The power of gardens to transform urban environments and lift human spirits is explored in a new book. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley inspired the book, which discusses ways to establish breathtaking urban oases and beautiful hidden spaces.
The idea for "Parks, Plants, and people: Beautifying the Urban Landscape" by Lynden Miller, internationally known public garden designer, occurred while she was speaking with the mayor after a presentation to the Charleston Horticultural Society several years ago, she says. Riley asked her for a book with her recommendations and experiences so that he could share them with others.
"I realized then that I needed to direct some of my efforts toward getting my thoughts on paper in order to share what I learned over the years about reinvigorating parks and gardens," Miller says in her book, published by W.W. Norton & Co.
In comments on the book's jacket, Riley's predicts that it will challenge and inspire people. He also says her work in New York can be transferred to other places and that those who accept her suggestions "will make America more beautiful."
Miller covers her experiences in restoring or creating oases in all boroughs of New York City. They include transforming the overgrown Conservatory Garden in Central Park and the 97th Street "Pocket Park" that once was inhabited by pigeons and rats.
She stresses the need to have such parks with beautiful gardens, and the humanizing effect they can provide, in all kinds of neighborhoods.
When creating or restoring public gardens, plan them with an eye toward how they will be used, to keep them safe and to make them inviting and have a plan to ensure that they will be well-maintained, Miller says.
She also discusses gardens from a perspective she developed as a painter, likening planning of one to painting with plants. The composition of plants in gardens, both in formal garden and open areas, should make it look as if it has not been planned at all.
"Creating that perfect composition or finding the perfect place for a plant to thrive is an ongoing and exciting process. Resist the pressure to design 'down' for the public. Plantings in public spaces should be as varied and sophisticated as those in private gardens."
In a section on private funding for public parks, she discuses several examples that include the Charleston Parks Conservancy, founded in 2007 by philanthropist Darla Moore. The conservancy has programs and partnerships to enhance and improve Charleston's parks.
During an interview, Riley says beautifying public spaces is a movement, one that the Charleston Parks Conservancy, Charleston Horticultural Society and city Parks Department are involved in. Their projects increase opportunities for residents to be engaged in improving public spaces, he says.
"Working with plants and flowers and trees and shrubs is a very natural, happy human endeavor," Riley says. "The population is changing, and the number of people who have volunteer time on their hands is increasing. Link that and the natural joy of gardening and it just creates a tremendous opportunity."
Riley praised the job that the city's Parks Department employees and volunteers are doing to create and maintain a large number of public spaces.
He encourages neighborhoods to identify and adopt areas to transform and maintain in every community.