A week after I got a copy of Overgrown: Practices between Landscape Architecture and Gardening in the mail, special ordered from the Big Bad, I received a few Facebook messages from the phenomenal Ann Amato - “Have you read this book? It sounds great…” Great minds - at least those interested in phenomenology and place (and gardens) seem to run on parallel tracks.
I don’t know how I’d missed this book’s publication. Perhaps because I’m very bad about actually reading materials from ASLA, the landscape architects’ society?
But, once I got into it, I was very pleased with this book.
I hadn’t heard of Julian Raxworthy before reading this book. Despite my enthusiasm for subtropical landscapes, I don’t know that much about gardens in the southern hemisphere. Throughout my five years of landscape architecture school, my only instruction about about landscapes south of the equator was in summary discussions of the dandelion water features in Sydney (thanks to Jeannette Ciesyzkowski) and articles by James Corner (who is an honorary American at this point). I’m trying to learn more post-design school, but there seems to be a weird disconnect between subtropical horticulture in the United States and that of the rest of the world.
Overgrown attempts to tarmac over that knowledge gap by focusing on universal issues in landscape design. Raxworthy brings his experience as both hands-on-the-tool landscaper and hands-on-the-mouse designer to bear in this treatise. As someone with a similar range of professional experience, I see this book as a starting point for discussion and exploration rather than a definitive theoretical framework.
Raxworthy focuses on several issues in landscape. One of his primary foci is the gap between designers and gardeners. Raxworthy notes that landscape architects and planting designers are most accustomed to working with secondary forms of landscape representation - plans and perspectives. By contrast, landscapers and gardeners are accustomed to dealing with plants directly. They deal with living plants - not computer models and drawn simulations.
In Overgrown, Raxworthy examines six landscapes, situating them on a spectrum from the most architectural/designed to the most relaxed/informal. He introduces the concept of the “viridic”, a unique synthesis between the biologic growth of plants and the intentions of human designers/strategists. Reading these sections, I wished I’d had Raxworthy’s vocabulary to describe the concepts I was thinking about during my studies in planting design at Kansas State.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Overgrown, for me, was the breadth of citations and research referenced. I spent a significant time googling people and projects of interest. If you’re anything like me, you will, too. These are only a few of the significant ideas in Overgrown. Go get your own copy - give it a read and mark it up. Then shoot me an email with your thoughts. We’ll keep this viridic conversation growing...