A Tapestry Garden

The Art of Weaving Plants and Place

Reviewed by Carol Gardner

A Tapestry Garden – The Art of Weaving Plants and Place is as much about the strength of the human spirit as it is about the growth and development of a garden. Written by Marietta and Ernie O’Byrne, the book begins when Marietta and her two small children are abandoned by her first husband, while living in their ramshackle old farmhouse, surrounded by 70 acres of uncultivated land. Rather than fall apart, Marietta decides to enhance her degree in biology with a two-year landscaping program. There, she meets her second husband and co-author of this fascinating book. Over 40 plus years, they create a garden that is, indeed, as rich in colour and texture as an old-world tapestry.

Doreen Wynja’s photographs are not the romantic, misty pictures that grace some gardening books. Wynja manages to capture the colour, texture and even the essence of the plants so clearly that it feels possible to reach out and touch them. At one point, I was convinced I could inhale their scent! For those reasons, these may be the best photos I’ve ever seen in a gardening book.

The authors take us through the development of each garden area, including the fruit and vegetable garden, shade garden, rockeries and alpine troughs, perennial gardens, chaparral garden and the conifer and heather garden, throughout the seasons. They talk realistically about the troubles they’ve had (insects, disease, deer invasions, natural disasters) as well as the successes. Gardeners will relate to the whimsicalities of life that led, for example, to a planned barbecue pit becoming a pond. We see the authors becoming increasingly smitten with specific plants to the point that their gardens are now the home of their Northwest Garden Nursery (www.northwestgardennursery.com), a wholesale nursery specializing in hellebores.

The O’Byrne garden is located in Eugene, Oregon, where the gardening zone is similar to Toronto’s, so this is the ideal book to give to experienced Toronto and GTA gardeners; it’s perfect to enjoy with a glass of wine or a hot chocolate, sitting by the fireplace while a storm rages outside. Be warned; if you’re going to buy this as a gift, buy two. Once you have a look through, you’ll want to keep it for yourself! A Tapestry Garden (Timber Press 2018).

Carol Gardner is a freelance garden writer. She is chair of TBG Trellis and Through the Garden Gate committees

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