FiveBooks Interviews

Arabella Lennox-Boyd on Garden Design

The award-winning garden designer recommends essential books for any budding gardener, and reveals why trees are the backbone of any good garden

What do these five books have in common?

They are all books that I am happy to have on my bookshelf and which help me with my work. But I have to say with garden design that much of what I do comes from my heart and from what I have seen, rather than from books. As well as the books, and the photos and pictures in them, I also find catalogues very useful and often have them by my bed to look at.

That sounds like a lot of gardeners I know. My mother’s house is full of catalogues. Your first choice is The Education of a Gardener by one of the great landscape gardeners, Russell Page.

This was definitely one of the books that taught me a lot – not only about the relationship of designer with client, but also about the dos and don’ts of garden design. I only really knew him vaguely because he was very, very grand when I first started. He was a kind of guru and one hardly dared speak to him. But I could see that he had a mystical side to him and a real sense of landscape. He had a terrific imagination and did things that we all do now, in terms of design and features. A lot of what he did has been adopted by landscape architects. He had a great sense of design, and he was very inspirational in the way that he treated design. He saw it in a different dimension. He understood more about design than meets the eye, and that is why for me he was mystical. He had a real sense for the place where he was working.

Next up is New Trees by John Grimshaw and Ross Bayton, which has over 800 tree species in it. Most people talk about flowers and plants when they discuss garden design. Why are trees important as well?

Because they are the backbone of garden design. It wouldn’t be a garden without trees or shrubs – or at least a garden of any importance, because herbaceous plants are here one day and gone the other. They have a short life and they mutate. The design you achieve with herbaceous plants has to be continuously looked after, nurtured and changed, whereas trees are the backbone of a garden.

I am also interested in trees because I collect them. I have an arboretum, and I have been involved in trees and shrubs for many, many years. I think that in garden design they really are the most important thing. This book talks about trees which are new to cultivation, which is extraordinary. It is also about the people who travel to find out about these new trees.

Vita Sackville-West’s In Your Garden is a collection of her gardening columns. What was it about her that made her such a great columnist?

She had a way of talking about plants that was very attractive and very accurate, and she had wonderful taste. The plants that she talked about were good plants, and I like the way she described them. My love of garden design really started with a love of plants. She was one of the first gardeners I read and she was a great inspiration.

There are so many wonderful gardeners in England but she stands out as one of the true greats.

I think it is because she just appeals to people. I am sure there are other great writers but they can be rather dry or boring. Her writing is never boring. It is very inclusive and you feel she is really talking to you.


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About Arabella Lennox-Boyd

Arabella Lennox-Boyd is an Italian-born English garden designer. She has won six gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show and the Best in Show Award in 1998. Over a career spanning 40 years she has undertaken commissions all over the world, ranging from small town gardens to large historical landscapes. Her client list includes Sting and Sir Terence Conran

Arabella Lennox-Boyd’s Recommendations

Books by Arabella Lennox-Boyd