Inspiration Library: The Practice of the Gardener’s Art

by Amy Azzarito

As much as I might daydream about digging in the earth, no amount of wishing on falling stars is going to turn my fire escape into the garden of my dreams. Luckily, I stumbled on Principles of Gardening: The Practice of the Gardener’s Art, which is the absolute perfect book for the garden daydreamer because mixed with the specific information about gardening (the correct distance between canes of raspberries, for example) are discussions about the history of gardening, styles of gardens and principles of the kitchen garden. It is very much a book about the aesthetics of gardening not simply the practicalities of digging in the dirt. Hugh Johnson was a former editor of the Royal Horticultural Society’s journal, The Garden, and as well as the  former gardening correspondent for the New York Times. (He is also an expert on wines.) He first wrote Principles of Gardening in 1979. The edition I have (and the one linked to here) is a revised edition published in 1997. The book has a strong British slant, so if you’re looking for practical advice, you’d need to do some additional research about growing zones. Added plus – there are copies for $.01 on Amazon – you can put your extra pennies toward a real-life garden. –Amy Azzarito

Photographs by Maxwell Tielman

Image above: I’ve been working lately to be better at my floral identification. There are fifteen official classes of tulips – based on when they flower, the shape and on the flower’s ancestry. This illustration (arranged by ordered of flowering) is of six of the more distinct bedding categories and three species hybrid groups.

Image above: From the Italian style garden in the section on garden history, this is an image of a fresco in the Villa Lante at Viterbo. Villa Lante is often considered to be the most perfect garden in Italy. It was a garden of surprises. Guests were led into an enclosed garden where they were soaked by concealed water jets.

Image above: According to the caption, “It has taken forty years for this perfect speciment of Juniperus compressa to reach this height.” This is from a section titled “What Makes a Plant Garden-Worthy”. Johnson makes the point that the speed at which at plant grows is an important consideration. For example in a small garden, having slow growing plants is a must.

Image above: A conservatory. Johnson advises that when you are designing a conservatory, you must make a decision between a “jungle effect” and a “Mediterranean look.” The jungle effect requires more humidity while the Mediterranean plants are happy in drier environments.

Image above: I love the botanical illustrations sprinkled throughout the book. The caption reads “The hardy cyclamen is a native of the Mediterranean shores. The more tender Cyclamen persicum is a parent of our modern house plant.”

Suggested For You


  • You make this book sound magical! Pretty sure this is the most perfect “just because” book for my green-thumbed best friend!

  • I didn’t know there was a new edition of this well-worn classic that’s been on my shelf forever (and now available for a tuppence on Amazon!) The photo of the gent admiring the juniper is so British but shouldn’t scare general readers off. He really knows his stuff. A good soup-to-nuts book on the art and practice of making gardens. Thanks for the alert to the new edition.

  • Another wonderful book on gardening…one man’s experience..is “Down The Garden Path” by Beverley Nichols. First published in 1932 in England, it is entertaining, amusing and oh so true!