Inspired by English gardens yet unapologetically re-envisioned to suit the American climate and re-worked to snub conventional garden design "rules", Wave Hill is an extraordinary garden by any standards. Nature into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill by Thomas Christopher (Timber Press, 2019) not only tells the story, it also inspires gardeners with plant information, techniques, and encouragement.

Design Inspiration for Rule Breakers!

Wild columbine, irises, and a soft pink azalea are highlights of the Wild Garden in spring. Photo courtesy : Timber Press

If you're something of a self-confessed gardening rebel, this book is your validation.

At Wave Hill, the plants themselves became the inspiration for design, specifically their architecture; their form and pattern of growth. And while traditional designers map out every detail on paper, the founding director of horticulture at Wave Hill, Marco Polo Stefani and his gardening partner John Nally, both with a background in fine arts, preferred to simply move plants around until they liked the look of a composition creating serendipitous combinations and color effects.

Not surprisingly, the gardens at Wave Hill have evolved organically and incrementally rather than from a carefully plotted master plan. As you delve further into this book you will see how regular editing and re-assessment has enabled this approach to succeed and how they managed to avoid the obvious pitfalls of a chaotic, overgrown jungle where only the fittest survives!

A Garden for Every Gardener

Wooden obelisks punctuate the Flower Garden, adding structure and rhythm in addition to plant support. Photo courtesy: Timber Press

After an initial introduction to the gardens history, Nature into Art walks the reader through each of the garden areas which include the Flower Garden, Gold Border, Shade Border, Wild Garden, Herb & Dry Gardens, the Conservatory, and the Elliptical Garden. Here are just a few of the easy 'take home' ideas from some of these chapters:

The Flower Garden

  • Learn how annuals are used to create the soft and undulating planting style that has become recognized as their signature style at Wave Hill.
  • Discover the importance of focal points such as a series of tall wooden obelisks which add structure to the froth of flowers as well as providing a support for climbers.
  • See, through beautiful photography, how the boldly colored Canna 'Tropicanna', can add an unexpected flamboyant note to a more traditional planting of pale pink roses and apricot dahlias, yet far from feeling incongruous, the gentle color harmony really works.
  • Read how container grown plants can be dropped into the displays during the season such as adding pots of orange nasturtiums into a planting bed of pale purple irises, each plant enhanced by the association.

The Shade Border

Beautiful in all seasons, the chapter on the Shade Border demonstrates the potential for gardening in low light conditions and shares tips and strategies to help you succeed. Photo courtesy: Timber Press

Rather than just diving into a discussion of the plants grown here, the author first carefully explains the nuances of shade as well as the relationship to moisture conservation in the soil.

The chapter is then broken down into seasons, my favorite being the Spring Bloomers which is a wonderful reminder of all those ephemeral favorites that thrive in  deciduous woodland. Covering bulbs, perennials and early blooming shrubs this is welcome eye candy for me as I look out onto snow today!

There is also a great section on Planting and Care in the shade garden that discusses the challenges of working around large roots and irrigation.

The Edges of Everything

Impressions matter – learn why the gardeners at Wave Hill do things "the Queen's way." Photo courtesy: Timber Press

An interesting chapter towards the end of the book, this allows us a look over the proverbial garden fence to see why they do what they do at Wave Hill, or what the gardeners jokingly refer to as "the Queen's way" of doing things! (Clearly, being British, this intrigued me!)

It comes down to this – details matter. As a public garden, Wave Hill wants to ensure that the visitors very first – and last impression is favorable, so they strive to ensure the grounds are always weed free, that craftsmanship is of the very highest standards, and all border edges are clearly defined. Indeed the gardeners work hard to master and refine "the edges of everything."

Stufano was taught and influenced by others who had trained in private estates in England and who insisted on doing things "right." To that effect, clay pots are used since plants "simply grow better." Fingertips rather than thumbs are used to firm the soil around a plant in a pot – because thumbs exert too much pressure.

In this chapter you will learn about seed sowing the Wave Hill way, together with techniques such as pinching, staking, and mulching.

A Few Final Details

Illustration by Katie Pond, courtesy artist and Timber Press

Kudos must be given to the outstanding photography of Ngoc Minh Ngo. How I wish I could have followed her around as she photographed this garden over many seasons. Here eye for light is remarkable. All photographs in this post are hers and provided courtesy of Timber Press.

And – proud mum moment here – big shout out to my daughter Katie (Kaitlin Pond) who drew the incredibly detailed illustration of the garden shown above and featured in the book. Beyond remarkable, especially as she had to piece together the various satellite images, still images, and notes from multiple sources, insisting her scale was accurate (she is an architect after all!) and colors representative.

Where to Buy

Available everywhere books are sold – ask at your local independent book store or order online if you prefer. This is a hardback book – it would be an outstanding gift for a friend.

Enter to Win a Copy

I have one copy to give away to a lucky reader! Just leave a comment below telling me which "garden rules" YOU find frustrating.

Giveaway rules

  • Only comments left on this blog post will be entered into the drawing – not on any images within the blog post or on social media.
  • Only one entry per person please.
  • Only residents of the USA will be entered to win the book (due to shipping costs) but of course comments are welcome from all.
  • Drawing will be by random number generator at 10am PST on Tuesday February 11th.
  • Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond with mailing address after which time another name will be drawn.

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links.

And the Winner Is…

Vilma Papaleka. Congratulations! I have sent you an email. Please respond within 48 hours.

 

Many thanks for everyone

Such great comments – so interesting!  In fact I may use some of them (without your names) in a new seminar I'm putting together.

24 Comments

  1. Sherie Hampshire on February 4, 2020 at 4:51 am

    The idea that a garden should follow a particular design style can be limiting to a novice gardener’s sense of artistry and creative adventure. A quote from Voltaire goes something like, “We must cultivate our own garden.” Whatever that garden is, it is uniquely ours.



  2. Jennifer Cummings on February 4, 2020 at 5:49 am

    The common thought that permaculture has to be messy and unkempt. It took me years to finally take a dive in and to discover how permaculture’s techniques expanded my views-in more ways than one!!



    • Robin Fortenberry on February 5, 2020 at 7:25 am

      Patience for smaller perennials to fill in a space. Forever placing them to close leading to rearranging of plantings.



  3. Craig Hoffman on February 4, 2020 at 6:16 am

    Besides not starting seeds too early (It's winter, but I want to garden!) I have trouble following the rule to give plants enough space to mature when planting young perennials. Patience has been a tough rule to follow.



  4. Elizabeth on February 4, 2020 at 7:30 am

    The gardening rule I find most difficult is limiting myself to only a few plants or colors to create a cohesive look to my gardens because that’s “how they’re supposed to look” vs the wild & colorful which I prefer.



    • Merry R on February 7, 2020 at 7:59 pm

      I struggle with putting plants with the same care needs together. I create unnecessary maintenance!



  5. nancy on February 4, 2020 at 8:30 am

    I know I'm not supposed to walk on the lawn when it is wet at this time of year, but I need to walk around and see if the witchhazel or hellebores are flowering and make sure there aren't limbs down. Although this isn't a rule, I find the combination of purple and orange abhorrent.



  6. Cortney on February 4, 2020 at 8:51 am

    I think its the idea of rules at all is frustrating! Certainly the horticultural rules about what will grow where are important and generally need to be followed, but I've always viewed gardens as creative expressions of the gardener just as a painting or quilt or sculpture is to an artist. To place rules at all on our gardens is oftentimes overwhelming to me (to many rules to remember!) and almost always stifling. I end up with sterile spaces that don't speak to me and then need a re-think and re-do. I've learned to just follow my gut and to heck with those style/design rules- I'm happier and my garden is more "me". Thanks for the great giveaway!



  7. Vilma Papaleka on February 4, 2020 at 9:47 am

    Plant in odd multiples – I’ve never strayed away much from planting in odd multiples, but lately getting bored and wanting to see what I can get away with makes me use add numbers more and more often.



  8. Heather on February 4, 2020 at 10:05 am

    The 'rule' of short plants in front, medium plants in the middle and tall ones at the back of a border. I like my wispy grasses in front so the blend and add mystery to the rest of the bed.



  9. Marie Elizabeth on February 4, 2020 at 10:11 am

    How about the “rule” of odd number of plants in a given area, such as 3 or 5. Sometimes you just need two! It does however look better most of the time keeping that rule in mind! Like many of the other comments, I let my own style and personality show in my garden and it is constantly a work in progress! The book looks beautiful and what gardener doesn’t need another book?!



  10. Nancy Martin on February 4, 2020 at 10:47 am

    The book's title 'Nature Into Art' is synonymous with a famous quote by Dante Alighieri, "Nature is the art of God". It is always wise to learn from other's wisdom and experience, however one's garden is their canvas and when painting with God's coloring box, the sky is the limit for all gardener's creativity. The book is beautiful and I'm sure it would indeed be a treasure to own.



  11. Alyson Ross-Markley on February 4, 2020 at 11:26 am

    I thought I recognized Katie’s artwork… I love her style!! Sounds like great book… count me in! I need all the help and inspiration I can get with our 2 year old SW facing back garden.



  12. Vicki Legman on February 4, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    I've found it helpful to learn about the rules, and then to break them with abandon. That's the fun in it!



  13. Sheryl on February 4, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    So many rules; so many plants. I find that the rule that one should have a planting plan before shopping for plants is the hardest for me to follow. Because I am a certified plant-a-holic, sometimes (too many times), I fall for a plant, then must "find" a place for it in my landscape. This spurs continuous planning in my changing landscape, which is what gardening is all about for me. Every day brings something new and wonderful!!!



  14. Kathy Purdy on February 4, 2020 at 6:03 pm

    I see I am not the only one who has trouble with the "plant in odd numbers" rule. As a beginning gardener planting annuals from 6-packs, I always wondered what I was supposed to do with the 6th plant. Reader, I planted it with the others, and the design police did not come knocking at my door. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure anyone noticed.



  15. Maureen on February 4, 2020 at 7:20 pm

    Rogue gardening – count this designer in!
    While I know gardening principles are useful, there is also something to be said for a garden planted with heart. My dear friends Monarda that she gave me from her garden, the first peony I planted when I bought my house, the 300 tulips my friend and I scrambled to plant entirely too late in the season – we laughed and froze, and they somehow bloomed that Spring!- , the bed of lily of the valley that my sweet cat loved to sleep in (and is now buried under) … and so many more, I could go on and on. Most all, random placement – those design principals thrown to the wind. While you may scratch your head at the lack of 'rhyme or reason' when you see my gardens, what I feel when I look around is the love and the memories attached to the stories behind their plantings. My garden is telling a love story.

    Let your hair down. Plant in even numbers, in oddball colors that light you up, in patterns that make no sense yet somehow pull at your heart strings. We tend to make life such a serious thing. There is so much more to a garden than what meets the eye. Mine has a heartbeat.



  16. Barb H on February 5, 2020 at 7:59 am

    Too many rules! My garden is an expression of my personality. Therefore, I have no problem with being a renegade. My choices are part of my story, mostly random and diverse. I also rescue plant orphans and overstocks, the fun of which is finding a place for them where they can revive and thrive.



  17. Vicki Alschuler on February 5, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    If you buy what inspires you or gives you joy that should take precedence over any rule you can name.



  18. Diane on February 6, 2020 at 3:11 am

    Repeating plants in a border, I love so many I want them all.



  19. Patricia Griffin on February 6, 2020 at 1:59 pm

    Planning the landscape as a whole. As I'm introduced to new plants and ideas, I'll find the right place.



  20. Jeff on February 6, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    Who made up the rule that limited colors should be used in a garden? I was once told by a gardening professional that it looked as if "color had barfed all over my garden."



  21. Carol Yemola on February 6, 2020 at 8:19 pm

    The idea that you have to group coordinating colors together in the flower bed is frustrating to me. I love every color and the more color in the grouping the better!



  22. Clarice on February 10, 2020 at 8:24 pm

    I struggle to follow "don't walk or step in your beds during the wet season (i.e. many months in the PNW). If I'm weeding or pruning, like I did today, I don't haul a board along to step on. I just step into the bed and compact my clay soil even more, even though I know I'm not supposed to.