Led by the Land – Review

The classic, ‘Led by the Land – Landscapes‘ by Kim Wilkie has just been republished as an updated and expanded edition. Wilkie is revered for his unusual vision and his grasp of how people have moulded their environment over the centuries and in this welcome updated edition he includes fresh thoughts on farming, settlement and new projects.

We often take our landscape and environment for granted, hence the advancing movement on climate change and the discussions on our impact on what is becoming a very fragile earth. Wilkie’s book ruminates on our species’ place in the environment, the way past masters have fashioned it and the hopes for our future fruitful connections. It is in many ways an inspirational book, leading us gently into a greater understanding of our landscape and our place in it.

As a leading landscape architect, Wilkie has taken his genius to many parts of the world, from the U.S., Chile and Russia to the Middle East and the very edge of the Arctic Circle as well as the landscape of the UK. He brings the same approach of reverence for the land and the creatures that inhabit it, interacting with the landscape and allowing the land to lead him.

We are taken on a journey across the globe, from Florence to Winchester and from Maggie’s Centre in Swansea to Paley Park, New York. He divides the book up into sections – Land and Water, Life, Spirit and Home Ground, each entry perfectly encapsulated so as to raise awareness of Wilkie’s expertise, thoughts and aims.

I was particularly pleased to see an entry for Holker Hall in Cumbria, where Wilkie was asked to help produce a long-term masterplan for the grounds around the hall in 2000. Also illustrated, the work at Boughton House in Northamptonshire where both archaeological challenges as well as engineering issues were overcome to eventually produce harmonic proportions based on the perfect relationship between square and rectangle. The effect – nothing short of stunning.

In the Foreword, Dieter Helm, Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Oxford, points out that the sense of place and harmony that Kim Wilkie’s examples give us is in start contrast to the destruction all around us: “The great challenge of our time is how to stop wrecking biodiversity and the climate, to respect natural capital and not destroy it,” he says.

With 200 photographs and drawings, including many plans and specially commissioned aerial photography, the book offers not only a rich account of an unusual talent but also an optimistic vision of our future.

Commenting on the book, Sir David Attenborough said: “A revelatory survey of how landscapes in human hands can become moving inhabited works of art, written by one of the most gifted of today’s landscape architects.” There can be no greater accolade for a book than that.

Led by the Land – Landscapes‘ by Kim Wilkie, is published by Pimpernel Press Ltd – www.pimpernelpress.com – in hardback at £35.00. It’s an absorbing and thought provoking read.

A copy of this book was provided for review by the publisher.

Images ©Publisher/Kim Wilkie: picture middle: Maggie’s Centre, Swansea