The Jewel Box Garden

by Thomas Hobbs

photography by David McDonald

Published by Raincoast Books

176 pages, 2004

Buy it online



Life As We Dream It Could Be

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


Gardening books come in several important flavors. There are the books intended to actually help you with the important business of getting your hands dirty: how-to books with step-by-step photos and careful instructions. There are the various types of gardening encyclopedias: plants by region, type or purpose all listed alphabetically with background or planting or other kinds of information included. There are herbals, garden-focused cookbooks, manuals on composting and tools and planting techniques and... you name it. And then there are the books whose only purpose seems to be to fuel our dreams and awaken us to possibilities.

Thomas Hobbs' books are like that. His first book, Shocking Beauty, was published in 1999 to widespread acclaim. It was -- and is -- quite simply an absolutely stunning book and it focused the attention of the wider gardening world on a Canadian gardener with vision. Since the publication of Shocking Beauty, Hobbs has been a guest on Martha Stewart Living and his personal garden has been featured in Horticulture, House Beautiful, Better Homes and Gardens and others.

Having created a fairly tough act to follow with Shocking Beauty, it was unsurprising we didn't see another title from "garden impresario" Hobbs for a number of years. The Jewel Box Garden was worth the wait. Here Hobbs blends David McDonald's wonderful photos with his own expert and well-phrased words on creating "Life as we dream it could be." At least, as it relates to our gardens. Writes Hobbs:

Notice I didn't say "Life, as we dream it is," But as it could be. One of the few aspects of life we do have some control over is our gardens. Whether it is an outdoor terrace or balcony or a city plot, we can turn dreams into visions and visions into reality.

In The Jewel Box Garden, Hobbs' references are wide and often amusing. For example, in telling us to be careful with trendy color combinations, he invokes the image of Mike Douglas and Kristy McNichol wearing matching red coveralls and singing together:

Twenty-five years later, the damage is still unhealed in my brain. Gardeners have to be careful, too. What was once considered trendy and bold might actually be really ugly.

The Jewel Box Garden collects Hobbs' thoughts on a variety of topics, collected under brightly named and well-illustrated chapters -- "Gilding The Lily," "Investment Potting," "Thinking Like A Plant," and so on. Though his advice is planted gently throughout the book, it is presented in a way that is both concise and thought-provoking.

Nor is it all advice. Hobbs skillfully weaves in his garden-based personal philosophy and even includes the touching story of how he acquired his home: a 1933 Mission Revival-style house with a big view in Vancouver, Canada. If you're anywhere near the book, read this account. It's a wonderful illustration of someone who knows how to take his own advice: someone who has created his own life as he dreamed it could be. | March 2004


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.