The Collector’s Garden: Designing With Extraordinary Plants by Ken Druse

One of the gardening goals I find most elusive is to create a garden that is more than just a collection of plants but actually a cohesive whole. The Collector’s Garden: Designing With Extraordinary Plants by Ken Druse demonstrates that even obsessed collectors can also create gardens that are beautifully designed.

Druse, a noted garden writer and photographer, takes a look at the various kinds of plant collectors: aesthetes, specialists, missionaries and hunters, as he styles them. Some specialize in old roses, others in trilliums or desert plants, others in finding plants new to commerce by traveling to Asia or South America and bringing back specimens.  An overview of the gardens and gardeners is accompanied by gorgeous photos, including many close-ups of plants as well as the sweeps and drifts of a successfully designed garden. The gardens are as extraordinary as the obsessed gardeners. I was particularly struck by three of them.

 Lauren Springer designed a garden in Denver that takes into account the severe weather and lack of rain found there. The resulting prairie/mountain garden features a number of plants that would work well in drought-ridden Virginia, I think. I loved the way she filled up every inch of her front yard with mostly low-growing perennials and shrubs.

Nancy Goodwin moved to Hillsborough, North Carolina, which she carefully selected as a good gardening location despite the heat and drought common to the area. The photos here show a blue garden that manages to look lush despite its dryness and another garden with sweeps of orange, yellow and chartreuse set off by black sweet potato vine used as a groundcover.

At Wave Hill in the Bronx the emphasis, at least in this book, is on the late summer-early autumn garden, where leaf shape is just as important as color. This appeals to me as a Virginia gardener because summer can be so hellacious here that you don't want to set foot in the garden until the weather breaks. The onset of cooler weather, as we're experiencing this week at last, makes hope spring up again. And, of course, the autumnal plants like asters, grasses, salvias, and sedums are beautiful in themselves.

 Although some of the gardens mentioned here have changed or disappeared since the book was published, they live on in Druse’s remarkable photos.  Whether you’re a collector or a designer, you’re likely to find this inspiring.

Listen to Ken Druse's weekly podcast, Real Dirt, here.