Julie Moir Messervy, |
The Magic Land: Designing
Your Own Enchanted Garden
From the author's bio at the back of this little book, it seems that Julie Moir Messervy is a garden designer in her non-writing life. I picked this book up thinking that it would have a lot of good ideas for achieving that sort of "secret garden"-esque garden design, and instead, I'm coming away with the feeling that Messervy should stick to design and leave writing to those who are able to impart information with an equal hand as they do a bunch of evocative drivel about how a garden should feel.
This isn't to say there's no information in this book. There is ... you just have to really be watching as you're reading, or you'll miss it in the decidedly unpoetic handling of how a garden should speak to your wide-eyed inner child. Messervy spent some time in Japan, for instance, and does give some good information on how to place rocks in your garden (always bury them part-way, don't leave space underneath, and so forth), and she explains the shapes in a formal garden pretty well. However, the information is really overshadowed by the rhetoric -- so much, in fact, that this 150-page tome could easily be a handout garden brochure at your local nursery if all the fluff was to be edited out.
Let me give you an example: her chapter on trees is nearly ten pages long. Of that ten pages, a good six are just explanations of childhood gardens she's known or seen that have made her feel secluded and magical, two pages are the kindergarten-quality artwork (more on that in a bit), and one-and-a-half pages are explanations of the differences between a dell, grove and glade. All very interesting, and probably meant to be entertaining or inspiring, but utterly unhelpful if you want to know how to plant your trees to achieve the feeling she describes.
That's the thing about The Magic Land. She's very good at describing and illustrating a feeling, and for anyone with a green thumb and a fair knowledge of plants and botany, this could be just the thing to push them to create some magical spaces in their own green yards. Since the style of writing is more like an elementary school primer, though, I can't see any experienced gardeners wanting to read it. Messervy just seems to have totally missed (or misjudged) her target audience.
And the illustrations ... whoever hired Barbara Berger to do them should be fired from Macmillan. My 5-year-old neighbor has made pictures that are more convincing. Maybe it's just that they're all in black and white, or are poorly reproduced, I don't know. But there are cottonball-and-stick trees, square-and-triangle houses and straight-line streams that do less to illustrate Messervy's point than to make the reader cringe. Maybe it was intentional, given the author's insistence toward talking about making a magical child's garden, but it would have been more effective to get an actual 7-year-old in that case. Probably cheaper, too.
The one redeeming quality to this book is that occasionally you can see the vision that Messervy was trying to impart: asymmetrical, natural-looking gardens that feel remote, even in a busy urban area. Since I gave up looking for practical information about halfway through the book, when it was delivered I felt like I'd found a bonus piece of hidden gold, buried within the unintelligible, flaky mood piece.
Avoid this book. Although it won't be hard to do -- I found my copy in a bargain bookstore (where the old and overstocked books go to die) and from what I can see, it's pretty much out of print. Save your money and inspire yourself instead.
[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]