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Down to Earth: Great gardening books to read now

If you’re looking for gardening inspiration or advice, a good book is a great place to start, says Cambridge designer Robert Barker

As a design practice we are always looking for inspiration. Either individually or collectively, we visit the Royal Horticultural Society shows, constantly add to our garden design book collection, visit galleries and of course visit as many gardens as possible.

It is important to develop and try new things - but sometimes it is just as important to look back as it is to look forward. While discussing this with my colleagues (via webcam of course during these strange times), we agreed there are a number of books that as a group we all frequently return to and I thought that it might be a nice idea to share this information with you.

The Barn Garden by Tom and Sue Stuart-Smith

Sadly this book is now out of print but is a wonderful account of how a garden started off as an almost blank canvas to being one of the most inspiring gardens in the country. The pictures are beautiful but I encourage you all to visit the garden, as part of the National Garden Scheme, when it opens for one day each year.

The Bold and Brilliant Garden by Sarah Raven

We are all creatures of habit, but as designers a good wake up call is to dip into this book. Although first published in 1999, Sarah’s approach to planning and planting still feels very new. Bold contrasts of scale and texture are blended with sumptuous colours for both sunny and shady areas. For garden designers and anyone with a passion for plants, reading this book is a bit like being a child in a sweet shop.

Design Your Garden by Diarmuid Gavin

In some quarters Diarmuid has a reputation for being gimmicky, but his approach to garden design has always been very inspiring to me. Very early on in my career I worked for Diarmuid - as part of his RHS Gold Medal-winning team at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2011 - and in those few weeks I learnt so much. This book was without a doubt the most borrowed while I studied garden design and, as there was only one copy in the classroom, we all had to share it and pass it around. It’s full of practical advice, but also encourages creativity, something that is often lacking in homes and show gardens these days.

The Creative Shrub Garden by Andy McIndoe

Wildflower gardens and perennial prairie planting is still very popular but shrubs are needed to anchor a design and hold everything together. Shrubs that can often be written off as car park plants are transformed into key plants in this book and, as it provides information about companion planting, it’s a constant source of inspiration.

* See robertbarkerdesign.com for more.

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