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Read 'Em and Reap

Spring Ushers in a Sweet Crop of Garden Books

May 18, 2003|EMILY YOUNG

Now that the sunflowers are planted and you're waiting for the tomatoes to come in, it's time to head for the hammock and indulge in a little spring reading. The latest crop of garden books includes three volumes that are sure to nurture the inquisitive nature of local readers.

In "Private Landscapes: Modernist Gardens in Southern California" (Princeton Architectural Press), landscape architect Pamela Burton and interior designer Marie Botnick offer twin peeks--then and now--behind houses built by Richard Neutra, R.M. Schindler, A. Quincy Jones and other mid-century modernist architects. Black-and-white photos document the original gardens, several by noted innovator Garrett Eckbo, while new color shots showcase faithful restorations or contemporary updates. This intriguing insider's view is for anyone interested in the origins and evolution of our region's signature brand of indoor-outdoor living.

Thanks to the mild winters and arid summers common to both locales, California makes an ideal spot for replicating the dreamy greenscapes of the Mediterranean. These parallel universes are the focus of "Sun-Drenched Gardens: The Mediterranean Style" (Harry N. Abrams), which details the use of essential plants and design features--beyond lavender and rosemary, fountains and pergolas--without ever seeming like a how-to manual. In this handsome book, author Jan Smithen, a teacher at the L.A. County Botanic Garden, and photographer Lucinda Lewis compile dozens of instructive examples from estates in Italy, France and Spain as well as some drawn from our own backyards.

Love it or loathe it, the Getty Center's exuberant Central Garden no doubt leaves visitors curious about creator Robert Irwin's intentions. Lawrence Weschler, a former New Yorker magazine writer who interviewed the artist on site several times, shares a transcript of those free-wheeling conversations in "Robert Irwin Getty Garden" (Getty Publications). With pictures by photographer Becky Cohen, this fascinating Q & A comes off like a private guided tour and explains why Irwin felt compelled to break traditional garden design rules. As he puts it, he wanted to compose a complex concerto, not merely play ''Chopsticks.''

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