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Contemporary Parks and Gardens in France

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By Marielle Hucliez. Vilo, 2000. 160pp. £19.99. (Distributed by Art Books International 020 7720 1503)

The title sends mixed messages to a UK audience, writes Barrie Evans . 'Contemporary' promises interest and 'Parks and Gardens' suggests serried ranks of pansies and wallflowers. In fact, this book covers work by 13 designers, mostly French and mainly of quite large-scale public projects, from squares to reclamation to motorway landscaping. The few gardens too are large enough to suggest that they are open to visitors.

There is a coffee-table feel to the book, with each designer given a couple of paragraphs of profile followed by two or three schemes over a few pages, dominated by photographs. Plans are sparse, but the schemes are more radical than this may imply. They avoid UK preoccupations such as cottage garden, econon-design and Changing Rooms ' difference-for-itsown-sake. There is a strong thread of Modernist formality in much of the work, admittedly sometimes promising a high price in maintenance. There are, seemingly, several ecological threads too, though the writing is somewhat limited here.

The sometimes uncomfortable pairing of architect-artist is here a more complementary one in the pairing of landscape architect-naturalistic sculptor. In some cases they work seamlessly together.

Garden opening and visiting in France only began its resurgence in the past 10 years. Perhaps that looser cultural tie with historic landscape helps explain the existence of such a range of imaginative (and completed) projects, un-British in their innovation.

Pictured is part of Jacques Coulon's seafront scheme at Saint-Valery-en-Caux.

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