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design your garden toolkit by michelle gervais storey publishing color wheel


Design your Garden Toolkit by author Michelle Gervais (Storey Publishing 2018) is a fun and easy read and learning experience for those who have not made a study of garden design, myself included. With a multitude of drawings and the clever inclusion of a colorform-style empty garden foldout and 150 reusable stickers to work with, the book is amazingly detailed, yet easy to understand “how, what and why.”

It was decades of involvement and observation that enabled Gervaise to understand and convey the concepts of garden design, which she presents orderly and coherently.

Michelle Gervais, garden writer, editor and photographer, got her first plant job at age 13 in a greenhouse. She rediscovered her interest in plants at Virginia Tech with a degree in horticulture, followed by three years at Stonecrop Gardens as office manager, “which immersed me in high-end horticulture,” she says.

Then, as editor at Fine Gardening Magazine for 15 years, Gervaise traveled the country visiting and profiling outstanding public and private gardens and meeting their gardeners. “That was my dream job,” she says. She dreamt up book ideas, mostly traditional plus a funky one and pitched them to Storey Publishing. “They wanted the weird idea,” she says. “I hesitated to tell them but they loved it.” When Taunton Press laid off 20% of their employees, she took the opportunity to write Design your Garden Toolkit.

Currently, Gervaise works at John Scheepers/Van Engelen as head of marketing and social media, and writer of the Kitchen Garden Seed Catalog. “I love it there. I’m never leaving. It’s the best,” she insists. “Their quality control is wonderful.”

So, with all these dreamy gardeny jobs, what made her write such a playful, inspiring and educational book?

“There’s this moment when you walk into a garden …. I was obsessed with finding these little vignettes. I was always trying to recreate them. I always wanted to cut out pictures of plants in magazines and put them together but could never find them in the same scale, so I did my own. This is the garden design version of Colorforms!”

The book begins by discussing two basic principles: Harmony and Contrast demonstrated with drawings and step-by-step instructions on how to make them happen. The idea of making a contrast of colorful flowers with another plant’s colorful foliage was a revelation, although I did plant ‘Blue Paradise’ garden phlox with Spirea Ogon.

Gervais presents the Color Wheel and explains, hues, tones and tints and how they work. Now I see why the peachy candy lily in my garden (Iris x norrisii, formerly Belamcanda chinensis), a soft yellow rose and chartreuse foliage go well with two burgundy Japanese maples. I’ve created contrast and harmony all at once! And orange Turk’s cap lily with rich blue iris – contrast! For one who has known superficially how the color wheel works, but has never thought to use it, this book has been a joy to learn the “how and why” of making a beautiful garden.

Next up: Contrasting Texture, Leaf Sheen, leaf and flower Size and Shape and Structure and Form. After explaining these illustrated, distinct ingredients, she offers a numbered guide on how to design a planting. Gervais stresses the importance of first establishing a palette of “all-season” plants that carry the garden’s beauty, then choosing perennials.

Design Your Garden Toolkit is a great book for those who wing it and also for new gardeners. This book is loaded with concepts that will teach beginner gardeners and explain to long-time “wing-it” gardeners how plants work together,

If you loved Colorforms as a kid, you’ll have fun playing “garden designer” again with the plant stickers. I did and came up with a beautiful design of structure and color: tall, sexy Karl Foerster feather reed grass, sumptuous hostas and a peachy daylily, all so creamy and scrumptious. Exposure might be a little difficult, though. Definitely sun for grasses and daylilies, but must find hostas that like sun or a similar-shaped plant with large leaves – perhaps ligularia or a sunny hydrangea.

Gervais wants everyone to know that “Besides enjoying the stickers, “the book contains simple but useful information. I want people to see that it comes from twenty years of observation, personal trial and error, and from the wisdom of the hundreds of gardeners I’ve met over the years.”

Design Your Garden Toolkit is a great book for novice gardeners. Despite my multi decades of gardening, in some ways I am still a beginner with no training other than ravaging gardening books and working and winging it. This book has shown me why I’ve done good and why I’m indecisive at times from a design aspect – like what colors to add to my central border.

I LOVE this book! It is now one of my favorite reference books. Written in the spirit of fun, love and education, could it be any better?

Design Your Garden Tool Kit is available everywhere online
Michelle Gervais website and garden blog:
The Garden Girls Podcast with Michelle & Kiss My Aster’s Amanda on iTunes & Spotify

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published April 05, 2020

Photos to enlarge

Design your Garden Toolkit, a cool book by Michelle Gervais

Michelle and her husband Rob in their garden

Plant stickers to seriously play with

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