The Wild Garden

– Posted in: Garden Photography

One of the finest books of the year was first published in 1870.  And who else but Rick Darke, could pull off an update, reminding us just how well “The Wild Garden” speaks to contemporary gardens and current ecological thinking?

When William Robinson first published “The Wild Garden” it influenced gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic, from the likes of England’s great garden designer Gertrude Jekyll to Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of some of the greatest parks in North America.  Even though “The Wild Garden” is a 19th century book based on a gardening style perfected at Gravetye Manor, a dilapidated 16th century English estate when Robinson purchased it in 1885, Rick Darke has shown its relevance to American gardens on any scale.

Gravetye Manor

Darke has been writing and speaking about appropriate gardening and landscape ethics for years.  His books such as the 2006 “Grasses for Livable Landscapes” and 2002 “The American Woodland Garden” are classics, advocating a sensible, naturalistic garden style with locally adapted plants, not simply native plants.  He understands Robinson’s point that a wild garden is not simply “a garden run wild”.

Naturalized bulbs, Glory of-the-snow, in woodland garden

Darke takes the Fifth Edition of Robinson’s book and adds more than 100 of his own wonderful photographs to show us how very relevant “The Wild Garden” is today.  He shows us Woodlands and Prairies, Coastal gardens and City gardens.  He really got me when he pointed out that Robinson loved meadows, saying 130 years ago that “mowing the grass … is a costly mistake” and how much time is wasted “in this ridiculous work of cutting off the heads of flowers and grass”.  (Is this where I can plug “The American Meadow Garden“? (g))

Ragwort in a Delaware Wild Garden

Many of us are looking for examples of authentic sustainable gardens.  There is much talk about what should work and what might work.  By reintroducing “The Wild Garden” to a new audience, Rick Darke has shown us what does work.  The reader will have to make adjustments for their own climate and garden zone but the principles are sound.  The book will inspire us for another 100 years.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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Cyndy February 22, 2010, 8:09 pm

The Rick Darke update to Robinson’s classic sounds genius. As a struggling meadow gardener, may I plug The American Meadow Garden? I have been poring over a library copy for weeks now – it’s a keeper I’ll be ordering from Amazon. I love the range of meadow styles and practical ideas for keeping weeds under control, as well as the plant suggestions.

Thanks Cindy. The message in all these books is to adapt to local conditions. Meadows builds on them all. – Saxon

Matti February 23, 2010, 9:46 am

Looks like the new edition is a keeper for the library collection. I have checked out Rick Darke’s lecture events for the 2010 season, and looks like the closest he gets to San Francisco is Seattle. We will keep an eye out to see if he gets to the Bay Area as I would like to check out one of his events. Thanks! Matti

I actually saw him in Seattle. He gives a fabulous presentation and includes video of things like waving grasses. – Saxon

Judy Lowe/Diggin' It February 23, 2010, 11:53 am

I hadn’t seen this yet, so I’m going right out and get a copy. I admire Rick Darke’s work and am pleased to find out about the new book, which you’ve made sound so great.

Hey Judy – Thanks for dropping by. I confess I did not know about William Robinson’s work. As a history major in college I really like to find prime sources of information. This is a classic. – Saxon

Mr. McGregor's Daughter February 23, 2010, 5:02 pm

This was one of the first books on gardening that I read, and it influenced my thinking profoundly. Of course it also helped that Robinson’s style of gardening meshed so well with my internal garden vision based on the model from my childhood. I’m so excited about this new edition with such gorgeous photos. This is going on my wish list.

Why am I not surprised that you, a Gardening Gone Wild reader, would already know about Robinson? – Saxon

Dirty Girl Gardening February 23, 2010, 7:28 pm

Looks like a great book… I’ll have to check it out.

It really is, and anyone gardening with wildflowers should read it cover to cover – Saxon

Eileen February 24, 2010, 6:16 pm

I definitely will check out this new addition.


You will be pleased – Saxon

Aubree Cherie March 3, 2010, 9:01 am

Thanks for the book review! It looks like a book I’d love to add to my collection.

I’m new to your blog, but its great! I’ll definitely be back 🙂

Come back often, not just to see what we have to say but all pout great guest contributors. – Saxon

Chris Strand March 3, 2010, 11:34 am

Rick always seems to be on the cutting edge. With the wild garden he is re-introducing a way of gardening that is very relevant to our contemporary gardens. I love getting Rick out in our garden here at Winterthur to get his insights. So much so that we have invited him to lecture on the wild garden to our members and visitors on March 13. I know they are going to find his lecture rewarding and that it will help them see our garden in a new way. Thanks for the book review. (P.S. Winterthur is the cover image and the naturalized bulb image.)

Winterthur is one of my own favorite East Coast gardens, though I have not visited in a t least 15 years; an authentic example of a sustaining garden. – Saxon

Pomona Belvedere April 24, 2010, 2:26 am

Although I’m an antique garden book lover (should I have used hyphens between the last four words?), I hadn’t known about Robinson. I’m delighted to be introduced to him, as I got into gardening via botanizing, and have spent decades tinkering with this whole sort-of-wild notion in a dry-summer climate. Thanks for the review.

This book should be perfect for someone like yourself who loves the wisdom of those who have gone before. As long as you have opened the door to mentioning gardening in dry-summer conditions I hope you know my book “Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates”. Not yet a classic for antique book lovers – Saxon

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