Home & Garden

Author of garden book that helps readers visualize beauty shares her passion

The Rose Arbor at Cawdor Castle outside Narin, Scotland. (Photos courtesy of Michael V. and Rose L. Bartlett.)
The Rose Arbor at Cawdor Castle outside Narin, Scotland. (Photos courtesy of Michael V. and Rose L. Bartlett.)

The late Washington landscape designer Michael Bartlett was aware of the delight and beauty garden elements contribute to a garden, in some instances even more than the combination of plants.

Bartlett began designing gardens when he was a teenager and was among the fifth generation of avid gardens in his family. Both his great-grandfather, Charles Austin Buck, and his grandfather, Leonard J. Buck, created gardens — Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Fla., and the Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills, N.J., — that are now open to the public. Grandfather Leonard took Michael on walks through his own garden and gave him a nickel for each plant he could identify — Latin names only.

Rose Bartlett, his widow, grew up in downtown Philadelphia and it wasn’t until she was in her 20s that the garden bug bit.

The two met while students at the University of Pennsylvania. They married, and united by their shared passion for gardening, became partners in a landscape design business. On each project, Michael Bartlett focused on the construction of a client’s garden; Rose Bartlett devised plans for flower gardens and the like.

Over the years, the Bartletts searched for a book with a broad selection of photographs they could use for research and inspiration, and would help clients who might have a hard time visualizing an idea. They never found that right book.

To spark their own imagination and keep ideas flowing, twice a year they took a garden trip.

“It was continuing education for us,” Rose Bartlett said in a telephone interview from Asheville, N.C., where she lives and has a garden shop.

Over the course of 30 years, they visited perhaps a thousand gardens in 21 countries, always with camera in hand.

“We took pictures of things we thought were interesting,” she said. In time, their collection of photographs grew to approximately 10,000 slides.

As the photo library grew, the idea for a book emerged.

Michael died of a brain tumor in 2008 at the age of 55. Six years later, all those years of travel and photographs culminated with the publication of The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements, written by Rose Bartlett.

The book has about 1,200 images from boot scrapers to gates and fountains.

Each of the 24 chapters focuses on a separate element, and includes a brief historical background on each. Arbors to support climbing plants emerged in the vineyards of the Tigris Euphrates Basin. Their use spread throughout ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome for practical reasons: grape vines were trained over arbors to get them off the ground and prevent rot.

“We wanted the book to be more of a reference book than a coffee table book with one photograph taking up a whole page,” she said. The compendium is for students, professional garden designers “and regular gardeners,” Rose said.

Because elements enhance a space, “always go for quality,” Rose said. “Better to save your money and have one beautiful bench that brings beauty and integrity, verses some plastic bench you get from a big box store.”

It’s that attention to detail that distinguishes “mundane design from one that sparks the imagination and pleases the senses,” she writes in the introduction.

Beverly Fortune is a former Herald-Leader reporter.

Reach her at beverlyfortune123@gmail.com. Her cell: 859 948-7846.

If You Go

What: Talk by Rose Bartlett, author of The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Morning Pointe, 233 Ruccio Way

Admission: Free