If there is any silver lining to this coronavirus for those lucky and blessed enough to have a yard and property to shelter-in-place at, is that most everyone wants to create a garden retreat; to create their own arcadian hideaway.
But how to go about it is the speed bump.
Jan Johnsen’s book, Gardentopia was released last year and I think it is even more salient now. And I’m not just saying that to assuage my guilt about not writing the book review until now. It’s true I was sent a review copy of the book when it was first published and for no good reason (or for many working reasons!) I am just now sharing the good garden design news found in Gardentopia…
Seriously, the hard cover, large-format book is a tome (283 pages) chock-a-block with colorful photos - some with thumbnail captions that describe the story or detail about the image (not just the usual lusty garden display) - that showcase the plants -- there’s an entire chapter; more than 40 pages devoted to the “Plants and Planting” that Jan characterizes as “everyone’s favorite part of the garden. There are four other chapters showcasing the elements of Jan’s good garden design:
- Garden Design and Artful Accents ~ this is the garden’s framework, according to Jan
- Walls, Patios, Walks, and Steps ~ these are the bones of the outdoor space
- Theme Gardens ~ here’s where creativity and whimsy make a garden special
- Color in the Garden ~ Jan cites the impact of color and celebrates its potency and how to use it
Be assured that the sheer breadth of Gardentopia’s contents is well, breath-taking. If you never purchased another garden design book, you’d be just fine. This book is that comprehensive.
While It’s often said the devil's in the details; the original phrase was "God is in the details,” meaning that you needed to ensure that everything you did was done truthfully. Here, Jan’s masterful garden stories are abundant in their authenticity because they are based on her true to life experience and client examples and deliver on the finer elements without getting ahem, “into the weeds” or losing focus. Like her garden design guidelines or principles she advocates, it’s all about the balance...
As you know, I too, am a professional garden designer as well as a writer and author. I review many garden and plant-related books and in the days BC (before corona), I attended a plethora of garden design and horticulture lectures in New York City: most of them produced by the New York Botanical Garden and Metrohort. This is my wheelhouse to say the least. So trust me when I say what sets Jan’s book apart especially, is the way she talks to us in the book. This is no crunchy, esoteric guide for the garden elite. Although they too will delight in the sage advice found on every page of Gardentopia. While Jan quotes the venerable landscape designers including Isamu Noguchi, Frederick Law Olmstead, Geoffrey Jellico, among others, she leaves no doubt she is talking to us - the garden and flower lover. The homeowner. The novitiate.
Reading the book feels like you’re sharing a cup of tea or a glass of wine with Jan, while talking about your garden dreams and goals and she is gently, expertly, guiding you.
Jan surely knows her way around gardens and writing. If you are not familiar already with her and her garden design pedigree, she is “one of the most popular writers on GardenDesign.com” according to its publisher, Jim Peterson. Jan has successfully managed her own Westchester, New York based firm, Johnsen Landscape & Pool for nearly 35 years. Her work has been featured in numerous publications including This Old House and Horticulture Magazine. She was awarded the 2019 Award of Distinction by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD).
Gardentopia is published by Countryman Press and joins her other books, Heaven is a Garden (St Lynn's Press, 2014) and The Spirit of Stone (St Lynn's Press, 2017).
I know Jan from my days working at NYBG as well as the rather intimate clan of garden and horticulture enthusiasts based in Gotham. Jan is kind. She is generous. And those traits, along with her esteemed talent, makes this the perfect book to guide you garden designs. Even if your garden is more aspirational you will nonetheless enjoy curling up with Gardentopia
Along with all the tips - and there are nearly 140 of them - Jan’s Gardentopia, she reveals what the garden “power spot” is; the principle of the three depths; the utilization of the ancient Japanese design technique of miegakure or “hide and seek” which embraces the design of “partially screening a view or section of a garden to create the illusion of distance,” and why that’s important to good garden design - (in contrast to a rather banal exterior looks borrowed from interior design - that of the open space where all is revealed or seen in one expansive view. In good garden design, we much prefer the mystery and romance of leading you through the garden that enhances the connection to nature and it’s mysteries.
Moreover, Gardentopia provides practical, hands-on, experienced advice on how to achieve effects and results.
Honestly, this is a book to be experienced. It somewhat challenges a neat review. You, like me, will, return to it again and again. For inspiration. For instruction and guidance. For dreaming…
Thank you, Jan.
(All photos courtesy of Gardentopia/The Countryman Press)