Garden Magic by George Carter. Reviewed by Ann Hawkins

October 8, 2015

in Book Reviews, Reviews

Here’s a garden designer I really admire and enjoy. This is his latest book, Garden Magic, reviewed by Ann Hawkins. Apologies for fuzzy pictures – you’ll  just have to buy the book…or visit George Carter’s website)

Anne Wareham Portrait, copyright John Kingdon

Anne Wareham, editor







George Carter Garden Magic 515doLa-G7L._SY353_BO1,204,203,200_

Garden Magic by George Carter

The overwhelming feeling I get when leafing through this book is one of peace. I want to visit George Carter’s Norfolk garden so that I can enjoy the silence and the calm that I’m sure are waiting for me there.

Unusually for a book about a garden there is no mention of flowers, soil, pruning and the like. This book is all about creating an illusion. Carter takes the architecture created by deciduous and evergreen trees and shows how he uses sculptured shapes and frames to draw the eye into new perspectives. The effect, as the title suggests, is to create magic.

Carter is a distinguished, award winning garden designer, but despite this, and his obvious erudition, he doesn’t take himself or his craft (art?) too seriously. He makes his magic accessible to those with small plots, small budgets and negligible imagination and is not above using accessories from garden centres and car boot sales, even suggesting “do not despise fake foliage, as in some situations …. it is the only thing that will give you a sense of green”.

Garden Magic p47 copyright Harry Cory Wright


Green, with small touches of grey and soft white, is the predominant colour in the garden and it is this that contributes to the sense of peace and makes the perfect canvas for the sculptured shapes of urns, obelisks and even an embellished garden shed.


George Carter Garden shed (2) copyright Ann Hawkins.


If I have one criticism of the book it is that it makes no mention of the serious and time consuming job of clipping hedges to maintain the precise shape of niches, arches and tunnels. As anyone who has ever owned a hedge knows, this is not a job to be taken lightly.


Theatre (2) George Carter Garden Copyright Harry Cory Wright

Carter does touch on how the young hedges were trained over wooden structures to give the shapes we now enjoy 25 years on but most of the book is about how a light touch with trellis and plywood, and other materials from the DIY store can create points of interest.

The photography of Harry Cory Wright adds a great deal to the sense of peace. Hazy sunlight slanting through trees gives the effect of lightness and space. There is never any feeling of being oppressed or hemmed in by hedges.



Fountain (2) George Carter Garden copyright Ann Hawkins.

There are some very simple design ideas about grouping and pairing shapes and reassuring phrases about how to transform mass produced terracotta pots with a thin coat of paint while not needing to be too precise with paint. In a similar way a plain brick wall is transformed with a lime wash and a water pipe is tuned into a view stopper (no mention of “water features” here) with simple embellishments.

Water pipe (2) George Carter Garden copyright Ann Hawkins.

“Rather than applying the paint carefully, it is better to be a bit haphazard, so that the surface is broken …. and some of the terracotta shows through.”

Even the idea of how to choose colours to group together is made simple by suggesting a look at domestic paint colour charts.

My favourite part of the book is where Carter shows what can be achieved with lighting. The most magical moment in my own garden is when a magnolia tree in full bloom gleams in the moonlight, so I was delighted to find easy ways to add more manageable lighting effects that don’t rely on moonlight or laying cables and won’t disturb my neighbours.

I particularly like the tip about not mixing cold, (blue – light) and warm, (white – light) sources, something I wouldn’t have thought of. The sense of fun is displayed here too with tips about how to use Christmas decorations, old salvaged storm lanterns, jam jars containing candles and even LED ice cube lights that are designed to light up when they come into contact with water.

Niche George Carter Garden copyright Ann Hawkins.

The idea that I can have two gardens – one for daytime and one for night – has inspired me in a way that few gardening books have done. No heavy digging and planting involved, no waiting for things to bloom, this is something I can do myself and do it now without spending a fortune. The most pleasing idea for me is where trellis obelisks, lit from within, frame the entrance to the house. The strong shapes cast dramatic shadows on the walls and add a depth of interest that would not there be there in daylight. This is such a welcoming sight and in such stark contrast to the prison camp style, blinding, motion sensor security lights that most suburban houses have that I can hardly wait to get down to the garden centre and get my supplies and start a new trend of garden magic in my neighbourhood.

Ann Hawkins  website

Ann Hawkins portrait






You may also like the review of Remaking a Garden by Roy Strong.

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