Plantsman: Notes from a California Garden Designer begins early in January when an unseasonably warm day jumpstarts the long Southern California gardening season. The twenty-four subsequent chapters follow one year in the gardens, on the road, and at the drafting table of author Steve Harbour, an avid plant collector and professional garden designer.
Why write this book? It is a familiar story line. Steve explains, “I love plants and gardening. I also enjoy reading, yet as much as my life is devoted to horticultural pursuits, I do not find narrative garden books that capture my interest. I instead fill my nights reading travel narratives and nature journals. Rick Bass creates intrigue by writing about a snowy winter in a remote cabin, Craig Childs captivates readers by following a trickle of water through a desert canyon. And Frances Mayes has become a household name by depicting the restoration of a villa in Italy. These simple acts are made grand by the writer. Can’t narrative garden writing capture reader interest, entertain, and still educate in the same manner?
Plantsman: Notes from a California Garden Designer treats traditional gardening subjects in an offbeat, often humorous way that should make for good armchair reading while educating and hopefully inspiring the reader. Whether the chapter takes place in Steve’s own gardens or while he is working for clients, visiting nurseries, or finding design inspirations in a natural setting, Plantsman attempts to capture the spirit of what we as gardeners and landscape designers live and hope to achieve day to day. Much of the subject matter is treated in a comical manner, although there are serious moments, including coping with the Cedar fire as it races through his gardens. As the introduction to the book explains, “What can be said of a year when I was honored to receive several top design awards and then later nearly lost my home and gardens in a tragic wildfire? It was a year to remember in the life of a plantsman.”