Rick Darke’s updated The Wild Garden explains to me my own gardening philosophy and low-maintenance practices


I’m giving a big Thumb’s Up to Rick Darke‘sWildGardFRONTjacket updating of William Robinson‘s classic The Wild Garden (Timber), now in its robust Second Printing.  What Darke has added are 100 of his own fabulous photos (the 1870 book uses illustrations), and plenty of his usual smart observations – this time about how important Robinson’s philosophy of wild gardening still is, today.  Some of us are finally catching up with him.

Darke sure speaks for me and a lot of GardenRant readers here in his introduction, recommending The Wild Garden “For all of us seeking creative, practical approaches to today’s challenges and opportunities – balancing culture and environment, native and exotic, consumption and sustainability.”  There’s no formal doctrine here, just the simple notion of placing plants “where they will thrive without further care.”  That, I totally get.  That, I totally do.

And how about Robinson’s ripped-from-the-gardening-world-headlines criticisms of large mowed lawns, calling extensive mowing “ridiculous work” and a “costly mistake”!  From Darke’s introduction we learn that Robinson “criticizes gardens comprised of mere collections, those organized dryly by plant classification, and those with excessive geometrical order.”

I hope your appetite for the book has been whetted already but just in case, enjoy Rick’s video about the book and this type of gardening, then a couple of visuals from the book.

Below, naturalized heaths bloom with Narcissus and Scilla in late March at Robinson’s garden in England.
Finally, an illustration of “Anemones in the Riviera” from Robinson’s 1870 original.


Here’s a great review by Saxon Holt for the blog Gardeners Gone Wild.   My favorite quote:  “One of the finest books of the year was first published in 1870.” 

Photos by Rick Darke, including cover photo of ostrich ferns at Winterthur Garden.  Illustration by Alfred Parsons.


  1. I want the original edition, or one of the editions published within Robinson’s life. I was disapointed with Darke’s take on the Arts and Crafts landscaping. Has he modernized Robinson’s writing style for today’s readers? I hope not. Love those wordy Victorians.

  2. Wildness in our gardens…welcoming wild things in our gardens. I like this. Bring the native plants in so the native bugs and birds can live. Doug Tallamy tells us the bugs that eat native plants themselves become babyfood for songbirds. But how do we sell this? As bits of wildness in our gardens? How do we popularize it? As a place for wild things (those we do not fear, in any case) to co-exist with us?

  3. I am glad that you posted about him. I like his books. As a matter of fact, I hope to get one for Christmas. He always knows how to put things in natural terms and shows wonderful pictures.

  4. My library includes copies of the original 2nd, 4th, and 5th editions, and as much as I treasure them, they have become delicate with age and I open them with care. The purpose of the new expanded edition is to encourage modern readers to consider Robinson’s remarkably prescient ideas, as expressed in his unedited language and as expanded upon in new writing that references an array of other thinkers about true wildness from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Raymond Williams to William Cronon. The terms ‘ecology’,’sustainability’, and ‘cultural landscape’ were virtually unknown in Robinson’s day, yet these themes are at the heart of The Wild Garden. In an age of formality, Robinson dared to promote a relaxed aesthetic and an embrace of authentic wildness in gardens and other managed landscapes. I believe these are necessary steps toward a design and stewardship model that combines beauty, functionality, and a humble respect for shared resources. BTW, the illustrations in the period editions were often turned sideways to fit on the 6×8″ pages. Unlike an iPhone or iPad, the images don’t right themselves automatically – you have to rotate the book. We expanded the page size of the new edition to allow all the original images to sit as they were intended to be viewed by the artist Alfred Parsons.

  5. I’ve got plenty of wild landscape, 30 acres of woodland, not to mention an equal amount of wild fields so I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of this book – already ordered.

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