“Landscape design” may sound a bit like an oxymoron. How, after all, can mere humans improve upon nature? Pretty easily, as it turns out. Nature is surely amazing all on its own, but landscape design is an art just like painting and sculpting. Many beautiful outdoor spaces—golf courses, public parks and gardens, even cemeteries—can seem like natural oases born out of thin air, but they're actually carefully planned out and tended to by experts. It's very interesting to learn about the artists behind these spaces and it can provide endless inspiration for your own landscaping projects.


Perhaps the most famous American landscape architect is Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), who is also considered the father of American landscape architecture. Olmsted, who was also a renowned journalist, co-designed Central Park in New York City—arguably the most famous public park in the country, if not the world—along with British architect Calvert Vaux, with whom Olmsted also designed Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Olmsted was also the mastermind behind the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago where he managed to turn Chicago's Jackson Park, which was described as, "one square mile of desolation, mostly treeless, save for pockets of various kinds of oak—burr, pin, black, scarlet—rising from a tangled undergrowth of elder, wild plum, and willow; 'remote and repulsive'; as well as, 'a sandy waste of unredeemed and desert land'"—into a a beautiful backdrop for the "white city" that was created for the fair. Olmsted really deserves a post—or several!—of his own in this blog, but I couldn't write about American landscape architecture without mentioning him. 


Landscape architecture is definitely a topic I plan to revisit, but here are a few of the many great books on notable American landscape designers and the spaces they've created to hold you over until then:



Beatrix Farrand: Private Gardens, Public Landscape




Beatrix Farrand: Private Gardens, Public Landscapes presents the life and work of one of the foremost landscape designers of the early 1900s. Born into a prominent New York family (she was the niece of Edith Wharton), Farrand eschewed the traditional social life of the Gilded Age to pursue her passion for landscape and plants. Many of her clients were members of the highest echelon of society with estates in Newport, the Berkshires, and Maine, but Farrand ultimately became a consultant for university campuses, including Yale and Princeton, and for public gardens, including the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and the Rose Garden at The New York Botanical Garden. Perhaps her best-known work is the extensive garden at Dumbarton Oaks, originally a private residence and now a research institute of Harvard University.

Deeply influenced by the English landscape designer Gertrude Jekyll, Farrand was known for broad expanses of lawn with deep swaths of borders planted in a subtle palette of foliage and flowers. Her gardens have been photographed at their peak especially for this book, and these lush illustrations are complemented by beautiful watercolor wash renderings of her designs, now preserved at the library of the University of California at Berkeley.



The Gardens of Frank Lloyd Wright 




Best known for his strikingly modern structures, Frank Lloyd Wright was also a highly influential landscape designer. The Gardens of Frank Lloyd Wright is the first book in full color to focus on Wright’s four most famous residential landscapes: his first home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois; his magnificent 3,000-acre summer home Taliesin, in Wisconsin; his 600-acre winter home Taliesin West, in Arizona; and Fallingwater, in Pennsylvania, the commission that made him world famous. 


The product of extended visits to properties associated with Wright, as well as extensive interviews with surviving colleagues and students, the book also explores the Japanese and Mayan landscapes that inspired Wright and his appreciation of the stone meeting circles and naturalistic prairie plantings of the great landscape architect Jens Jensen. Planting plans allow readers to create prairie-and desert-style gardens of their very own.



Jens Jensen: Maker of Natural Parks and Gardens




Jens Jensen was one of America's greatest landscape designers and conservationists. Using native plants and "fitting" designs, he advocated that our gardens, parks, roads, playgrounds, and cities should be harmonious with nature and its ecological processes—a belief that was to become a major theme of modern American landscape design. In Jens Jensen: Maker of Natural Parks and Gardens, Robert E. Grese draws on Jensen's writings and plans, interviews with people who knew him, and analyses of his projects to present a clear picture of Jensen's efforts to enhance and preserve "native" landscapes.



Shaping the American Landscape 




Shaping the American Landscape explores the lives and work of 151 professionals who quite literally shaped both the land itself and our ideas of what the American landscape means. Although the contributors consider many important figures from the past, the book breaks new ground by including seminal designers who are in their twilight years, and in some cases still professionally active, to provide a fascinating look at the modern era of design in action. The roster of profiles extends far beyond landscape architects to encompass professionals in many other fields, including planning, journalism, gardening, and golf course, and cemetery design.


The authors seek not only to bring their subjects' design legacies to light, but also to instill a sense of stewardship for historically meaningful examples of their art. Across North America, key works in landscape design—from M. Paul Friedberg's Riis Plaza Park in New York to Dan Kiley's Nationsbank Plaza in Tampa—have already disappeared. Other iconic works, although still extant, face serious threats of demolition. Shaping the American Landscape identifies a host of public spaces deserving of recognition, and sheds light on the process by which they may be protected.




Becke Davis is the senior writer for The Landscape Contractor magazine, a member of Garden Writers of America, and the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association. She has written well over 1,000 published articles and is the author of five garden-related books in addition to being the moderator of B&N's Garden and Mystery book clubs.





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About Garden Variety: The BN Gardening Blog
Welcome to Garden Variety, a common ground for gardening enthusiasts in the B&N community. Each day, our resident experts, guest bloggers, and B&N staff produce articles on evergreen topics and growing trends in the realm of landscaping. From seasonal plants and edible gardens to book suggestions and landscape innovations, this is the place where ideas flourish.


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