Read This: Gardens Are for Living by Judy Kameon

Gardens Are for Living

Southern California is all about outdoor living, and its sunny, retro-modern vibe appeals to many Austinites, including myself. Although their summer sun is a Legoland version of the Death Star and frost rarely nips their tender plants, we Austinites with a modernist bent can find much inspiration in their gardens: their architectural agaves and yuccas, raw steel and poured-concrete hardscaping, gravel patios casually furnished with potted succulents, tree-hung lanterns, colorfully cushioned seating, and, on the tile-top table, a salad picked fresh from the garden.

If this vision appeals, wherever you live, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Gardens Are for Living: Design Inspiration for Outdoor Spaces and pore over its eye-candy photographs of beautifully designed, sink-in-and-stay-a-while gardens. Author Judy Kameon, founder of Los Angeles-based Elysian Landscapes, believes in using the garden, in living in it on a daily basis, and so her designs emphasize “people places” — the indoor-outdoor connection, seating areas, passageways through the garden — as much as plants, although her floral palette is thoughtfully bold and dramatic. She also advocates resizing or ripping out the “neutral, nonthreatening” and purposeless front lawn in favor of a “beautiful courtyard entrance, a private patio to inhabit, or bold compositions of plants” that use less water and give back more enjoyment.


Kameon writes that she loves to entertain friends and family, and she gives that aspect of garden living equal treatment in her book, including recipes, community art projects, and play-space ideas. With chapter titles like “Putting Out the Welcome Mat,” “Homegrown Food & Flowers,” “Cooking in the Garden,” “Art in the Landscape,” “Places for Play,” and “The Joy of Relaxation,” Kameon works her way with ease and assurance through the various pleasures of outdoor living and design, offering illustrative photos and engaging personal anecdotes along the way.


Human activity and enjoyment are very much at the heart of her design aesthetic. She comes at it with an artist’s eye. “Since gardens are by their very nature a fabrication — a human manipulation of the natural world — they afford great opportunities for artistic license,” she writes.


Fantasy and romance…


…exploration and play…


…laughter with friends and moments of serenity — all of these, she promises, can be yours in a garden that invites you to live outdoors. While the Southern California climate obviously helps with that, Kameon devotes her final chapter to creating California style in other parts of the country, from Manhattan to New Orleans to Austin. Local readers will be pleased (and left wanting more) to see several photos of Austin designer Mark Word‘s gardens in this section.

“California,” Kameon says, “is a state of mind,” and after reading her book I’m already there.

Disclosure: I purchased this book and reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion. All images © Gardens Are For Living: Design Inspiration for Outdoor Spaces by Judy Kameon, Rizzoli New York, 2014.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

11 Responses

  1. Alison says:

    This looks like a book after my own heart. The statement that you quoted about artistic license explains how I got beyond my sense of design paralysis in my own garden. It’s how I managed to stop caring if it was “designed right.” It’s MY garden! No one has to love it but me.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      That’s a good point, Alison. A lot of people, even experienced gardeners, let fear of what the neighbors will think stop them from gardening in the front yard. But really, who cares? Your yard is your own canvas, and I believe that many more people appreciate creativity and plant-rich beauty versus the same old weary lawn. —Pam

  2. I’ve got to get a copy. Sounds like my kind of book. Thank you for the review.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Let me know what you think after you read it, Gerhard. I’d love a Southern Californian’s viewpoint of this book, which inspires a lot of SoCal lust in my own heart. —Pam

  3. Lori says:

    Oooh, I am definitely gonna need to check this out.

  4. Jean says:

    That looks fabulous and my idea of bliss. I love the concept of living outdoors but the reality down here is that we have to deal with heat and mosquitoes. And sometimes weather that’s way too cold. But for those few months of bliss… I would love that look. BTW, a friend of mine is opening a restaurant and Mark Word is doing the landscaping. In fact, you probably know the friend. Will PM that info if you’re interested.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Yes, curses on our heat and bugs! And humidity. Ah well, no place is perfect, and we do enjoy a lovely fall and spring and even many beautiful winter days in the Deep South.

      It’s very cool that your friend is opening a restaurant, especially one with landscaping designed by the talented Mark Word. —Pam

  5. Pam, this sounds like a great book, and I love her take on the front lawn. Glad you wrote about it. I’ll be looking it up.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Evelyn. Yes, Judy’s outlook on the front lawn is congenial to those of us advocating for less lawn. She has a wonderful sense of style that’s showcased throughout the book. I think you’d enjoy it. —Pam

  6. Bob Beyer says:

    Ah bribery, works every time where a wonderful garden book is involved :-)

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