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NONFICTION : GARDEN DESIGN by William Lake Douglas, Susan R. Frey, Norman K. Johnson, Susan Littlefield and Michael Van Valkenburgh (Simon & Schuster: $35). : GARDEN DESIGN by Kenneth Midgley (Pelham: $19.95).

September 15, 1985|BARBARA SALTZMAN

Taken together, these two volumes offer a class primer in the basics of present-day British and American horticulture. William Lake Douglas, et al., subtitled "History, Principles, Elements, Practice" is the place to start, whether you're a beginner or a longtime gardener. It offers a succinct, knowledgeable course in gardening from its earliest stirrings in Biblical days through ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Islam, the Orient, medieval Europe and so forth, well into the 20th Century. Virtually every page blooms with appropriate full-color illustrations (primarily Derek Fell photos, many of which have appeared in other publications). The six chapters, written either jointly or singly by the various authors, are nicely organized to provide an overview of the elements of garden design, embroidered with just enough detailing. Chapter headings and divisions hint at the wealth of information: "A Garden Progress," "Discovering Your Style," "A Sense of Place," "Elements of the Garden," "Designer's Choice" and "Garden Wisdom." Especially valuable is Norman Johnson's exploration of garden styles. Susan Littlefield's chapter on the philosophies of noted present-day landscapers and designers (with examples of their work) is particularly enlightening. The final chapter dealing with the actual creation of a new garden or remodeling of an existing one makes an excellent jumping-off place to Kenneth Midgley's book, which takes a more nuts-and-bolts approach to garden-planning. The practicalities--proportion, scale, balance, siting, etc.--are Midgley's concern, and he does an excellent job of delineating and illustrating solutions to basic problems such as terracing, plant form and color theory. Though both volumes, especially Midgley's, deal primarily with English gardens, the fundamental principles presented are nonetheless germane to Southern California.

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