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The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest

By Rick Darke

Nothing short of monumental. Exquisitely photographed and deftly written, it takes the reader on a journey of discovery.

Horticulture

North America's eastern half, roughly from the Midwest to the Atlantic, was once a great deciduous forest. Although centuries of human intervention have cleared much of the land, the timeless forest remains in the spirit of the place. Today, even the shortest period of human neglect allows for the resurgence of the process of forest creation. The greatest gardens — and happiest gardeners — in this area will be those that take into account the nature of the land.

In his unique, and often thought-provoking new book, award-winning author Darke promotes and stunningly illustrates a garden aesthetic based on the strengths and opportunities of the woodland, including play of light, sound, and scent; seasonal drama; and the architectural interest of woody plants.

While written from a compelling and fresh perspective, The American Woodland Garden never strays from the realistic concerns of the everyday gardener. Information on planting, soils, and maintenance provides a firm foundation for horticultural accomplishment. An alphabetical list of woodland plants offers useful advice for every garden, emphasizing native trees, shrubs, vines, ferns, grasses, sedges, and flowering perennials that fit the forest aesthetic. More than 700 of the author's stunning photographs show both the natural palette of plants in the wild and the effects that can be achieved with them in garden settings. Many of the most striking photos in the book were taken at classic gardens that are paragons of an ecological style.

The American Woodland Garden is a clarion call to a new awareness of our relationship to the natural world. This book will take its rightful place among the classic works that have influenced our concept of the American landscape.

Awards for this book: American Horticultural Society Book Award, Garden Writers Association Garden Globe Award, National Arbor Day Foundation Certificate of Merit

Media reviews

"A gallery of breathtaking images of native woodlands in all seasons ... This is an inspiring reference that synthesizes ecology and horticulture, presented by a philosophical author with an artist's eye."

—Virginia Small, Fine Gardening

"Reads like a memoir. It's also a visual showcase, with more than 700 of Darke's exceptional photographs gracing its pages, all documented with an attention to detail gardeners will appreciate ... A valuable reference for those who seek to follow Darke's call to 'capture the spirit of the deciduous forest' in their own spaces."

—Moira Sheridan, People Places Plants

"This book is packed with useful information on woodland gardening design, practices, and plant choices. Photographs are stunning and numerous ... Highly recommended."

—R. P. Poincelot, Choice

"Award-winning author Rick Darke shares his love of the eastern deciduous forest through his stunning photographs and insightful prose, making the ordinary seem remarkable. Nature's seasonal transitions become a magical journey that the reader is invited to witness."

American Gardener

"Outstanding."

—Denise Cowie, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Within two pages ... I was hooked. This is a first-rate work ... Generously illustrated with Rick Darke's photographs, and the captions convey a good deal of his narrative making for an easy read."

—Mark Flanagan, Garden (Peterborough)

"Contains more than 700 of his photographs showing how to blend the woodland and landscaped garden into one resulting in ecological excellence."

National Gardener

"Packed with an abundance of dazzling color photos, this book makes it plain in both words and pictures how much the author enjoys deciduous forests and the beauty they have to offer. ... A must-have for anyone interested in woodlands and gardening."

—Lee MacFadden, Bristol Herald Courier

"Offers an eloquent overview and abundant color photographs to demonstrate the context of landscapes dominated by trees."

—Roland Sweet, Log Homes Illustrated

"Wow ... what can one say. This statement is not hyperbole. Darke is truly a wordsmith and philosopher, and together with his excellent color photos, it is a must read and view."

—George Graine, Virginia Master Gardeners Association Report

"Rick Darke's Woodland Garden creation is a most interesting read and excellent photo essay based on this thirty years of woodland observations ... Worth purchasing just for Darke's photos and philosophy!"

—Steve Nix, Foresty.About.com

"Since the reviewer is generally 'all thumbs,' he is qualified to give The American Woodland Garden a rating of 'ten thumbs up.'"

—Ernest Flippo, Hosta Journal

"This inspired work is an instant classic."

—Dean Riddle, Country Gardens

"Packed full of gorgeous photographs and useful advice."

Northwest Horticultural Society

"Rick Darke's beautiful book shows us how our native forests can be an inspiraion for our own gardens, private or public ... The photographs catch the essence of the plants in all their many guises. They are so realistic and detailed that I, unscientific as I am, found them helpful in identifying some trees and shrubs that I'd never been able to untangle ... If you want to strengthen your appreciation of the woods, this book is a deep and meditative study of the ways in which the forest casts its spell. Dip or plunge, go indulge."

—Wendy Ely, Woodland Garden

"[Darke's] philosophical and horticultural observations from longtime study of a native woodland stream habitat should appeal to all ecologically-responsible gardners."

—Jane Erskine, SciTech Book News

"Far more than just a gardening book, this amounts to an ecological walk in the woods ... What the author has learned from a lifetime of being enchanted by the forest is offered in this sensitive book."

—Jim Carlson, Country Almanac

"A persuasive book for observing nature and bringing it into our gardens."

—Connie LeClair, American Rhododendron Society Journal

"Those who live in or near trees will find hours of deep pleasure in Rick Darke's The American Woodland Garden."

—Ann Lovejoy, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"The book will reach out and inspire anyone who loves nature and gardening — whether that individual is a master gardener or a garden spectator. I believe everyone who sees this book will forever view the eastern deciduous forest with a far greater depth of appreciation for the diversity and a positively influenced perception of its woodland landscape."

—Alice Le Duc, Flora

"With [this book] ... the woodland gardener cannot go far wrong."

—David Wheeler, Hortus

"This is the best book yet on natural landscaping ... This is one of those rare books that's beautiful enough for the coffee table yet useful enough to end up dog-eared."

Harrisburg Patriot-News

"This is an important book that makes a strong case for private gardeners who live in a woodland setting to learn how to retain the spirit of the forest in their gardens and synthesize nature and culture."

—Ethel Fried, Manchester (CT) Journal Inquirer

"Firmly grounded in horticultural and ecological science ... So richly illustrated with Darke's great photographs that it appears to be a coffee table book, this substantial, informative volume is a wonderful read."

—Liz Ball, Yardening

"His beautiful photographic essays on the natural scenes on his property [are] especially relevant to gardeners in our area."

—Patricia A. Taylor, Trenton Times

"The plant palette section occupies a good third of the book, and it is the best presentation of native plant species I've seen."

—Derek Fell, Nouveau

"Darke's language is erudite, informative and makes pleasant reading ... Destined to become a classic, The American Woodland Garden will find a welcome home in any gardener's library."

—Judy Glattstein, Home Monthly

"Perhaps [the book's] greatest accomplishment ... is in gloriously refuting the notion that forest gardening tends to be dull and plain compared to gardening with flashy exotic annuals."

HortIdeas

"An homage to the beauty of the deciduous forest and the wonder of the natural forces that create and sustain it, as well as a how-to book to guide readers in creating woodland gardens."

—Mary Beth Breckenridge, Akron Beacon Journal

"I knew from his previous books what an excellent photographer and writer Rick Darke is but I think his newest book, The American Woodland Garden, is the best yet."

—Bobbie Schwartz, Buckeye

"An accomplished work of epic proportions. ... Wherever you garden and no matter how extensive or small the woodland you tend — even if it is just a single birch tree — The American Woodland Garden offers the most comprehensive, inspiring, and thought-provoking advice you are ever likely to find within the confines of a single volume. As the text on the inside jacket correctly claims, this book is destined to become a classic."

—Bob Purnell, Gardens Illustrated

"This volume is nothing short of monumental. Exquisitely photographed and deftly written, it takes the reader on a journey of discovery ... A good garden needs a philosophy, an aesthetic, a methodology, and a palette. This extraordinary book furnishes them all."

—C. Colston Burrell, Horticulture

"The American Woodland Garden contains hundreds of illuminating images from the eastern woods and their reincarnation in the home garden."

—Adrian Higgins, Washington Post

"Should be displayed where you and your guests can refer to it regularly. Reading this book is like winding through the forest with the author at your side and learning from his 20 years of studying how the woods work ... Every page has photographs that perfectly parallel the text."

—Joel M. Lerner, Washington Post

"With a fine book on ornamental grasses to his credit, Darke turns to summoning forth the spirit, beauty, and natural order of a woodland in the gardens he creates in its image ... Darke shares a reverie on nature and observations of an applicable artistry. As responsible stewards of the land, gardeners can look to Darke's unorthodox design manual to transcend trite solutions with a wise and vital philosophy, and with its cache of inspiring photographs, this is sure to inspire all who garden east of the Rocky Mountains."

—Alice Joyce, Booklist

"In this award-winning book, the author promotes and illustrates a garden aesthetic based on the strengths and opportunities of the woodland, including play of light, sound, scent, seasonal drama, and the architectural interest of woody plants."

—Eric Hofley, Michigan Gardener

"This is a wonderful photographic study, showing both the seasonal and long-term changes which occur in an area of natural woodland."

Irish Plant Society

"Worth purchasing just for Darke's photos and philosophy! ... Rick Darke's Woodland Garden creation is a most interesting read and excellent photo essay based on his thirty years of woodland observations."

—Steve Nix, Foresty.About.com

"I believe that it represents a new type of gardening book that combines ecology principles, design concepts, horticultural information, along with essays on individual plants ... Once again this is a beautiful and very worthy Timber Press production."

Kirkland Courier

"Stunning photography, with every shot perfectly composed."

—Mary Tucker, Nativescape

"This book is an excellent reference and guide for both amateur and professional horticulturalists."

Northeastern Naturalist

"Much more than a beautiful coffee table book, although it is that in spades. It whets the appetite of anyone who might be tempted to create a woodland garden. If you want a quick fix for your gardening questions go elsewhere. But if you want to strengthen your appreciation of the woods, this book is a deep and meditative study of the ways in which the forest casts its spell. Dip or plunge, go indulge."

—Wendy Ely, Woodland Garden

"Beautiful photos and ideas from an experienced gardener."

—Kathy Gilbert, Chattanooga Times Free Press

"Almost 50% of the great information is in the smaller-tighter text associated with the awesome images (every image is a work of art) ... Rick's plant descriptions are written in a way that indicates he has obviously grown the plants discussed."

—Winston Dunwell, University of Kentucky HortMemo

"This book is a combination of ecological widom, interesting designs and practical advice."

—Nancy Brachey, Charlotte Observer

"A persuasive book for observing nature and bringing it into our gardens."

—Connie LeClair, American Rhododendron Society Journal

"A remarkable contribution."

—Donna Williamson, Grandiflora

"The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest is a splendid combination of inspiration and practicality that will change many of our ideas about what constitutes gardening in the shade."

—Pamela Lord, Gardener for the Prairies

"In this unique and often thought-provoking new book, Darke promotes and stunningly illustrates a garden aesthetic ... A clarion call to a new awareness of humankind's relationship to the natural world. This book will take its rightful place among the classic works that have influenced the concept of the American landscape."

Biology Digest

"This is a serious book with a message."

—Jane Carroll, Audubon Naturalist News

"Gardeners living east of the Mississippi will never again consider a shady yard 'a problem' after reading The American Woodland Garden."

—Judy Lowe, Christian Science Monitor

"Oftentimes I open a book and it's like Christmas. The American Woodland Garden ... is such a book."

—Marty Figley, Michigan Observer and Eccentric

"I don't know of any other book that discusses the eastern deciduous forest in such detail and with such beautiful photography while also providing practical information for cultivating your own woodland garden ... One of the most important gardening books this year ... Provides a sustainable and enjoyable text for anyone interested in understanding the forests that constitute so much of America's terrain."

—Dan Scurek, Current Books on Gardening and Botany

"Darke is almost like a woodland spirit as he visits forests and captures their beauty on film and in words throughout the seasons."

—Suzanne Hively, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"One is eager to take up gardening challenges when they are as poetically presented as Darke's ... Overall, Darke has delivered a tour de force to follow his magnum opus."

—Patricia Jonas, Plants and Gardens News

"Destined to become a classic among books on shade gardening, for it shows how to select, design with, and grow the wonderful cornucopia of plants that are found in America's great deciduous forests."

Avant Gardener

"I recommend the book for 738 colorful reasons: Its photos remind us how the sensorial pleasures of a forest are the result of nature going about its relatively predictable biological business ... All aspects of the book's layout and typology are exemplary."

—Joy Buslaff, Ecological Landscaper

"His photographs and text communicate vividly the inevitability and pace of change ... One is eager to take up gardening challenges when they are as poetically presented as Darke's."

—Patricia Jonas, Plants and Gardens News

About the author

Rick Darke

Rick Darke is a landscape design consultant, author, lecturer, and photographer based in Pennsylvania who blends art, ecology, and cultural geography in the creation and conservation of livable landscapes. Darke served on the staff of Longwood Gardens for twenty years, and in 1998 he received the Scientific Award of the American Horticultural Society.

Read more about Rick Darke

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