The New Traditional Garden: A Guide to Creating an Authentic American Garden Right in Your Own Backyard

The New Traditional Garden: A Guide to Creating an Authentic American Garden Right in Your Own Backyard


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There's a quiet revolution taking place in the gardens of America as homeowners turn their backs on uninteresting cookie-cutter gardens and choose instead to create idyllic landscapes that mesh harmoniously with their homes. At the forefront of this revolution is nationally respected landscape designer and horticulturist Michael Weishan.

In The New Traditional Garden, Weishan lays down the principles for creating—either from scratch or from the ghosts of a lost garden—a domestic landscape with purpose and personality. Lavishly illustrated with more than 200 period engravings, garden designs, and plant drawings, The New Traditional Garden will change the way you look at the landscape and your home.

About the Author:
Michael Weishan is a nationally known horticulturist, landscape designer, and garden historian. He is publisher of the quarterly magazine Traditional Gardening, writes a monthly gardening column for Country Living, and owns and operates Garden Works, Ltd. Of Southborough, MA, a design/build firm specializing in creating historically accurate landscapes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345420411
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/21/1999
Pages: 337
Product dimensions: 7.70(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.42(d)

About the Author

Michael Weishan is a nationally known horticulturist and garden designer who is featured every week on National Public Radio's "Living on Earth," a one-hour gardening program. Weishan owns and operates GardenWorks, Ltd., specializing in historically accurate landscapes. He has developed gardens for the 1720 Gold Ball Tavern in Weston, Massachusetts, early 19th-century whaling cottages in Mattapoisett and Nantucket, carpenter Gothic houses in the Midwest, high Victorian mansions in Cambridge and Boston, and neoclassical revivals in Concord, Massachusetts. He publishes his own newsletter, "Traditional Gardening," and has written for numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, Old House Journal, and Woman's World. He lives in an 1850s fully restored farmhouse and grounds called Stoneybrook Farm in Southborough, Massachusetts.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Read an Excerpt

Looking back, I find that I became a gardener by default. Most people who garden choose to do so deliberately, either as avocation or vocation, but neither of those pursuits was my conscious choice. I certainly never intended to make landscape design my career, nor did my passion for historic gardens and gardening make itself immediately apparent to me. In fact, I was trained in the classics and Romance languages, and I had had every intention of going into the foreign service, as my great friend and mentor, my grandfather, had done. His far-flung assignments always seemed to hold great glamour. Although my grandfather told me many times that the realities of diplomatic life were quite different, I was never one to be too bothered by such unromantic notions, and didn't pay much attention.

Thus I spent four years at Harvard studying Latin, Greek, Arabic, German, Italian, and French, along with the art, history, and literature of all these cultures. When all was said and done, I was an expensively educated young man, good at witty cocktail conversation in multiple languages, but seemingly without practical, or at least employable, skills. Nor was the prospect of my chosen profession, the diplomatic corps, looking too promising: the time period (the mid-1980s) was not exactly an ideal one for liberal-minded diplomats abroad, and in any event, upon closer examination, the day-to-day work of the average foreign service agent was beginning to appear as remarkably unappealing as my grandfather had described.

So I found myself in a holding pattern after college; I looked around for work and was fortunate enough to land a position as an editorial assistant at the SardisArchaeological Expedition. This turned out to be a wonderful job, with a terrific boss who taught me all about the writing and editorial processes and gave me a chance to work on projects that most low-level editorial people never get to see. This first foray into the world of books was destined to bear a very late harvest, however, because a chance meeting soon took me out of publishing for many years. While I was at Sardis, I managed a small flock of student aides who helped us with the manuscripts. One of my unlikeliest "student" employees was a former Wall Street banker who had decided to give up the world of finance to become a minister. I was 20, you understand, and he was in his early fifties, a member of one of Boston's wealthy, old families.

His role in this tale is crucial, because one day he arrived quite late, profferring as excuse the problems he was having at his suburban house with the local landscape contractor. The property was large, with a rambling turn-of-the-century house; he and his wife felt that the plans they had commissioned didn't solve several important concerns. Oh, I said, why not try X, Y, and Z? Astonished, he asked how I knew anything about this subject. The answer was that besides a love of exotic travel and foreign lands, I had also inherited my grandfather's love of gardens and gardening. Gramps at one point had had quite an extensive garden, and between his other responsibilities, he had managed to find time to become a fairly well known grower of irises and daylilies. As a child, I had always worked with Grandpa in the garden--it just seemed the natural thing to do. This is what I meant when I said that I never really "chose" to garden. Grandpa gardened, I spent time with Grandpa, therefore I gardened. Besides, didn
't all children spend hours helping to water and weed, dig and drag, then dash in precisely at three to see the latest edition of Thalassa Cruso's wonderful PBS series Making Things Grow? (I have always loved the title of that program--how typically, proactively British--things didn't grow of their own accord, you made them, but that's a whole other story.) I spent many happy years in my grandfather's garden, learning how to plant and prune, to start new beds, to cultivate, and to harvest. We toured other people's gardens as well, and the two of us were something of a regular feature at the Boerner Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee. I think at one point I was the youngest-ever member of the American Iris Society. I took all this as a matter of course. Nor was Gramps the only gardener in our family--I have very distinct early memories of planting four-o'clocks with my mother by the back door, and of helping my father set up the wire cages for his precious tomatoes. I can see him as if it were yesterday, heading out to the garden with a salt shaker in hand to merrily munch his tomatoes (and doing his best to hide the shaker from my mother, who insisted he consumed too much salt). In my family, we all gardened. It was just natural. I helped at home with our garden, I helped Gramps with his, and I even tended my own: Gramps actually gave me my very own plot behind the garage, and at age 13, I laid out my first garden.

All this is a somewhat prolix explanation of how I discovered I was able to tell my minister friend how to fix his garden problems. All my study of history and the arts, and the thousands of hours in the garden with a master gardener, suddenly converged. At that moment, almost without my permission, my career in historic landscape design began. So delighted were my friend and his wife with the solutions I proposed that they invited me out the very next weekend to ask me to take on their project. Gardening had always seemed like such a natural activity for me that for some reason the thought had never crossed my mind that I might actually get paid to design gardens. What fun! So out I went on weekends and finished their project. Then they recommended me to their friends, who sent me to theirs, until suddenly I was having a very hard time fitting all this landscape activity around a nine-to-five job in publishing. With fond regrets and no little bit of trepidation at setting out on my own, I bid the archaeological world adieu and started my firm, GardenWorks Ltd.

That was in 1988, and since then my practice has grown tremendously, sending me all over the country designing, building, and restoring gardens. By inclination and training (by the latter I mean my background in European history and art), I had always favored a more traditional style of garden, but it wasn't until several years later that I began to specialize in re-creating the traditional American garden. And somewhere along the line, recalling the fun I had had at Sardis, it occurred to me that writing about old gardens would make an interesting adjunct to my practice. So I started a magazine, Traditional Gardening, which has grown from a small start-up into a nationally circulated quarterly providing practical information on every aspect of creating and restoring classic American gardens.

The New Traditional Garden is the culmination of all these experiences. At its simplest, the book deals with the development of a distinctly American style of gardening--the story of how we used to till, cultivate, and ornament our homes and grounds, and the lessons these old practices might teach us about our own yards today. For in my years of researching, writing about, designing, and building gardens, I have made a very important discovery: our own horticultural past can help make almost every modern American garden not only more beautiful and functional but also more useful and enjoyable, whether these landscapes accompany old houses or brand-new ones.

The New Traditional Garden will take you through the process of creating (or re-creating) a landscape that is not only pleasing and productive but at the same time is appropriate for your home. It is intended for every American gardener. And though I've made a special attempt to address the particular needs of experienced gardeners looking to re-create historic landscapes, someone completely new to the subject will likewise feel at home, as will the professional designer or landscaper. This book is not all-inclusive--a single work on such a vast subject could never be. But it is my firm belief that every gardener--from window-box planter to estate owner--can benefit from the knowledge of our American gardening past. As in all things, we have much to learn by looking backward from time to time.

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