A Green Thumb

The Education of a Gardener

by Russell Page
Random House, 382 pp., $19.95

The Education of a Gardener was originally published in 1962 and almost immediately allowed to go out of print, with the result that those who were bright enough to snap up copies hoarded them jealously while the rest of us had to borrow or steal what became a classic. The new edition, a reprint of the old with the same photographs of gardens he has designed, will therefore be a boon to Page’s frustrated admirers as well as introducing him to readers who may not have heard of him before. Oddly enough, there are likely to be a good many of these, even among those who take gardening seriously, and in spite of the fact that he is one of the two or three great creators of gardens in our time. His clients are the rich and famous all over the world, and he has worked for governments, municipalities, and corporations as well as the private owners of French chateaux, historic Italian villas, London and Paris town houses, estates on Long Island and in Texas.

Though it isn’t a claim he would make for himself, I think it possible that in the course of a professional career which began in 1928 he has made more gardens in more places than anyone in history. And they haven’t exactly gone unnoticed. Photographs of Page gardens have been appearing in de luxe magazines for decades. But somehow he isn’t a celebrity—not in the sense that certain architects, interior decorators, stars of haute couture are registered on the brains of the magazine-reading public; and not in the sense either that V. Sackville-West became one, though she only made two gardens in her life, both for herself, and wasn’t a professional.

Sackville-West, however, was a personality as well as a writer and gardener. She was often photographed, and after her death we were given some riveting glimpses into her personal life. I have never seen a photograph of Page, and know nothing more about him than the skimpy details in this book, all of which are directly related to the subject in hand. Thus he deals with World War II in a couple of pages, saying only that it involved him in journeys to the Middle and Far East and sketching some of the impressions made on him by alien civilizations. Occasionally he tosses in a sentence like “we worked in the snake-ridden Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya”—which are in Ceylon, but who “we” were he doesn’t say. Was he in the RAF? Intelligence? For all one knows he could have been a hero or a mere clerk, though the latter is unlikely.

He is equally close-mouthed about his famous clients—for example the Duke of Windsor (he doesn’t mention the Duchess), whose gardens in France he designed and which he describes in detail. Ravishing they were, too, but if there is a conclusion to be drawn from his comment that he was “surprised and a little appalled” at the Duke’s request for Acer negundo,…

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