Read This: Gardenista


I got behind with my self-declared Book Review Week last week, but I’m back on track today with my review of Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces (2016, Artisan) by Michelle Slatalla. Since it was a fall release, I’d hoped I might find it under the Christmas tree, but I ended up buying my own copy after the holidays and have been savoring it for weeks.

Lushly illustrated with photos of beautiful patios and outdoor living spaces — in which plants play a significant, if not starring, role — the book provides plenty of eye candy. My favorite part of the book, “Thirteen Gardens We Love,” showcases a variety of well-designed gardens with a decidedly verdant and romantic ambience — mostly urban patio gardens, with a few larger properties thrown in — in detailed, 10- to 16-page spreads. The glowing, Instagram-worthy images are punctuated with a short intro about each garden and captions explaining key design elements, followed by a 2-page spread called “Steal This Look,” which calls out aspects of the design that create a certain style, like Moroccan Modern and Rustic Glamour, to name two.

All of the gardens featured in this section are in New England, mostly New York and Massachusetts (6); London, England (3); and California (3); with one exception — a welcome surprise! — from Austin, Texas (Christy Ten Eyck‘s garden, which I’ve photographed myself several times). I would have preferred more variety in locations, but I enjoyed each garden anyway and lingered over the images.

That’s half the book. The next two chapters feature, respectively, the use of color in the garden and 8 “creative ways to get more from your garden,” and there’s plenty to admire here too. The following chapter, Design Ideas, I found least useful, even simplistically silly, in showing how to create a few outdoor projects. For example, a “simple outdoor sink” is suggested as a project for a DIY garden workspace, but what’s shown is a galvanized bucket placed under an existing faucet — or a faucet that you’ve had a plumber install (i.e., not very DIY). On page 301, the author suggests using a propped-up pitchfork as an impromptu hose-sprayer support for irrigation. Um, no. And Christy Ten Eyck’s rustic-elegant outdoor shower constructed of wire mesh (page 304) is described as a DIY-friendly “Simplest Shower.” I’ve asked Christy about that exact wire mesh and learned you’d need to be a skilled welder or hire one to recreate her McNichols mesh outdoor shower enclosure.

Aside from those stumbles of oversimplification, there’s plenty to interest those who like to style outdoor spaces with a similar attention to detail as the interior, as well as anyone who enjoys paging through pictures of lovely gardens, learning about the gardeners who created them, and getting inspiration for their own gardens. And if the book whets your appetite for more garden gorgeousness, you can always pop online and surf Gardenista’s website, a sister site to the hugely popular Remodelista.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The first talk with Scott Ogden has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added. Subscribers get 24-hour advance notification when tickets go on sale for these limited-attendance events.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

21 Responses

  1. I go to Gardenista on a regular basis and find many inspiring photos but am constantly annoyed at misinformation or just stupid ideas like the pitchfork. I think their ideas of DYI are not all that helpful and they tend to show gardens that take talent and money or are “Brooklyn-hobo.” I am going to read my library’s copy of this one.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Showing gardens that take talent and money is probably why they have such beautiful photos. :) But I totally agree it’s a setup for disappointment when it’s implied that a DIYer can achieve similar results. Your comment about Brooklyn-hobo cracked me up. I’m going to Google that and see what comes up! (Or did you mean Brooklyn-boho?) —Pam

  2. Laura Munoz says:

    The photo on the book’s cover is lovely as well. Not sure if this is a book I will buy since most of the gardens aren’t in this area of the country, and the DIY projects aren’t seriously DIY or aren’t that useful. Still, to publish a book is an accomplishment so kudos to Michelle Slatala.

    Where is the book on garden design for Texas and/or the south?–One that accommodates both designers and DIY’ers, various garden styles, and covers the diverse regions of Texas? Does one exist?

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Not that I know of, Laura. There’s Native Texas Gardens: Maximum Beauty Minimum Upkeep by Sally Wasowski and Andy Wasowski (Taylor Trade Publishing), which was groundbreaking when it came out in 2003 in showing how to design with native Texas plants, but the focus is almost exclusively naturalistic in style and, of course, limited to native plants.

      I like the Sunset garden design books, many of which I’ve reviewed (see my book review listings), which I find very inspirational, even if many of the plants aren’t suitable for our region. Design ideas can be gleaned from any number of books even when the focus is on other regions of the country.

      But I totally agree with you that it would be more satisfying, inspirational, and educational to read a garden design book focused entirely on our region. Unfortunately, niche books have a harder time finding a publisher and staying in print. I like to think my blog fills that role to a certain degree, and maybe I just need to organize my links and listings better so readers can find all the many gardens of various styles that I’ve posted about over the years. —Pam

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Also, Central Texas Gardener TV show (episodes available online as well) has given us a wealth of inspiration about regional garden design, both pro and DIY, over the years. —Pam

      • Laura Munoz says:

        I agree, Central Texas Gardener is terrific. I watch it online constantly. I’m also always looking at your blog and your comprehensive blog links. All of this to say that garden design doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of a book.

        I have one of Wasowski & Wasowski’s books and checked the other one out from the library a while back.

        • Pam/Digging says:

          Thank you, Laura, for being a regular reader of Digging. :) And let me know if you find the book you’re looking for, or another great source for Texas garden design. —Pam

  3. That propped-up pitchfork idea? I saw it in use at the Kew Gardens.

    Re: Linda’s comment about misinformation on their website…YES! It amazes me sometimes (disappoints may have been a better word choice).

  4. Kris P says:

    Thanks for the great – and balanced – review, Pam. I’m rather a collector when it comes to garden books but I’ve hesitated on this one. You tipped the scales toward buy, despite the criticisms, but this is till one I probably need to check out in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore prior to purchase.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I admit I hesitated on this one too, Kris. It’s not an inexpensive book, but now that I’ve read it I see why. It’s simply packed with large, color images, and that doesn’t come cheap. —Pam

  5. Wendy Moore says:

    You had me at “eye candy”, I’ll have to buy this one. I’m a bit of a garden book collector like Kris P, but the instant gratification side of me now loves blogs and gardening websites! You can search and zoom and Pin, and you never have to dust! :-)

  6. Matt Mattus says:

    Pam – Your post reminded me that I had this book in my Amazon que, but like others, I’ve hesitated a bit in ordering it because of cost and well, February seems like the perfect time to snug down with some good garden inspiration. Usually, books feature Californian or garden designs which I cannot apply at home, but since I do live in New England, you’ve sold me! Of course, Gardenista rocks, so from a design perspective, it is bound to provide some interest.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I have to admit, I’d never thought there was a shortage of gardening books about New England. You’ll find plenty of beautiful gardens from your region in Gardenista. Happy reading, Matt! —Pam

  7. Han says:

    Sigh…More New England, more tiny and mostly irrelevant to the rest of the country’s landscaping. While nice, just a yawner for so much of America. And these New England gardens are so full of non-natives, when so much of America’s gardens and landscapes demand natives for heat and drought tolerance it is hard to grasp how New England can be so cavalier about their use.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Han, I’m in agreement that too often New England gardens are heavily featured in publications while other regions of the country, especially drier regions, are ignored. But even as a Texan who focuses on waterwise plants, I enjoyed this book’s focus on creating stylish outdoor spaces. It’s more about creating beautiful outdoor living areas — porches, patios, garden seating, etc. — and less about specific plant choices. Frivolous perhaps, but fun for those who enjoy decorating and creating appealing places to sit and enjoy the garden.

      I hope you’ll check back this week for my review of a book that may be more appealing if you garden in the Southwest and like to grow natives and attract wildlife: Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest. It’s a good one! —Pam

      • Han says:

        I see, but the overemphasis on New England landscapes/gardens – such a small part of this country’s landscape- is way out of proportion to what so many Americans are dealing with in localised landscape conditions. What’s more curious -from what I see in these books and on PBS home this Old House is an odd conventionalism in how landscapes are designed, and installed, and I don’t see these spaces in this book as ‘stylish’ per se. As an 8th generation Southerner and land worker, the techniques employed to install these New England landscapes seem very heavy on energy use and effort, less on real sustainable approach that like the South’s truly conservative historic methods relied on less movement and effort and wiser approach, often with less mechanisation. Even today I employ very little mechanisation and energy when installing landscapes or commencing landmanagement issues. I thought people in New England were more ‘progressive’ in these regards of style and method, but I’m not seeing it. Don’t take my words wrong, but after 5 decades of publications from gardens in Connecticut and having their plant catalogues foisted on us in the South, etc -with plants that failed miserably and people wasting money on them- it’s time the the real American gardens and landscapes are publicised.

        • Pam/Digging says:

          Thanks for your thoughtful response, Han. I am TOTALLY with you on “overemphasis on New England landscapes/gardens” — it’s one of the reasons I started this blog, after all. I agree that a narrow New England (and, I’d add, Pacific Northwest) vision of what a garden should be has been foisted upon those of us in the rest of the country for far too long. That said, I did enjoy the beautiful garden spaces pictured in this book, which include the sustainably-created and -maintained Ten Eyck garden here in Austin, and that’s why I recommended it.

          I have to say, you’ve piqued my interest in knowing more about northern vs. southern garden installation techniques. Have you ever written about this, or can you point me to more info about it? I’m curious to know more. —Pam

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