Thursday, April 4, 2013

Noel Kingsbury: The Ghost in the Machine

Thoughts on Noel Kingsbury's contribution and a review of his latest book with Piet Oudolf

Noel Kingsbury is the great chronicler of contemporary planting design.  Kingsbury has been involved in over twenty books spanning the last two decades, most of them focusing on the topic of design inspired by nature and ecology.  Few garden writers are as prolific or as influential.  Garden writers tend to be an anonymous sort. In an industry still dominated by the soft pornography of photographs, garden writing offers little more than annotating captions. But Kingsbury has transcended the role.

In terms of the contemporary planting avant-garde, Noel is this generation’s Gertrude Stein: the thought leader that holds together a generation of loosely-affiliated, but intellectually-kindred designers, plantsmen, and nurserymen—all working in within the “new style” of naturalistic plantings.  Like Stein, entrĂ©e into the Kingsbury salon is a kind of validation in itself.  To draw the attention of Kingsbury is to have your work remembered by (planting) art history.   The Kingsbury “salon” includes international celebrities like Piet Oudolf and Dan Pearson.  But it also includes little known thinkers of central Europe, thinkers such as German Professor Richard Hansen; landscape architect Urs Walser; and Dr. Walter Korb of the Bavarian Institute.  The former group gives the Kingsbury posse cachet and international celebrity; the latter gives it intellectual credibility and authenticity.  Kingsbury’s blandly titled 2004 essay, “Contemporary Overview of Naturalistic Planting Design,” included in the book Dynamic Landscape, remains one of the finest summaries of the “new style” and its practitioners ever written.   It proves that Kingsbury remains the central voice in an increasingly international movement.

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