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Book Review: Dreamscapes

Louise McDaid

Louise McDaid

November 2, 2017

Dreamscapes is a stunning collection of 69 of the world’s most beautiful gardens photographed by Claire Takacs. It is a book filled with imagery and about gardens. If it achieves no more than inspire you to immerse yourself in open spaces at sunrise or sunset, with or without your camera, then it is well worth having, and a big part of its objective!

Golden sunset light across the dry climate grasses and perennials in this Fernando Martos designed garden at Guadalajara in central Spain. Photography © Claire Takacs

This drool-worthy compilation includes many gardens by landscape designers and architects such as James van Sweden, Jens Jensen, Piet Oudolf, Christopher Lloyd, Dan Hinkley and Fernando Martos, and closer to my home Paul Bangay, Michael McCoy, Phillip Johnson and Robert Boyle. There is also a good selection of creations by ‘amateur’ but enormously talented garden makers. The sub-title ‘Inspiration and Beauty in Gardens Near and Far’ suggests the international flavour, with iconic gardens in Europe, USA, UK, Asia, New Zealand and Australia interspersed with lesser-known gems.

Contents page of Dreamscapes with gardens listed under geographical chapters.

Dreamscapes is laid out by geographical region, opening with 15 gardens from around Australia starting with Cloudehill in Victoria, Claire’s home state. This is the first garden she photographed in 2006 which inspired her path into garden photography. Claire talks of the ephemeral nature of the beauty she saw in the garden that no-one was capturing. Living just 10 minutes away, she was back at dawn, jumping over the fence, camera at the ready. She shares little stories like this for us of the other gardens too, which connects the beautiful imagery with the personal account of her visit.

Late summer scene at this Michael McCoy designed garden at Mount Macedon in Victoria, Australia. Photography © Claire Takacs

There is a delightful diversity and creativity in the gardens featured, and Claire has captured them at that rare instant when light and location capture them at their most stunning. She is fascinated by seeing the natural world cast in different lights, and this thread runs through her work with scenes from sun rise – some from garden rooms and borders with brilliant plant detail in the light, but particularly garden foregrounds capturing views of natural landscapes, as in the cover shot of Hillandale Garden & Nursery in New South Wales. But it’s not all sunlight, with plenty of moody misty scenes to balance things out.

Pages from Dreamscapes showing an example of the layout with images and text. This spread is of Lotusland in California, shrouded in the mist.

An interesting range of garden styles and planting themes are all represented – Long Barn in Kent, the former home of Vita Sackville-West; Martha Stewart’s private garden; Kenrokuen public garden in Japan; the naturalistic French garden Le Jardin Plume in Normandy; Hermannshof in Germany at the forefront of planting design; and the stunning Welsh garden Dyffryn Fernant.

These are all staggeringly gorgeous, and I really enjoyed the ones in Wales with names unpronounceable for me. Other quirkier ones like the clam shells and cactus of Lotusland in California, and The Stumpery on Vashon Island, Washington are fun and quite fascinating. That Claire has captured such a diverse cross-section of gardens indicates her talents and adds to this book’s appeal.

Sunrise at Dyffryn Fernant in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Claire says her visits to this garden encapsulate why she loves her work so much. Photography © Claire Takacs

This is not a comprehensive guide to each garden. Each photo tells a story, and there is enough detail with each to give an overview of the garden, its uniqueness and its owner or designer. These are sprinkled with Claire’s thoughts and comments about what it was like to photograph, the factors affecting her visit, and how she approached it. She also includes personal places of inspiration, blogs and Instagram feeds of interest to her. I would have appreciated more detail regarding camera equipment and technique, but then this isn’t trying to be a guide.

Windcliff in Indianola, Washington, the second home and garden of plantsman Dan Hinkley who set Claire the challenge of capturing the garden with the amazing view of Mount Rainier, as he didn’t have any decent shots of it. Photography © Claire Takacs

If you do have an interest in garden photography, there is plenty to learn here just by a bit of inspection. See how Claire composes scenes – with foreground interest, distant views, how much sky, and so on. Then there’s the positioning, using tree trunks and branches as framing, water for reflections, and angles for effect. The more you look the more you become aware of – I can see I’ll have my head in this book for a long time yet!

Positioning and angles in this image at Banongil in Victoria, Australia, puts the focus on the tree reflections in the water. I like how some of the trees reflected aren’t visible. Photography © Claire Takacs

Dreamscapes has certainly whetted my appetite to find out more about some gardens I know little about, and is a thoroughly absorbing armchair journey through a spectacular range of gardens. It is clear from this book that Claire sees gardens as works of art and photographs them with excellent perspective and timing to breathtaking effect. Anyone who cares about capturing images can see the tremendous effort and time she has so successfully spent achieving these things.

Since winning the inaugural International Garden Photographer of the Year Award in 2008, Claire has been widely published in magazines internationally and contributed to several books. This is her first solo effort, and I for one hope there will be more. Perhaps South America and Africa?

Claire Takacs
Published by Hardie Grant Books
RRP AUD $70.00 Hardcover
ISBN: 978 17437 9352 7

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Chantelle Leenstra
Chantelle Leenstra
6 years ago

That purple McCoy garden and Lotusland shrouded in mist. Drool! Thanks Louise. I need this book in my life and looking forward to learning more photography skills from it ☺️