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Tom Stuart-Smith: Drawn from the Land

Tom Stuart-Smith: Drawn from the Land by Tim Richardson – Book Review

A collaborative and conversational retrospective of the work – and inner workings – of one of the UK’s most influential and imaginative designers. Reviewer Tania Compton is a garden designer and writer.

TOM STUART-SMITH: DRAWN FROM THE LAND
by Tim Richardson
Thames & Hudson, £50
ISBN 978-0500022313

The triangulation between place, people and ideas that Tom Stuart-Smith aims for in his gardens has been gloriously echoed in Tim Richardson’s book Tom Stuart-Smith: Drawn From the Land.

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This book and the gardens it describes are grand and opulent but fundamentally tender and thoughtful. The essays by both author and subject that punctuate the descriptions of the gardens are dense and illuminating, giving you not just a bird’s-eye view of the places but the thought processes and philosophy that underpin Stuart-Smith’s life and work, the dialogue slipping effortlessly between twin planes of intellect and information.

From Kerala to Kent, from Marrakech to the Midlands, with gardens that juxtapose every architectural period from medieval to modernist, the book charts a sumptuous career of place making. Time and again, through the prism of a garden, Stuart-Smith’s work impels his clients to also become observers of a greater process. He is channelling an evocation of paradise on their behalf, often following in giant footsteps. Where Charles Bridgeman, Humphry Repton, Charles Barry, Gertrude Jekyll and Percy Cane have trod, Stuart-Smith has made respectful interventions.

There is a sense as you get to the end that you have been immersed in the pre-prairie years and that latter-day projects, of looser composition yet signature complexity in planning, will follow. The ‘pan-global botanical bunfight’ of the prairie at The Barn, his own garden, which Stuart-Smith describes from a vantage point halfway up an oak tree, seems to be the way forward for this thought- provoking designer.

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According to Richardson, history, science, psychology, ecology and creative design are all given equal weight in Stuart-Smith’s methodology. They are explored by both author and subject in this illuminating oeuvre.