The best books for grasping the principles behind landscaping and interior design

Linda O'Keeffe Author Of Inside Outside: A Sourcebook of Inspired Garden Rooms
By Linda O'Keeffe

The Books I Picked & Why

The House in Good Taste

By Elsie de Wolfe

Book cover of The House in Good Taste

Why this book?

Known as the First Lady of interior decoration, de Wolfe (1865-1950) excelled in a predominantly male profession which she is credited with inventing. Her book which, is still thought of as a decorator’s bible, was first published in 1913. It’s a compilation of several of her chatty magazine articles so even though her clientele was elite the strong doses of common sense, wit, and sophistication in her voice have mass appeal. Described as an ornamental minimalist she upturned the oppressiveness of the Victorian and Edwardian sensibility by avoiding clutter, dark colors, and heavy draperies in favor of sparsely furnished, naturally lit rooms (which she considered to be optimistic) that seamlessly aligned themselves with their natural surroundings. In that sense, she was one of the first decorators to acknowledge nature and to emphasize the importance of incorporating garden and exterior views into interior planning.

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The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate –Discoveries from a Secret World

By Peter Wohlleben, Jane Billinghurst

Book cover of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate –Discoveries from a Secret World

Why this book?

All the anecdotes in this book are soundly supported by scientific research and prove the existing, familial dynamic shared by trees. Insightfully written by a forester and woodsman, we learn how trees, just like any tribe, interact with and watch out for each other through an intricate, underground social network which is crucial to a forest’s survival and growth. Wohlleben illustrates how maples, oaks, birches, and pines are not only sensitive to color but also hear and feel. After reading this, talking to plants is anything but an eccentric pastime.

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Dirt: The Lowdown on Growing a Garden with Style

By Dianne S. Benson

Book cover of Dirt: The Lowdown on Growing a Garden with Style

Why this book?

Even though her heroine is Vita Sackville-West who, in the 1930s, created Sissinghurst, one of the world’s most visited gardens, I think of Benson as a hippy, outdoors version of Martha Stewart. In this paperback, her fast lane, quick gratification approach to gardening comes across with equal doses of humor as she emphasizes the joy of digging one’s hands into the soil and the importance of channeling one’s own aesthetic into hedge and plant choices. Her opinions are pithy, to say the least - she considers marigolds to be ‘hackneyed’ flowers; she talks about weeds having brains and calls the green thumb notion a fallacy - but her passion for nature, which shines through on every page, is contagious.

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Frank Lloyd Wright: Architecture and Nature

By Donald Hoffmann

Book cover of Frank Lloyd Wright: Architecture and Nature

Why this book?

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was arguably the first architect to become a household name and therefore the first ‘starchitect’. To his way of conceptualizing, nature, with a capital N, came first and last in the sense that it would outlive and eventually envelop any edifice he happened to place upon it. This book uses black and white photography to succinctly illustrate his chief philosophical points and helps explain why his houses co-exist so seamlessly with their natural environment or, in his words, why they are in love with the ground. Inspired by the patterning of rock strata, the texture of birch bark, the spines of tree limbs, the blush of summer blossoms, in his projects it’s often hard to discern where nature and the man-made begin or end. ”Buildings, too,” he often said, “are children of earth and sun.”

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Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature

By Andy Goldsworthy

Book cover of Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature

Why this book?

Goldsworthy is an English artist and environmentalist who uses natural materials - woven birch, frosted oak and sycamore branches, a boulder sheathed in poppy leaves, hollowed-out damp sand - to create land sculptures, assemblages, and site installations in fields, forests, and lakesides. When I first came across his beautifully ephemeral work - snow melts, leaves decay, a wave disintegrates sand - it made me realize that a gardener needs to appreciate the beauty of all the seasons. His work has helped me to redefine my definition of a garden’s death which is rather nature’s dormant phase; its period of transition leading to rebirth. Goldsworthy photographed all the coffee table-sized book’s images, each one a visual haiku.

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