Creating a book-themed reading garden

reading quote

I was a voracious reader as a child. It didn’t matter what you put in front of me, if it had letters imprinted upon it I would read it. Books, magazines, cereal boxes, newspapers, shampoo bottles, I read it. I was well known at the local library and my parents had given me license to check books out from the grownups’ section. This led to some unfortunate choices – as a 10 year old I probably shouldn’t have read Jack Douglas’s “The Jewish-Japanese Sex and Cook Book and How to Raise Wolves” though I naively assumed there’d be some good stuff about raising wolves in there (wrong) – but reading made me the curious, inquisitive person I am today.

A reading garden for a school in Virginia

A few years ago I was asked by a local elementary school to design a reading garden. They wanted a space where the kids who would rather read a good book than play kickball (my people!!!) could hang out. As you may have seen by now, I can’t ever do anything by half measures, so I decided to go all out. Why just create a garden for reading, when we could create a garden that was also about reading? And so began my trip down the rabbit hole.

I decided that the logical way to go would be to pick a whole bunch of plants that appear in children’s literature and use those, planting around them with more traditional offerings. There were a few issues with this idea. First, a lot of the kids’ books that feature plants heavily were written by British authors and therefore set in Britain (or a fantasy world equivalent). The other problem was even bigger: a lot of plants referenced in books are used to maim or kill other characters. Rule #407 of the landscape designer’s code clearly states “thou shalt not kill clients or end users even if thine invoices goeth unpaid.” Who am I to argue?

Prop wand box by an amazing artist, click the image for his deviantart page
Prop wand box by an amazing artist, click the image for his deviantart page

So I took a few liberties and chose plants both based on actual appearance in books and the fact that they had names that worked with the idea. For example, the Harry Potter books were a rich source of inspiration. Mandrakes, sadly, were not an option, but many of the trees and woody shrubs from which Ollivander’s wands were made work here. So I included yew and boxwood and holly in the reading garden landscape plan.

Playing off Harry Potter and other books, I created a “dragon’s garden”. Tucked in amongst boulders, just as a dragon’s lair would be, I placed Sedum ‘Dragon’s Blood’ for the name, and Yucca for the spiky texture. Honestly, this is the type of project that were I to do it again I would want to involve the kids. I think they’d have a blast, and getting the next generation of plant geeks started is never a bad thing. I haven’t had a chance to check in and see how it turned out, but here’s the finished plan:


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