Q&A with Rose Bartlett, co-author of The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements

By Shelley Pierce | November 15, 2015
Image by Rose Bartlett
by Shelley Pierce
November 15, 2015

Every beautiful garden large or small is a composition of carefully chosen details and the choices can be daunting. The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements written by Michael and Rose Bartlett offers a practical and comprehensive compendium of inspired design details for garden enthusiasts, whether amateur or professional.  Over 1,000 photographs, taken by Michael and Rose Bartlett in 24 countries, accompany a text filled with insights into the history, design, and implementation of garden elements around the world.

Read on for more information about The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements and find out how to win a copy of the book, courtesy of David R. Godine, Publisher!

1. Over the last 30 years you have traveled to more than a thousand gardens in 21 countries around the world. Of those gardens, if you had to pinpoint three that exemplified the best garden design, which would they be and why?

I have an affinity for gardens that combine both formal and informal garden design as well as examples of fine craftsmanship. Three gardens that come to mind are:

  • Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC…dating to the 1920’s and designed by Beatrix Farrand, the only female founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Dumbarton Oaks is one of the finest gardens in the United States and incorporates an extraordinary number of garden elements….in fact very garden element discussed in our book is found someplace in this garden yet it never seems busy or “over” designed.
  • Les Quatre Vents, La Malbaie, Quebec…created by Frank Cabot over the course of about 30 years from 1970 until 2000. Mr Cabot inherited this property situated in the inhospitable plant hardiness zone 4. He was a passionate gardener and set about transforming the landscape into a series of gardens full of architectural and horticultural interest inspired by his garden travels. The climate is so harsh that there are few plant nurseries. As a result many of the trees, shrubs and hedges in the garden were tranplants found growing on the property.
  • Mount Stewart, Newtownards, N. Ireland…Lady Londonderry undertook the construction of the gardens not only to create beauty but to provide work for the men returning from service in World War I. The garden is full of sculptural elements -many tell amusing stories. Although situated in a quite northerly location, the garden is warmed by the Gulf Stream and many surprisingly tender plants are found here.

2. Designing a garden can be an overwhelming or challenging task. How does your book facilitate this task?

Our book provides a wonderful reference for undertaking the challenge of designing a garden. Both visual and practical information are clearly presented for twenty-four garden elements. This gives both the amateur and professional designer concrete information for making design decisions.

3. Before we tackle a garden design project what questions should we be asking ourselves and why?

There are both design questions and horticultural questions that should be addressed.
From a design perspective:  What is the purpose of this garden (or portion of the garden)?  Entertaining, screening a bad view, a play area, a place to relax, etc.?
From a horticultural perspective:  What kind of sun exposure is there, what kind of soil is on site, what is the plant hardiness zone, etc.?

4. What is the most weird or unusual object that you ever saw incorporated in a garden and why did it work or not work in the overall garden design?

There is a garden in Bishopville, South Carolina full of the most abstract, fantastical topiaries. It was created by a man named Pearl Fryar. In the 1980’s he began collecting plants that local nurseries had thrown on the compost pile. He know little about gardening but became passionate about turning these cast away plants into artistic statements. These objects work for many reasons but mainly because of the love and care devoted to this collection of topiary.

5. What are some of the common threads amongst well designed gardens?

  • Well designed gardens take the complete picture into account…even if the entire garden cannot be completed at once the master plan is in place.
  • Details…details…details – the best gardens pay attention to every detail from the design of a special entrance gate to the cover for a drain.
  • The best craftsmanship that is feasible.
  • Planning for the proper long term maintenance.

6. How can people with a limited budget make a maximum impact with garden design while making the impact on their wallet minimal?

  • Minimal impact on the wallet requires patience.
  • Having a master plan is an excellent idea because this allows the garden owner both a short and long term vision. If you can’t afford to implement the entire plan start with the parts that are most important and do them the best way affordable. Over time the attention to quality will pay rewards.
  • Take advantage of free advice. Most counties have an extension service that will analyze soil and answer horticultural questions.
  • Start with smaller plants. They usually catch up with bigger transplants in a few seasons.
  • Learn to love dirt under your fingernails.
  • Find an independent garden center (rather than going to the big box) because even though you may pay a little more, you are likely to find greater plant selection and staff with expertise.
To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Thursday, November 19, 2015 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements features many different elements such as bridges to gates, gazebos to fountains, and sculptures to bird houses, just to name a few. What are some of your favorite garden elements?“
The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See Rules for more information.)

UPDATE 1/3/2016: Congratulations to Kara Kudro, the winner of The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements book giveaway!

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  • Carol
    Comment added November 20, 2015Reply

    Thanks for the chance. It would be nice to win.

  • John H.
    Comment added November 20, 2015Reply

    I would like to win this.

  • Jennifer H.
    Comment added November 20, 2015Reply

    This would be such a handy book to have.

  • Terri Irvin
    Comment added November 19, 2015Reply

    Our home is a certified wildlife center so my number one garden elements is water.
    We have bird baths galore. The second thing they need is shelter and we are working on that this year. We have a few bird houses and lots of trees.

  • Carl
    Comment added November 19, 2015Reply

    Great fountains

  • marie cantelli
    Comment added November 19, 2015Reply

    We like to use recycled tires in our garden

  • Miranda Ward
    Comment added November 18, 2015Reply

    Thanks For the Great Giveaway!!


  • Lisa Zimmerman
    Comment added November 18, 2015Reply

    My favorite part of a garden is a garden without weeds.

  • Daniel M
    Comment added November 18, 2015Reply

    could use something handy like this

  • Mary Gardner
    Comment added November 18, 2015Reply

    I love ironwork, fountains and wind chimes in the garden.

  • beth shepherd
    Comment added November 18, 2015Reply

    I like fountains. Thank you!

  • Liza Vladyka
    Comment added November 17, 2015Reply

    i like to recycle and reuse things for my garden

  • Tarah
    Comment added November 17, 2015Reply

    I love seeing plants that complement one another or bloom in succession so the garden is never bare.

  • Wehaf
    Comment added November 17, 2015Reply

    My favorite elements are benches and gazebos - places to sit and contemplate.

  • Linda
    Comment added November 17, 2015Reply

    I love top-quality windchimes and lighting that is unobtrusive for night time walks. Would love to read this book to learn more from a professional!

  • Thomas Mickey
    Comment added November 17, 2015Reply

    I have a cast iron table and two chairs in my backyard, on the lawn. It is a perfect setting. It makes me appreciate garden ornaments. Your book looks terrific. Congratulations.

  • Ashley C
    Comment added November 17, 2015Reply

    I love pergolas in gardens!

  • Renee Grandinetti
    Comment added November 17, 2015Reply

    I love quiet little garden corners with a bench to sit and enjoy all of the facets of the garden ---and perhaps read a little or take a quick nap.

  • Meghan Berdelle
    Comment added November 16, 2015Reply

    This book looks great!

  • Stephanie Liske
    Comment added November 16, 2015Reply

    I would love to have a fountain that goes down into a little pond.

  • Shannon Baas
    Comment added November 16, 2015Reply

    I like the bird bath.

  • Carey Hemond
    Comment added November 16, 2015Reply

    love fountains

  • yvie
    Comment added November 16, 2015Reply

    I like fountains. :)

  • Jill H
    Comment added November 16, 2015Reply

    I love animal sculptures, concrete in natural finish, ageless

  • Liz
    Comment added November 16, 2015Reply

    I'd love to have this book!

  • kara kudro
    Comment added November 16, 2015Reply

    I love old iron gates and unique sculptures that look weather worn and aged. I love to see a garden that looks loved and lived in.

  • Shannon Marberry
    Comment added November 16, 2015Reply

    I love sculptures and any kind of ironwork.

  • Ruth L
    Comment added November 16, 2015Reply

    I adore moon gates and mirrors.

  • Sandy Zimmer
    Comment added November 16, 2015Reply

    I love gates and ones you can't see through. Adds mystery!

  • Ann Simmons
    Comment added November 15, 2015Reply

    I love repurposed elements in the garden. A broken pot or 1/2 wine barrel spilling flowers, benches from old iron head and foot boards, walkways of broken China mosaic stepping stones...I have a new property, very large, I need some inspiration to develop it.

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