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Sharp Gardening

Christopher Holliday
Photographs by Jerry Harpur
Frances Lincoln
Distributed by Bookwise
Reviewed by Mike Gowing

HANDS UP those who don't have any idea about what constitutes "sharp gardening"? A clue can be found in the fact the author is said to be the holder of the largest British collection of New Zealand flaxes.

Yes, New Zealand turns out to have quite a bit to do with sharp gardening - got the point? Sharp gardening means gardening with swords, straps and spikes interspersed with contrasting plants - ornamental grasses, low-maintenance perennials and the like.

In Britain, the author created a bit of a stir with his first sharp garden in Cumbria, exciting the attention of the national press and getting it featured on the BBC's Garden World.

Holliday defines sharp gardening as a "different kind of gardening" that guarantees: massive impact however small the plot; an even spread of interest throughout the year; tolerance of dry conditions; structure relying on planting rather than hard landscaping; an exciting look using an exotic type of planting; low maintenance planting without a lawn.

If this seems familiar, you're not wrong. New Zealand gets ample credit in this densely illustrated hardback, alongside California and (for Brits) other exotic climes.

Auckland's Ayrlies, Bev McConnell's amazing garden, gets a full two pages and pictures, including a stunning shot of the swimming pool's surrounds. Bev's use of Doryanthes palmeri, Agave geminiflora, Acanthus spinosus and Furcraea gigantea, to name a few, are singled out. Perhaps Ayrlies can lay claim to being the original "sharp garden"?

Another influence on this emerging style is that of expat garden designer James Fraser. The pictures of Fraser's garden with its fountain grass and red tussock defy the reader to place it in a suburban south London plot.

If this sounds like coals to Newcastle, it isn't. This book has a lot to commend it to the Kiwi gardener, particularly those who battle with an arid coastal section and are bold enough to seek a strong statement.

Reproduced with permission from the former Weekend Gardener magazine. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the RNZIH

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Last updated: March 1, 2021