Brilliant and Wild: A Book Review


Some gardening books grab our attention with big promises.

Like parenting books or self-help books, their titles seem to say, “Here is the solution you’ve been searching for. This book will change your (garden) life.”

Lucy Bellamy’s Brilliant & Wild: A Garden From Scratch in a Year sounds a little like that.

A brilliant and wild garden in one year?

It’s a big promise, but I think she keeps it.

If you begin from scratch (by which I mean, you begin with an empty and prepared patch of soil), follow Bellamy’s detailed and inspiring guides, and keep your new garden well weeded during its first year, I feel sure you can have exactly the kind of brilliant and wild garden she shows in this beautifully photographed book.

But what about those of us with established gardens? Do we have any reason to read this book?


Who is this book for?

Written for beginners, this book offers simple and thorough step-by-step instructions, but even more experienced gardeners will find the plant lists helpful and the photographs and illustrations beautiful and inspiring.

This book is written from the perspective of a British gardener, so those gardening in other countries and climates will need to do a bit more research to determine which of the plants she recommends will do well in our spaces.

What does it offer?

Bellamy writes about a very particular garden style. She calls it “brilliant and wild,” but we might also use words like natural, prairie, and meadow. It’s a style made famous by the Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf in the High Line in New York City and the Lurie Gardens in Chicago.

I love Oudolf’s naturalistic garden style, and I appreciated how Bellamy makes this style accessible for home gardeners.

One of the main tenets of Oudolf’s designs, and those of other designers in what has come to be called the “New Perennial Movement,” is that plants should be chosen less for their flower color and more for the look of the plant through all four seasons. Oudolf is more likely to choose a plant because it has beautiful seedheads in winter than because it has pretty flowers in spring.

What is the main lesson?


The particular risk of a “wild” garden is that it will look like chaos rather than nature. Nature rarely looks chaotic. It is never planted with one of everything from the garden store.

Bellamy emphasizes the need to limit our palette of plants while incorporating a variety of shapes. She organizes her plant suggestions by shape, which is unusual for a garden book but very helpful for amateur garden designers.

Bellamy also asks her readers to imagine what their garden will look like through all four seasons. This is an often neglected aspect of our home garden design. It is easy to picture a flower in bloom, but what will that plant look like when it goes to seed?

In Bellamy’s “brilliant & wild” garden, it will look more beautiful than ever.

“In a world of quick-fix, instant-gratification gardening, the brilliant and wild garden is something different. With just a few tools and a back-of-an-envelope plan, it is easy to grow a blooming bee-filled garden from scratch in a single year–a space wild in character that happily knits together in a matter of months, brimming with bugs, birds, and butterflies; somewhere that evokes other natural, beautiful places in an incredible sparkling whoosh, wilder, greener, and right outside the back door.” – Lucy Bellamy


Posted on

July 23, 2020

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