The Amazon Man Cometh

Reading time 6 minutes


Oh dear. Him Indoors has gone skiing and left me alone, at home, with only my credit card for company. It’s dangerous territory, and we both know it. Just ten minutes on Amazon earlier this week and I had parted with the best part of £100 on books that I haven’t really got time to read. But, what belters they are, every one of them a masterpiece crafted from board, paper and ink. I felt I had to share them with you here, and free of charge.



First out of the box was Landscape of Dreams by Julian and Isabel Bannerman. A luminous tome in every respect, the pages guide the reader through a series of sublime gardens created by the couple over a period of thirty years. Isabel and Julian have worked for many prestigious clients and are garden designers by appointment to HRH The Price of Wales. Yet it’s in their own gardens at Hanham Court, Somerset and Tremanton Castle, Cornwall that they have created the most magical landscapes. I kick myself now that I never visited Hanham Court, just a few minutes’ drive from my parents’ house, when they were still gardening there*. If the pictures are anything to go by, it was a little piece of heaven on earth. A visit to Tremanton is on the cards later this year and my excitement is already mounting. Just a few pages of this book before bedtime are guaranteed to have you dreaming of finding a forgotten house in a secret garden, the same fantasy that has fuelled the Bannermans’ imagination throughout their glittering career.



When I think of Michael Hestletine, back in the news headlines this week, I think of many things: gardening is not one of them. It was a surprise, therefore, to discover that the former Deputy Prime Minister has been busy creating a notable garden and arboretum at his home in Northamptonshire. Writing with his wife, Anne, Thenford: The Creation of an English Garden is a detailed and lavishly illustrated account of creating a garden from an area of wild, overgrown woodland surrounding a beautiful Italianate house. Judging by the first chapter, written by Anne, it promises to be a cracking read.



Since I’ve had a lectern on which to display large format books, I have been on the scout for more. Botanicum, written by Professor Kathy Willis and illustrated by Katie Scott, instantly attracted me with its generous proportions, easy prose and stylised botanical drawings. If a book like Botanicum had existed when I was a lad, I would have devoured it. As it is, I am happy to do so now, re-learning what I had long forgotten about carnivorous plants, mangrove forests, Victoria amazonica, flower structures, cycads, Gingko biloba and Carboniferous forests. Take my advice and don’t delay buying yourself a copy; if you have friends with children, but them a copy too. Botanicum deserves to become a classic.



At the bottom of the box, and this one’s a real indulgence, was Plant: Exploring the Botanical World, published by Phaidon. A glossy, embossed cover displays a collage of illustrated ‘petals’ arranged like a flower. Inside, a panel of experts has paired examples of botanical art to ‘create thought-provoking juxtapositions’. The result is fascinating in many ways. Apart from anything else, the sheer diversity of styles in which humankind has recorded and represented plants and flowers is staggering: for example, one double page spread places an illustration of Pyrus pyrifolia (Asian Pear) rendered in tempera on pear wood alongside gelatin silver prints of cultivated pears photographed c. 1901-20. Early in the book I have already marvelled at Franz Bauer’s exquisite depiction of Strelitzia reginae c. 1818 and Macoto Murayama’s 3D rendering of a rose, created in 2008. This books alone provides motivation enough to start a botanical art collection.



Was my £98.07 well spent? I’d say so. These aren’t just any old books, they’re in a league of their own. All I need now is the gift of time in which to enjoy them.

*The current custodians of Hanham Court open the gardens for the NGS and Rare Plant Fairs. Check here for details.


Categories: Book Reviews, Flowers, Foliage, Garden Design, Photography, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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20 comments On "The Amazon Man Cometh"

  1. Two out of four, are on the way to me, along with The Thoughtful Gardener, Paul Bengay’s Country Gardens, Gardens of the High Line, Floret Farms Cut Flower Garden, Urban Flowers, and The Living Jigsaw is in shopping cart. It’s been an expensive wait for spring, though some of these aren’t coming out till summer. So exciting to open those long awaited packages.

  2. Hubba. These are gorgeous, #1 & #3 particularly. (Once upon a time, I was up for a job in a herbarium. The best of all possible worlds…a librarian for plants. Fate intervened.) I will add then to my wishlist.

  3. I did visit Hanham Court whilst the Bannermans were there it was indeed a great garden I particularly recall the most enormous delphiniums I have ever seen! Enjoy your weekend home alone with your carton of books!

    1. Thanks Anne. I suspect the delphiniums came from Blackmore and Langdon, who are not so far away from Hanham. They are the nursery that stage those staggering / jarring displays of blue delphiniums and orange, yellow and red begonias at Chelsea.

  4. OMG…. u and c/c…..disaster for bank balance but joy for you and Amazon….even if you don’t get to read them straight away they will look wonderful in the library. 👏👏👏👏

      1. Ohhh I do love a good lawn!!! Why do we always covert what we can’t have😢

  5. Oh dear indeed! I could have written that first paragraph, except my OH only has to go in the other room, not on a plane and up a mountain.
    Most recent purchase of mine was prompted by struggling with the French version of Gardens of Marrakech from the hotel’s wonderful library on my trip a fortnight ago. Next thing I knew i’d popped it into my basket while I was still sitting on the terrace with a beautiful view of the Atlas Mountains. And guess what? Time constraints since I’ve returned home mean the package isn’t even opened yet – and now you’re tempting by me with more visual treasures!

  6. Now you’re tempting me down even more forbidden paths. I have no-one here to prevent me from misuse of credit card, so need a will of iron if I am to remain solvent. Have just taken delivery of some hellebores, so must open them and stop drooling over the books. Look forward to your next opening, 2018?

    1. Yes, 2018 officially. If we are in the mood, and the garden is looking good, we might do a ‘flash’ opening this year. For the NGS we have to commit so far in advance, which is quite tricky with our lifestyle. If we do anything, I’ll publicise via the blog and Facebook page. Enjoy those hellebores 🙂

  7. What gorgeous-looking books. I’m having to be exceedingly strong-willed not to order any of them – all spare cash we have at the moment is going on plants 🙂 I will put Botanicum on my birthday list… I hope you find the time to enjoy these beauties.

  8. What a great choice of books; money very well spent. I heard Julian and Isabel Bannerman speak at the Chelsea Physic Garden last November along with Arne Maynard and Diarmuid Gavin. Fabulous garden designers all of them. I was tempted by the book you bought. But at the last count I had 389 gardening books, I really shouldn’t buy any more.
    I went to see Michael Heseltine’ s garden many years ago and he had just planted an enormous number of trees. I would love to see it now when they will have matured.

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