Armchair tour through four centuries of gardens

Visions of Paradise, by Marina Schinz. New York: Stewart, Tabori, & Chang. 272 pp. $45. Marina Schinz has photographed 280 gardeners' ``Visions of Paradise'' ranging from the Italian Renaissance to present naturalized gardens.

Her camera is our eye to the profusion of a cottage garden in Gloucestershire or the immense scale and precision of the Ch^ateau de Courances. Adelma Simmon's herb garden and Russel Page's versatility with neoclassicism and landscaped gardens are only two of the worldwide examples of basic garden styles: perennial border, rose, kitchen, Italian, French, or English. At L'Hay-les-Roses, ``an all'ee records the entire history of the rose in flowers.''

The text by Susan Littlefield explains the historical impact of a personal preference, such as Robinson and Jekyll's revolt against carpet bedding in favor of hardy plants in casual association.

A garden could reflect a national statement, as was the case at Versailles where ``the notion that an entire 100-hectare [250 acres] garden could be conceived as emanating from a single point epitomizes Louis XIV's hubris as well as the prevailing French style.'' And later in 1809, to please a lady named Josephine, ``while France and Great Britain were at war, a ship carrying a pale pink rose was escorted safely across the English Channel toward Calais.''

Ms. Schinz conveys through pictures the important role of gardens over the centuries.

The double page photographs have such visual impact that the book must be held at arm's length or hung on a wall. This is an absorbing garden tour and a super busman's holiday.

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