's possible that I am the only person who knows about this blog besides the author (at least, I am the only one who ever comments) and that's a shame, because the blog is really quite interesting. The posts are brief but informative and I always feel I have learned something of value about the history of how we have come to garden the way we do today.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

My New, Improved Garden Map

Click for greater detail.

In my last post, I shared a few of my favorite garden maps, and mentioned that I needed to update my own garden map, as I had made some significant changes to my garden areas in the last year.

I've finished the new, updated map, such as it is. It's no great work of art, not a beautiful perspective map with lovely artistic drawings or watercolor paintings of the house and gardens such as those done by real artists in my last post. Mine is only a topographical map, drawn and traced with the aid of Google Earth and colored in with colored pencils. But I believe it's more accurate than my previous map.

Plus, I have included more labels in this map. When I was writing my last post about garden maps, I realized how important the labels are in garden maps: they serve to personalize a garden and communicate information about the purpose and design intentions of the various areas. (Before, I guess I thought that the labels might deface a map and make it harder to view, but I now realize that this isn't the case at all.) Thus I have labelled many more areas in my new map, including important trees. I hope this will tell more about my gardens than my last map:


My old garden map, done in January 2013. I think the numbering of areas made it harder to understand. Labels are better.


The biggest changes in my gardens that can be seen on the maps, are in the areas to the northwest of my house: the new West Island, North Island and Yellow Garden are now depicted (the removal of one of the two ash trees is evident where the Yellow Garden is now -- there's still one ash tree in the North Island, although it's hard to see in the drawing).

Google Earth finally posted an updated aerial view of my property last June, so it was easy for me to make a new map. Here are the steps I used:
  1. I saved a photo of my property from Google Earth,
  2. Then, I made the colors lighter using Photoshop (so the outlines of the structures and areas can be discerned through another piece of paper) and printed it out, so that it fit the whole size of the paper. 
  3. Then I lightly taped another piece of paper on top of the printed photo and, holding it up to my computer screen so that it was backlit, very lightly traced with a pencil over the outlines of the various structures, trees and garden bed outlines. 
  4. Then I colored in the traced areas with colored pencils, adding details to planting beds, etc., and used a straight edge and a regular pencil to make the outlines of buildings more definite. Then I removed the bottom taped photo.
  5. I scanned the image and used Photoshop to adjust the colors on the map, to label the areas and to add a title and a compass image, which I found online. 
  6. Lastly, I saved it as a JPG file so it wouldn't be too large to post.
(Ed.: Thanks to Linda for her suggestion that I include a map scale in the map; I hadn't thought of that before. I guess in most garden maps they're not necessary, except for the very largest estate maps. I don't have a grand estate, but I do live on five acres, although only about three acres of the property is depicted -- there's a two-acre field to the left that I have left out so that I could focus in on the cultivated areas. For scale, it's about 150 yards/140 meters from the top (north) edge of my property to the bottom (south) edge depicted in the map.)

Again, the result is not a great work of art, but it certainly suffices to communicate the plan of my gardens to anyone who might be interested in them.

Now, I'm working on trying to figure out a way to make the areas of my map clickable, perhaps with hover images or at least links to pages about each area. Since I don't know much about HTML, this is going to take some research and fiddling. We'll see if I'm successful....

I'd love to see how other bloggers map out their gardens -- do you include a map on your blog? Thanks for sharing, and for reading! -Beth

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Garden Maps

I've been thinking about updating my garden map (the current one can be viewed at the "My Gardens" link above). I've made some significant changes to the layout of my garden areas since I drew that map last winter, and I'd like to update it. (Using Google Earth to trace over makes it easy.)

I love garden maps. I think every book or article about gardens should include a map of the garden. Even a quick sketch with crayons tells the reader so much about the relationship of the various areas of the garden to each other, and serves to orient the reader better than numerous confusing words trying to describe the layout. A picture is worth more than a thousand words in this case.

There are two types of garden maps: topographical maps (the regular sort of map in which the viewer is looking straight down from above) and pictorial maps (also called illustrated, perspective or bird's-eye maps, in which the viewer sees the objects depicted from an oblique view). Pictorial maps are far more interesting to look at and are often beautiful works of art, requiring artistic skill to draw or paint. I would love to be able to make one of these, but I fear my drawing skill might not be up to the task.

I'd like to share a few of my favorite garden maps, drawings and plans that I've run across in books and online, maps of real gardens as well as of fictional ones:


I think I may have gotten my love of garden maps from the illustrated maps in
books (like Winnie the Pooh, the Oz books, etc.). This drawing is from the
back cover of a Dell paperback reprint of Agatha Christie's "The Secret of
Chimneys." There's just something so cozy about how everything is laid out
for us to view, and I love all the hedges and garden rooms shown in this
English country house murder mystery illustration. 

Another literary illustration, this time from the incredibly charming children's book, "Miss Jaster's Garden" by Danish author and illustrator N. M. Bodecker. It's a beautifully silly story featuring a near-sighted lady gardener and a hedgehog who lives in her garden.

The illustration of Beverley Nichol's garden in "Down the Garden Path,"
published in 1932. The annotations and labels pique the viewer's curiosity to
learn more about these gardens and the stories behind them.
I love 1930s formal gardens!

Here's another view of Nichol's entire garden, showing the lovely illustrations around the perimeter of the map. The drawing was done by artist Rex Whistler.

One of the very finest modern garden maps done in a classic style is that painted by Jonathan Myles Lea for Roy Strong's Herefordshire, England garden, The Laskett. His book of the same title is one of the best books about making a garden that I have read, and one I return to again and again. I love that the gardeners and their cats have been portrayed in such memorable fashion around the title legend.

An architectural plan for Kansas City's Municipal Rose Garden, from the 1930s. This might not technically be a garden map, but it's so enjoyable to look at that I had to include it.  (Library of American Landscape History )

The beautifully illustrated map of Burtown House and gardens, a historic property that has been owned by three generations of artists, in County Kildare, Ireland. The map was painted in watercolor by artist Rosalind Jellet and the depiction is lovely, with multi-hued flowers and the fresh greens of late spring captured for posterity. Also, the labels of the various areas, like those of Nichols' gardens above, tell us the garden area names and also make us curious: Who is Wendy? Just how new is the New Garden? What is the Gallery-Cafe about? The Burtown House website offers a fascinating look at the history of a lovely Irish property and the generations of the family that has inhabited it -- and check out the Gallery for some breathtaking garden photographs by James Fennell, a professional photographer and resident at Burtown House, who generously permitted me to share this beautiful map. Another place to add to my list of places I want to visit when I finally make a trip to the ancestral homeland!

The garden plan for Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., one of the United States' finest gardens. Although the map itself is done in a topographical format, the perimeter is surrounded by vignette drawings of numerous features of the gardens, which were designed in the 1920s and 1930s by Beatrix Ferrand

Lastly, this is an amusing garden map done as an advertisement for Whiskas cat food. It purports to be a guide map to the untamed wilderness of a backyard, from a housecat's perspective. Quite funny!
(From the imaginative work of leading British advertising agency AMVDDBO.)

I'm surprised that a book has not been published that features the art of garden maps from history and today. Perhaps I should publish such a book -- I'll add it to the list of projects I have already, the first of which will be to update my own garden map, even though it will be a far cry from these beautiful works of art. I'd better start working on my drawing skills!

Thanks for reading! -Beth