Bunny Williams' book Garden Style

As design lovers, we find inspiration in no shortage of places. That’s why we love reading design and garden books … especially when we know the author personally! We were thrilled to learn that Bunny Williams’ book On Garden Style would be reappearing on the shelves of our bookstores, newly revised and packed with even more information straight from Bunny herself.

To get your creative juices flowing, we wanted to share a little preview of Bunny’s book, On Garden Style:

Bunny Williams' Garden Style book

As far back as my memory takes me, I have been smitten by gardens. I grew up in the rolling countryside of Virginia, where I spent my summers tagging after my mother through beds of flowers and endless rows of tomatoes and cabbages. Often it was my job to pick whatever was ripe, and that is the memory that stays with me now. It’s a warm summer afternoon, the light is golden, the birds are chirping, and I’m out there happily picking peas for dinner.

For some people the scent of a rose or a lilac jogs fond memories of childhood moments in a garden. For me, it is the crunch of a raw pea, fresh from its pod.

The career I chose as a young woman placed me firmly indoors, far afield from that country garden. I landed my dream job as an apprentice with the New York interior design firm of Parish-Hadley. I loved the easy, comfortable, but stylish interiors that defined the Parish-Hadley look. One spring in those early years at the firm, the memory of my parents’ garden took up residence in my mind and wouldn’t go away. I was a newlywed then, living in a cramped apartment. As I looked out at a landscape of rooftops and trees caged in wrought iron, I desperately longed for a green space of my own.

Bunny Williams' Garden Style book


On a visit to see friends in Connecticut’s northwest corner, my husband and I found a tiny weekend cottage out in the middle of a vast green field. As soon as we rented the place from the charming English couple who owned it, we mowed a lawn and set about making a garden.

I knew almost nothing about gardens. I could identify a lily and a petunia, but that was about it. I studied a Wayside Gardens catalog, which offered three flower bed diagrams—A, B, or C—and decided that was for me. Hurriedly, I ordered up A and B, while my poor husband double-dug a space out in the middle of the yard. When the cardboard boxes arrived, we opened them like Christmas presents. We put in the little plants, sat back, and waited.

The flowers sprang up as if in a cartoon—I swear, the lilies were ten feet tall. The elderly English couple, who knew gardening, were astonished, and word spread rapidly among neighbors, who came over to gape at the flowers and congratulate us. Only later did we learn our garden was positioned on a former cow pasture.

That first garden had little to do with the color of our thumbs, but it was great fun, and to this day I have never grown such luxuriant flowers. Nevertheless, by the end of August, I knew something was missing.

Bunny Williams' Garden Style book


What the garden lacked, of course, was structure. These were plants plunked down in the middle of the lawn without any rhyme or reason. Our little plot did qualify as a garden—the foxgloves grew, and I had wonderful bouquets each weekend for the house—but it was not beautiful. The plot had no relation to the house, no shape, no backdrop. And clearly no style.

By the following summer, I was humbled but a bit wiser. I made a vegetable garden, this time with a path and an inexpensive but serviceable wood fence enclosing it. That path and collection of boards were all it took to get the message across to me: Structure counts. Structure not only enhances a garden, it is a garden as much as anything you plant within it.

Where do we begin to make enchanting garden rooms? My first garden taught me only too well that ordering up a load of perennials is not the answer. Great gardens begin in our own hearts and minds, and on our own properties. They are shaped by our memories and the landscape and climate in which we live.

Before you put pencil to paper, it’s important to start with some basic understandings. You must find what you truly love and want in a garden, and you must understand the strengths and weaknesses of your property. You also have to realistically assess how much time you can give to maintaining a garden. Once you’ve merged your “givens” with your heart’s desire into a workable vision, you’ll be ready to sketch out the floor plan and furnish its rooms with the sights and sounds and smells that say “garden” to you. The process is a longer route than a quick trip to the nursery, but well worth the time.

Bunny Williams' Garden Style book


Every gardener has been dealt a hand before he even touches a spade. These are the givens—the soil, the climate, light and shade, the flavor of the community, the topography of the region. Add in the slice of the land you call your own and the house sitting on it, and you’ve got a snapshot of the parameters within which you have to work.

In any scenario, your challenge is to meld those elements into a unified whole. To connect the house to the land with a garden. To make something beautiful out of what you have been given. To leave your imprint on the land. That’s what style is all about.

Find Bunny’s new book On Garden Style, or shop her stylish collection for Ballard Designs.