WHEN planning a garden, a designer must consider many elements. Is the goal to create a controlled, traditional appearance or one of wild spontaneity? How should the space, landscape materials, plants, color, and garden furnishings be combined for the best results? This selection of recent books offers imaginative ideas for just about every stage in the design process. The space
In The Exuberant Garden and the Controlling Hand, (Little Brown, 342 pp., $50) landscape architect William H. Frederick Jr. approaches design with an eye for space and how plants can reinforce and complement the spacial organization of different garden types.
This highly personal book is one man's culling of ideas from 50 years of experience, peppered with espousals of his own design philosophy. It is an outgrowth of the author's conviction that "Americans are ready for a close relationship with highly personalized gardens based on a uniquely American design philosophy."
The portfolio format in the first half of the book contains 13 case studies of private gardens from his commissions. The second half is a comprehensive collection of useful appendixes, including Frederick's favorite 600 plants. Thirteen readable color plans, 236 color photographs, and numerous line drawings enhance the author's message.
For designing a specific yard space, Mary Riley Smith's The Front Garden: New Approaches to Landscape Design (Houghton Miffin, 192 pp., $27.95) is accessible for homeowner and professional alike. "The front yard, often anonymous and underused, has been left to languish," Smith laments as she bangs the drum for homeowners to transform their front yards into beautiful, personal, usable spaces.
Beginning with a review of American front-yard traditions (such as the ornamental role of the front door), Smith continues with a discussion of how to evaluate the front-yard space. One engaging chapter focuses on the approach from street to front door - the homeowner's transition from public to private space. "Paths are an invitation to the mind and feet to follow along, to see what is ahead. The line of the path, as well as its pattern, is important," she notes in this playful, yet practical, discussio n. The book ends with an examination of nine successful front yards - ranging from a wheat field in suburban Virginia to Japanese and Mediterranean courtyards. Black-and-white plans and practical color photographs enrich this well-organized, well-written compendium. Inanimate design elements
As the overall garden plan begins to emerge on the drawing board, the designer considers how to treat and fill the spaces. Stone can provide a ground plane for a garden, and Stonescaping: A Guide to Using Stone in Your Garden, by Jan Kowalczewski Whitner (Garden Way, 162 pp., $27.95 cloth, $17.95 paper), is an enticing how-to book containing ideas for using stone in paths, walls, sculpture, and terraces. Whitner begins with a fascinating discussion of the traditional use of stone in Western and Asian gar dens. For example, the Japanese thought rocks were alive and growing: "Pebbles were believed to have evolved over the course of centuries into the massive boulders which litter the Japanese landscape. The early Japanese also believed that stones were the bones of dragons," she writes.
But the bulk of the book is devoted to specific design ideas and clear, technical details on constructing with stone. "Stonescaping" includes useful sketches, but its Spartan collection of fine photographs leaves the reader longing for more.
The prize for this season's most delightful and innovative garden books goes to The Library of Garden Detail collection: The Garden Gate, by Rosemary Verey; The Garden Path, by Patrick Taylor; The Garden Bench, by Mirabel Osler; and The Garden Trellis, by Roy Strong (Simon & Schuster, 64 pp. each, $9.95 each).
Small enough to tuck into a pocket, each book in this garden "nutshell library" focuses on a built element for the garden. Although practical in content, the real purpose of these inspiring essays by well-known garden experts is to help the reader appreciate the more poetic side of these garden "jewels" - all of which have rich histories. Readers learn in "The Garden Path," for example, that in China "the influential gardening manual Yuan Yeh (1634) recommends that 'the paths meander like playing cats,' " while Westerner William Lawson in "A New Orchard and Garden" (1618) recommended a far different course. "Universallie walks are straight," he wrote. Here is the perfect companion for a leisurely hour beneath a sheltering tree. Delicate miniature photographs enliven the text. Designing with plants
The first half of Garden Design with Foliage: Ferns and Grasses, Vines and Ground Covers, Annuals and Perennials, Trees and Shrubs, by Judy Glattstein (Garden Way, 216 pp., $29.95 cloth, $17.95 paper), offers novel insights into the subtle design elements found among foliage. Glattstein analyzes the importance of leaf form, shape, texture, pattern, and color, and discusses how they change with the seasons. Color drawings offer plans for shady, wetland, dry, and sandy gardens. But despite the strong start , the book fall short in the second half: The rather common plant dictionary could have been more closely tied to the analysis in part one.
In Gardening with Color (Random House, 144 pp., $30), Mary Keen focuses on a very specific aspect of garden design, and takes it to a refined level. "Color, which is fleeting, gives a planting its character, like an expression on a face," she writes. "It is that expression of character and mood in a garden that this book hopes to inspire."
Keen instructs gardeners on how to combine the "paints" from a palette of flowers, and includes 18 planting plans for ornamental gardens. Note that there is only limited discussion of the role of height, time of blooming, soil conditions, etc.
Two final chapters focus on mixing colors and seasonal colors. The photographs provide a dazzling display of color combinations.
In Landscaping with Wildflowers: An Environmental Approach to Gardening (Houghton Mifflin, 244 pp., $35), Jim Wilson reflects a recent landscaping trend born out of an environmental ethic. The author pays less attention to traditional garden design goals and more to ecology, soils, color, and spontaneity. "So many gardens disclose everything at first glance - they are constant, predictable, pat. Not mine. It has mystery, surprise, contradiction, movement, drama. I could never have planned it that way, an d I rejoice in its sweetly chaotic spontaneity," he writes.
Among other things, readers learn about siting a meadow, clearing meadows of weeds, and meadow maintenance. The author offers plenty of practical advice and photographs and includes a chapter on wildflowers that attract butterflies and birds. Here is a refreshing perspective that explores new ground.