Home GardeningGarden Diary Read This: Visionary: Gardens and Landscapes for Our Future

Read This: Visionary: Gardens and Landscapes for Our Future


June 23, 2024

In 2019 I reviewed Australian photographer Claire Takacs‘s beautiful and engaging book Dreamscapes. I raved about it but felt compelled to add this critique:

“My one complaint about the book is my usual one: coverage of U.S. gardens is limited exclusively to coastal states: the Pacific Northwest down to California and New England down to the Mid-Atlantic. Where are the Southern, Southwestern, Mountain States, and Midwestern gardens? The absence of interior U.S. gardens is one of my pet peeves about most gardening books and magazines. I challenge Takacs and other photographers and garden writers to branch out from the well-known (and moneyed) garden corridors on the coasts and find worthy subjects in hotter, drier, harsher regions, which may well represent the future in terms of gardening in an era of climate change.” [Emphasis added]
Read This: Dreamscapes by Claire Takacs

Claire graciously reached out afterward to say that she appreciated the feedback and, moreover, accepted my challenge. And in fact she has nailed it with her newest book, Visionary: Gardens and Landscapes for Our Future. Featuring 80-some gardens and landscapes from around the globe (80! not an easy accomplishment), luminously photographed by Claire, with perspicacious descriptions by London-based landscape architect Giacomo Guzzon, Visionary is a masterpiece. Not only for its breadth and beauty, but because of Claire’s newfound focus on gardens that rise to the challenges of a changing climate.

Private garden in Austin, Texas. Design: Amy Hovis/Eden. Photo: Claire Takacs

As Claire explains in the introduction, she’s not satisfied anymore with simply chasing beauty and light in great gardens. Her focus has shifted from pure aesthetics “to a time when beauty alone, still essential, is no longer enough.” She continues:

“Today the world is experiencing prolonged periods of drought, extreme temperatures, torrential rainfall, and flooding, which all necessitate new ways of planting and design — striving for more than just aesthetics.”

Designer Lauren Springer’s home garden in Fort Collins, Colorado. Photo: Claire Takacs

Fueled by a new sense of purpose to document gardens and landscapes that help to mitigate the effects of climate change on a hyperlocal level, Claire traveled around the world to photograph an astonishing variety of private gardens, landscapes, parks, public gardens, university and corporate campuses — even parking lots. Rather than shying away from harsh gardening regions, she leaned into them, featuring the work of designers and gardeners who are rising to the challenges of extreme weather and climate unpredictability.

Private garden in Phoenix, Arizona. Design: Colwell Shelor Landscape Architects. Photo: Claire Takacs

Visionary showcases landscapes in Spain, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Morocco, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. The final 100 pages of the book are devoted to the United States — not just the East and West Coasts but also Texas (Austin and El Paso), Arizona, and Colorado. I’m particularly excited that Coleson Bruce’s crevice garden, a private garden designed by Amy Hovis of Eden, and spaces designed by Christy Ten Eyck (including Kingsbury Commons at Pease Park and Hotel Magdalena) appear. Plantsman, designer, and author Lauren Springer’s personal garden in Fort Collins closes out the book in a glorious spread of photos — a garden undaunted by its severe northern Colorado climate (for more on that, see my review of Springer’s book The Undaunted Garden).

Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo: Claire Takacs

Reading Visionary — and it is worth reading, not just looking at the photos — made me appreciate just how many people around the world are stepping up to the challenges of climate change with responsive and resilient garden making. These folks aren’t throwing up their hands in discouragement, nor are they trying to force old ways of gardening — through the use of excessive watering or labor or chemicals, indifferent to local ecosystems of flora and fauna — to work. Instead, they’re fitting the garden to the place, to the plants, and to the wild creatures we share this planet with. And they’re doing it beautifully.

Greek villa landscape. Design: doxiadis+. Photo: Claire Takacs

All of which makes Visionary a hopeful book. After all, no matter where one gardens, climate change is affecting us all. Seeing how gardeners and designers are adapting, changing popular conceptions of beauty and what landscape design can be, and connecting people more deeply with the natural world — it’s incredibly inspiring. Visionary even.

Disclosure: Hardie Grant Books sent me a copy of Visionary, and I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my personal opinion.

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All material © 2024 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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