Gardens of Awe and Folly


A Traveler’s Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening by Vivian Swift

51yUoagXa9L._SX447_BO1,204,203,200_Visiting gardens wherever I travel is my greatest delight, yet friends ask, “Why? Don’t you see the same plants over and over?”   Vivian Swift in her new book Gardens of Awe and Folly, has the best answer to this question. She writes, “If all you ask of a garden is What?, then all you’ll probably get in reply is a planting list.  But ask instead, Why? How? When? and most of all, Who? and then you’re in for a nice, long conversation.”

Swift’s book is classified as Garden Essays, but it far exceeds this label. She describes her work as “an illustrated book for grownups,” with watercolor art, stories, thought provoking collages, and life lessons. Swift shares conversations she had with nine significant gardens. Not actual conversations with the gardeners but the stories found within and around the garden gate.

She is in awe of the complexity of the native plant societies and the powerful color of Majorelle Bleu. The spirit of gardeners is illustrated through Karen rebuilding her garden after hurricane Katrina. Karen purchased a French vintage garden gate, a “Katrinket, a ridiculously expensive, indulgent, and therapeutic thing” to help lift her out of misery.  Swift appreciates the folly of gardeners taking on the burden of rearranging nature to create their vision of beauty and provides examples from garden history to make us all feel better.

After you have immersed yourself in this reading adventure, examining every little detail of this beautiful book, you will want to keep it close by.  Then in an instant you can open it again to celebrate a sunset in Key West, have tea in Morocco, feel the chill of a winter rain in Scotland, walk in the light of brief autumn hours on Long Island, and sip champagne among a dozen roses in New Orleans. Thanks to Swift, you’ll be prepared for your own conversations with gardens no matter where you travel.


Vivian Swifts previous books are equally wonderful, look for:

When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put51y-wECxddL._SX444_BO1,204,203,200_


Le Road Trip: A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France


This review originally published in The American Gardener, The Magazine of the American Horticultural Society, July/August 2016

6 thoughts on “Gardens of Awe and Folly”

  1. Thank you, Linda, for mentioning me and my rose-centric garden within your review of Vivian’s book. It has been a great honor to represent the city of New Orleans with my post-Katrina story of determination through gardening.

  2. “The book is just lovely- I even like just holding it in my hands. Each part has been wonderful and I love looking at all the pictures and reading her words. It has given me so many peaceful and inspirational times. And I wish I could go sit and spend time in each of those gardens I’ll write more about it as I finish it, but it is a wonderful book of Summer 2016!! Thank you so much for giving it to me and I will surely be giving it to others too.

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