The Adventures of a Narrative Gardener

GBP £30.00



ISBN: 978-1-911282-74-7

168 Pages

305 x 229 mm (9 x 12 in)

245 colour

In association with Ronald L. Fleming

December 2020


A deeply personal memoir narrated through the lens of a garden, which shows how landscape can resonate with our past experiences and evoke memories of other gardens

2021 New England Society Book Award winner

“An invitation to look around our own space and consider composing our own thinking man’s garden”—Paul F. Miller, Newport This Week

“In The Adventures of a Narrative Gardener, planner and preservationist Ronald Lee Fleming pens a love letter to his garden at Bellevue House”—Fred Albert, Newport Life

“A unique, delightful, large-format book about one man’s desire to create a natural place to hold human memory”—Bill McCloud, The VVA Veteran

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This is the story of a garden, Bellevue House, in Newport, Rhode Island, that encompasses history and memory, inspiration and motivation. Author Ronald Lee Fleming has written an entirely new kind of garden book: an empowerment guide for the gardener who wants to invest their own sense of place and family history into their garden.

The volume is full of beautiful illustrations demonstrating the wide range of sources for this wonderful garden, from Mughal fountains and Italian grotesques to English stately homes and Japanese gardens. Through each chapter, Fleming explores how his own life experience has influenced the planning of his garden and how past events have found expression in his designs.

Rather than paying homage to contemporary landscapes, Fleming surveys historic gardens that influence his design, examines his own mistakes, and along the way imparts invaluable advice to the would-be narrative gardener. All the while Fleming makes a compelling argument for the continuity of classicism. Through a careful mix of rich visual imagery and memoir (including a harrowing account of his year in Vietnam), the book brings to life the garden Fleming has created as an external expression of his personal journey.

Praise for The Adventures of a Narrative Gardener:

“As the pioneer founder of Townscape Institute, Ronald Lee Fleming enriched American cities with narrative landscapes that engaged the present with the past. Now in lucent prose, he has collected the stories of his own life, along with experiences of his family and friends, and shows how he lovingly reinterpreted them over decades through a symbolic collection of timeless garden follies and stately landscape architecture at his Newport mansion, Bellevue House. In this harmonious ensemble, magnificently illustrated, he demonstrates and encourages the integration of life and art.”—Paula Deitz, author, Of Gardens: Selected Essays and editor of The Hudson Review.

“This is not your average pretty garden book. Ronald Lee Fleming is telling us the story of his life through the imagery of gardens he has known and loved and brought home to his own garden in Newport. The fountains, parterres, pergolas, grotto, pavilions, and follies he fashioned all relate to some aspect of this man’s extraordinary life. His ability to create a visual biography out of such a horticultural smorgasbord is unique in garden-making and transforms his book into a deeply personal history. This is a sublime American garden.”—Caroline Seebohm, author, Paradise on the Hudson: The Creation, Loss, and Revival of a Great American Garden and Rescuing Eden: Preserving America’s Historic Gardens.

“This lovely book challenges current historic preservation practice which, misreading the Venice Charter of 1964, imposes rupture with the past instead of the continuity that produced our historic places originally. Ronald Fleming’s garden demonstrates an older and wiser approach based on harmony and an authenticity rooted in care and craft.”—Steven W. Semes, Professor of Architecture, University of Notre Dame and author of The Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation.

“This is a fascinating book for many reasons, but especially because it uses the author’s narrative gardens cascade, Years of Living Dangerously, as a lens for exploring his own journey from military service in Vietnam and years of protest in its aftermath, to a process of healing and reconciliation with the support of his fellow veterans. Ron has lived an extraordinary American life: raised conservative, trained as an urban planner, tested while serving with the Green Berets, tormented by a war he’d seen up close, and ultimately reborn in a life committed to preserving cultural memory in challenging times. Ron’s intriguing and unique point of view on life animates his work and brings this book to life for gardeners and non-gardeners alike.”—John F. Kerry, 68th US Secretary of State

Author biography

Ronald Lee Fleming’s work as planner, urban designer, preservationist, and writer, involved with pioneering Main Street Revitalization and innovating place-making strategies, resulted in his designation as a Fellow by the American Institute of Certified Planners (A.I.C.P.). In 2019, US/ICOMOS also honoured him as a Fellow. He succeeded in passing a resolution at the General Assembly of ICOMOS (International Committee on Monuments and Sites, an advisory body to UNESCO) in Paris, supporting context-sensitive design for corporate franchises adjacent to World Heritage Sites. He is Chairman Emeritus of Scenic America, a national coalition concerned with the visual character of cities and towns. He summers at Bellevue House in Newport, Rhode Island, where he also campaigns for protecting and enhancing community identity. He and his son are currently rebuilding an historic ranch house in Ojai, California, where they grow organic citrus.

Table of contents

  1. Acknowledgements
  2. Foreword
  3. Chapter One: Navigating the Cosmos of Family: Piecing Together the Landmarks that Define It and the Patterns that Connect It
  4. Chapter Two: The Place of Memory: Resonating with the Soul
  5. Chapter Three: The Place of Animation: Expressing the Spirit
  6. Chapter Four: Meaning and Memory in the Academical Village
  7. Chapter Five: The Place of Craft and the Role of the Artist
  8. Chapter Six: The Place of Humor; Artists and Artisans
  9. Bibliography