Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Book Review - Oxford College Gardens by Tim Richardson, photographs by Andrew Lawson

I was recently asked if I wanted to review the latest book by Tim Richardson on Oxford College Gardens, with photographs by Andrew Lawson.  I did not hesitate to say yes.  The book duly arrived and it is a fantastic piece of work.
The book begins by explaining that there is no one Oxford University, but a series of colleges each with their own distinct history and character.  The book begins by explaining this and by talking us through the architecture and layout of the college buildings.  This makes sense as, as the book explains, the gardens fill the gaps in between and are the product of these layouts.

The book gives us a selective tour around the college gardens.  Some are not 'interesting enough of substantial enough' to merit a whole chapter, but some of this lesser category get a mention in the introduction (I am now worrying about these gardens judged inferior).  I read with interest the chapter on New College as to date, that is the only college I have visited.  I suspect after reading this book, I will be visiting more soon.

The book takes us into great detail for each college it covers.  From the superior All Souls with its 'Typus Collegii' plan of the grounds and gardens dated 1598 to the first all-female college of St Anne's founded in 1879 as 'a manifesto not a location'.  Also included is the modernist college of St Catherine's which has that somewhat utilitarian architecture.  It was designed by Arne Jacobsen and the book explains to us that he designed every element of the college, from the buildings to the gardens and to where each individual plant should go.  I think in particular the chapter describing this college is where I think the photographs by Andrew Lawson really do take on a whole new aspect.  They show in beautiful proportions the buildings and the planting.  Andrew gets the balance right between such harsh architecture and the simplicity of the modernist planting scheme; the sheer beauty of it all shines out.

Of course the Botanic Garden is covered as are the University Parks.  I really like that the book is organised in an egalitarian alphabetical manner.  From All-Saints to Worcester and everything (well, not everything as mentioned already above), in between.

I really enjoyed my wander through this book.  It is a pick up, dip into and put down book.  It is also a book that has must-read status if you are considering visiting any of the gardens mentioned within.  The book is a great piece of research with well written text.  At the same time this book is also a serious piece of photography and specifically garden photography with really interesting text holding it together.  Whichever floats your boat more, this book with help you set sail.

The book is published by France Lincoln Publishers on 3rd September 2015.

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