(with a Foreword by Larry Korn)

Green Books, 2016

ISBN: 978-0857843135

Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain


Mary Reynolds is a talented Irishwoman with ancient magic in her blood and a sublime sense of beauty, both of which she brings to her work as a garden designer.

In this book, she describes how, after twenty years of designing gardens, she had an epiphany. Waking one morning from one of those ‘big’ dreams which, if we pay attention to them, can change our lives literally overnight, she came to realize that she had been making two fundamental errors.

The first, which will feel familiar to all those of us who are into Permaculture, was that she had, to some extent, been working against Nature rather than with it. Although my gardens were beautiful spaces that allowed energy to flow freely through them, the land did not want to remain as I had designed it. We had to continue controlling these spaces, to stop things that wanted to grow from growing. The land had its own intentions. Nature had Her own ideas about design and I had to learn what they were. Garden maintenance is fighting against the intentions Mother Nature has for herself. I had to understand how to work with this energy rather than against it.

Secondly, she realized that she could no longer go on designing gardens for other people without their primary input and involvement. This is because a necessary ingredient of successful and soulful garden design and for the ongoing maintenance of a piece of land is the intimate bonding that happens between the land and the human who tends it.

We all know, if we reflect on our own experiences, that the free-flowing, pulsating energy of a piece of undisturbed woodland is vastly different from that of the average suburban garden or park, where, instead of the honouring of all green and growing things, human will has forced them into reluctant servitude. So Mary’s aim is to create gardens that are much more natural places, gardens in which the energy flows freely and abundantly and which also evoke in us a sense of homecoming, in that they reconnect us with the pulse of Nature and remind us that we, too, are part of the natural world.

Like the traditional labyrinth, a garden designed by Mary Reynolds is not a static place. It brings us into a process: one that can challenge, change, enrich, inspire and comfort us as we move through it. Even small spaces can achieve this effect if, when we set out to design a garden, we are willing first to take a break from logical thought and use our intuitive sense instead. Thought comes later, as we work to turn our vision into reality and to work out the practicalities of shaping the land, placing rocks, planting trees and so on.

This charming and delightful book is both inspirational and practical. Replete with beautiful illustrations, and with diagrams and descriptions of gardens the author has created in public spaces—such as the biodiversity one that was commissioned by Kew Gardens and the gold award-winning one she designed for the Chelsea Flower Show—it is a veritable encyclopaedia of natural gardening, jam-packed with knowledge and wisdom. Within its covers, as well as the lyrical text and the delightful, original illustrations, you will find many pages of suggestions, examples, lists and instructions of immediate practical use to the reader.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in Permaculture-type thinking and anyone who loves gardens, and even more highly recommended for anyone charged with designing or remodelling a garden of any kind or size, in any location.