Book Review: Shit Gardens (yes really!)

‘Shit Gardens’ by Australians James Hull and Bede Brennan is perhaps not a coffee table book but simply perfect for musings in the smallest room in the house.

Having been a long-term fan of @shitgardens Instagram the release of James’ and Bede’s much-anticipated book hasn’t disappointed: it’s a shovel-load of chuckles.


The book, published by Knock Knock is ‘a celebration – not a condemnation’, say Hull and Brennan who once posted images on Instagram from their neighbourhood but now use material provided by some of their  43,000 followers.

As a garden photographer and writer I’ve visited hundreds of gardens in twenty countries. Some are grand and formal, some are quaint and quirky. Often the most memorable are those whose owners are passionate – no matter what their status or wealth, or style.

Money, of course, can’t buy style or aesthetics. The ‘treasures’ in Shit Gardens are sometimes intentional – a comical expression. Often they result from neglect and the passage of time.


Many have owners addicted to tchotchkes – small objects that are decorative rather than strictly functional, trinkets or miscellaneous items. (A familiar word used by Jewish-Americans.)

Sometimes these gardens are their owner’s pride and joy, and if we get to meet them their completely infectious enthusiasm will be highly contagious. We’ll float in a bubble of intoxicating pleasure. Then we go home and defrag.

There are also those gardens, from humble back yards to grand landscapes, filled with fantastical topiaries.  You wonder if the whimsical creatures, carved from foliage, morph into real creatures on a moonlight night and romp through the garden.


The chapters:

  • Topiaries – The Many Faces of Amateur Hedging (100% plant-based surrealism)
  • Gardens of Antiquity – Sentimental Statuary (A Pick’n’mix for the discerning garden historian.)
  • Water Features – From Atlantis to the Present (From Neptune to Poseidon, in a suburb near you.)
  • Astroturf – The Future of Lawn (Faux pas or faux grass?)
  • Hard Surfaces – High Performance Concrete (Typical Design Features Aspire to by many ‘Low-Maintenance’ home gardeners.)
  • Zen Gardens – The Suburban Minimalist (Features available at any discount nursery or pot warehouse.)
  • WTF – rethinking the absurd.

WARNING: While we gardeners seem to have so much affection for concrete garden fairies, gnomes and elves – and oh, my goodness meerkats – just be careful. They’re outrageously promiscuous. I’ve noticed they’ve been breeding so prolifically in gardens for some time  – there’s a worry they could cross breed.

‘Shit Gardens’ is pictorial with captions ‘on the mark’. Thanks Bede and James for helping us see the crazy joy in landscapes around us.

BOOK LAUNCH: The book will be launched at Brunswick Street Bookstore, Melbourne, on the 26th May.  If you’d like an invite contact Shit Gardens via Facebook. 

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