Text of book by Helen Chislett, Chapter on ‘Lighting the Garden’ by Sally Storey

Published by Frances Lincoln, ISBN 978 0711230

garden design books, gardening, book review,

On first viewing this 30cm x 30cm size,220page, £50 sterling price tag hardback with its crisp translucent  cover and forward by David Linley (Viscount and nephew of the Queen) one could,  perhaps, be excused for jumping  to conclusions about the likely market that it is aimed at. However, if you do get a chance to browse this book, I would encourage you to do so, for lurking amongst the superb photographs of the expensively (and very beautifully) designed gardens of his highly wealthy clients there are some real gems of garden design advice that can be applied to gardens of any size and budget.  And the reason for that is that Randle Siddeley has a practical view to his design.  He has to as the projects that he undertakes are often monumental in scale; because of this he must give careful consideration to many environmental factors not least of which are the climate of the country in which he is working and also the way that the drainage of the site will work after he has completely altered the ground contours and water table to better suit the design.  He has worked across the world with examples of his work in Canada, the U.S., the France, the Middle East, rural parts of England’s southern counties and also in London, his home base, where his landscape design practice is situated.

garden design, middle east, garden designer, pool, trees, lougers, seats

Middle East garden design by Randle Siddeley

Siddeley’s design style tends to be towards the traditional with clipped yew hedges, parterres, urns, water features and tree-lined avenues frequently appearing in his large rural designs.  Equally he creates well-thought through patios and outdoor dining spaces for both rural and city properties usually finished with high quality paving stone, beautiful pergolas and trellis work and more often than not with what appears to be his signature piece, the vertical water wall either in steel or bronze.  That is not to say that he repeats himself.  He says, ‘good design is about treating every garden differently.’  He is clearly very conscious of both the historical and landscape setting of any of his commissions and each design is carefully worked through to ensure that the client brief is realised and that a garden is created that will stand the test of time.

rose garden, design, garden designert, gardens I like

Classical rose garden by Randle Siddeley

The book is moderately well organised and I think that suits its tone, as it is affable rather than academic.  It is split into main chapter headings including Design, Style, Planting, Awkward Spaces and Lighting.  There are nice text introductions to each section with good garden design information given albeit mainly aimed at the amateur reader but with useful tips and reminders for the professional designer also.  Each chapter is then illustrated with examples of his projects loosely tied to each main heading but essentially showing a broad cross-section of his work through the book.  The projects are explained with sub-headings dealing with his vision, challenges faced by the design, solutions to those problems, the planting and a commentary on the result.  The positive adjectives really fly by the end of each section but that is nice; I like to hear when a client is pleased by a good design and that things have worked out.

pool, garden wall, modernist garden design, garden designer

Modernist garden design by Randle Siddeley

Then, and this is what I really like about the book, there are often humorous quotes given in large italic print from Randle where he gives a sort of summary thought that seems to have evolved from experiences on each project; these are basically Randle’s maxims.  For example, ‘if you are employing local contractors to work on a garden abroad, don’t rely on your knowledge of a second language…to avoid any confusion when issuing instructions to contractors’ or ‘front gardens are like hallways: they create the first impression for any visitor.’  However, it is these axioms and the practical advice he gives in the text that marks this book out from being purely a collection of amazing garden pictures or from being simply homage to Randle Siddeley.  He emphasises the importance of creating structure in garden design, creating views and focal points and the consideration of lighting at an early stage of design.  In this regard, there is a useful chapter on lighting by Sally Storey, a lighting designer, at the end of the book.   I applaud the fact that he advocates producing a masterplan for each garden.  This can be implemented with time if necessary – ‘a blueprint that can be initiated in stages’.

His golden rule of garden design is ‘don’t rush’, preferring where possible to really get to know a site before creating a design (unfortunately something that he recognises later on is not always possible when there are deadlines to be met).  Near the start of the book he gives a check list questions that a garden designer should ask a client. Basic but useful advice: if a client should read this book it is useful for them to have thought of answers to these questions in advance of meeting their garden designer so that a design brief can easily be formed.

city garden design, urban gardens, small gardens, modern garden

City garden by Randle Siddeley

Charmingly, there are also musical references through the book.  Randle sees himself as a bit like ‘the conductor of an orchestra,’ guiding a team to complete the work and when considering plant succession he says that we should ‘think of plants as musical notes: as one disappears another one takes over.  It is all a question of scale, balance and harmony.’

In the fly-leaf it says that the book is intended to be ‘a guide and a friend’ to all those who love gardens and I feel that this has been achieved.  It is at the upper end of the price scale with regard to book shop gardening books but I feel that this is necessary both to reflect the work and the character of this high-achieving designer.

Shorter version of this review featured in the GLDA Compass magazine Spring 2013 Issue 61