Inspiring Landscape Ideas

I’ve been pouring through the new edition of the Sunset Western Garden Book of Landscaping: The Complete Guide to Beautiful Paths, Patios, Plantings and More. This book is hot off the press, having been published in February of 2014. It complements the Sunset’s New Western Garden Book (9th edition, February 2012), which is about plants.

The book provides over 600 color photographs of gardens in the western states, with ideas for home gardeners and landscape professionals. It is organized under five headings: Gardens, Structures, Plants, Finishing Touches, and Planning. Each section visits numerous topics, illustrating each in one-to-eight pages of comments and captioned photographs. The text identifies almost all plants that are shown, and the excellent index lists them all as well.

Each topic could motivate the reader to seek detailed information in other sources.

Editor Kathleen Norris Brenzel notes that the book is primarily about inspiration, with an underlying theme of earth-friendly, sustainable design. In a brief introduction, landscape architect William R. Marken defines sustainability as basic to the “new golden age of landscape design,” which has grown out of Thomas Church’s four principles:

  • Unity of house and garden;
  • Function, serving household needs;
  • Simplicity, considering both costs and aesthetics;
  • Scale, relating the parts of the landscape.

Sustainability involves judicious uses of water, fertilizers and pesticides, as well as native plants, earth-friendly materials, and attention to the landscape’s climate, topography, soil and exposure to sun and wind. This book endorses sustainability, but avid gardeners will need other sources for practical advice.

The book’s greatest strength takes the form of striking photographic vignettes of exemplary landscapes. The photos show mostly nicely groomed small areas and even individual plants. Every garden has shortcomings from time to time but why would we want to see those?

The scenes shown in the book are consistently contemporary and relatively upscale, many with pools, lakesides and beachfronts Rather than presenting a documentary exploration of average landscapes, the book offers glimpses of inspirational settings that a reader could translate into his or her own environs.

Consider Church’s Scale principle when installing an assertively modern element in a traditional garden. (A friend recently persuaded me to install a huge surplus mirror in my garden. I like it, but I’m still reflecting on the aesthetics.)

This book is a great source of forward-looking ideas for your home’s landscape, and could encourage a fresh approach to your garden.


To pursue an interest in contemporary landscaping in the western United States, a good place to start is Thomas Dolliver Church’s seminal work, Gardens Are For People (San Francisco: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1983). This book is widely available in public libraries and in book stores that reserve shelf space for classics as well as today’s best sellers.

A brief introduction to Church’s work as a landscape designer and academician is available the Wikipedia page for Thomas Church. His work included several private residences in Santa Cruz county (including his own home), and overseeing the master landscaping plan for the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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