Tag Archives: Sally Tagg

Big Ideas for Small Gardens – Clever ways to enhance New Zealand outdoor spaces

003While I am a big garden specialist, I recognise that the allotted outdoor space for most people is getting ever smaller and tiny urban sections, teensy courtyards or even a balcony is now the lot for many. This is an excellent book of ideas for those who want to make the most of turning small outdoor areas into attractive living spaces.

The photography was always going to be high quality because it is by Sally Tagg, one of our most professional garden photographers and stylists. Unlike their previous joint venture (Contemporary Gardens of New Zealand), all photographs are now fully captioned and the book has the usual good production values one expects from Penguin. There is a bit of contrived urban chic and big budget show-garden stuff going on, but not too much.

What sets this book apart is the sure hand of the author. She is a fund of information for the DIY enthusiast, rendering into simple language the strategies for gaining privacy, blurring the tight boundaries, avoiding an over-stuffed parlour outdoors, how much space you need around your outdoor dining setting, getting shelter, even managing an edible garden in a tight space. It is all about design principles relayed at a thoroughly practical, hands-on level. I was won over as soon as I read: “To create more unity, consider painting …. (pretty much all vertical surfaces) the same colour, or colour tones.” The italics are mine but that was a light bulb moment. Instead of the obvious technique of using one colour everywhere, the subtle change of tone can give complexity without clutter. There is plenty of that type of useful advice along with a wide range of different ideas.

The Plant Directory chapter is the weakest aspect of the book. Essentially, it contains lists of recommended plants which are random, decidedly eclectic and often best suited to gardens in the warmer north – Auckland, really. The author’s skills lie more in the design and planning stages than in the wider world of plants. Those 17 pages might have been more usefully given over to the conundrum of the washing line, the compost bin, hiding the wheelie bin and recycling bins, managing taps and hosepipes and general storage solutions. These mundane matters have to be accommodated in some manner and with good planning there must be ways to minimise the visual impact without sacrificing practicality. I felt it was a wasted opportunity because I suspect the author has more to suggest in this area than in plant lists.

Despite that reservation, this book as a really useful resource for people struggling with ideas on how best to utilise small spaces to create something both practical and aesthetically pleasing, life-enhancing even.

Big Ideas for Small Gardens – Clever ways to enhance New Zealand outdoor spaces by Carol Bucknell, photography by Sally Tagg (Penguin; ISBN: 978 0 143 56884 1).

First published by Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Contemporary Gardens of New Zealand by Carol Bucknell, photography by Sally Tagg

Twenty three gardens by twenty one New Zealand designers – this book has certainly prompted a great deal of discussion here over the past couple of weeks. There is a heavy bias towards high budget properties with stunning views in or around Auckland, often with hard-edged modern, architecturally designed houses. The response is dominated by hard edged, angular gardens, pared back planting schemes largely stripped of colour and heavily dominated by native plants. Water features and swimming pools abound, usually with wet edges of the infinity style (so that the body of water melds into the sky or sea in front) and sometimes with the water lapping at the walls of the house. Generally, there is little evidence that the property owners want to garden themselves. Most want an exterior which will complement their homes, their lifestyle and, apparently, the environmental context of the property.

Two things stop this book from being any more than one for the coffee table book. One is the absence of critique or interpretative commentary. It is a showcase presentation of a narrow selection of modern NZ garden design. The second is the actual design of the book. Unfortunately, the decision was made not to caption the photographs. This of course gives a very clean, some might say contemporary, look to the book but it is not a lot of help to the reader. This is even more so where four photographs are placed on a page with no borders separating the images. We know they are artsy because sometimes one or two are in black and white and sometimes they are cropped so heavily that you are not even sure what the detail that is shown is. Sometimes features referenced in the text are not illustrated in the photographs and it takes frequent flicking backwards and forwards to try and match text to photograph. Given the calibre of the photographer, this almost certainly comes back to the book designer, as does the photo selection.

From the point of view of the reader and given the reportage style of most of the writing, showcasing the photographs with extended captions instead of wodges of descriptive journey around the properties might have integrated text and illustration better.

Sally Tagg is vastly experienced in garden and plant photography. She doesn’t cut corners and the photography throughout is of a very high standard. The author, Carol Bucknell, has faithfully recorded each garden and gives the landscaper’s framework for the decisions behind the design and construction of each. It makes an attractive coffee table book but is unlikely to contribute much to the garden history of NZ.

Contemporary Gardens of New Zealand by Carol Bucknell, photography by Sally Tagg. (Penguin; ISBN: 978 0143 56694 6).

For more thoughts on the topic, related more to the ideas than the book, check out: Modernist gardening, modern gardens and contemporary design

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.