“Consult the genius of the place in all things.” -Alexander Pope
Our Style and Design- Where Does It Come From?
Our sense of landscape design develops through historical trends, where we pick up one and layer on another, or completely discard all for something altogether different. Many of us appreciate the nineteenth century landscape sensibilities of Gertrude Jekyll and American counterparts, and I think it affects our sense of what is beautiful in the landscape even today.
“…Country estates designed by prestigious architects and landscape architects…[were] influenced by the picturesque approach of A. J. Downing and Frederick Law Olmsted, chief designer of New York City’s Central Park, and Beaux-Arts principles that accommodated an eclectic array of European-inspired features. Over time, landscape architects learned to integrate Downing’s and Olmsted’s ideas with increasingly imaginative formal elements, such as water staircases. The era’s most vibrant designs also celebrated the genius loci -the spirit of the place. They emphasized the natural beauty of the land. Today, most of the landscapes of the Country Place Era have been altered or consumed by suburban development and sprawl.”
-Robin Karson, curator of the National Building Museum
If we garden, we often disassociate from today’s suburban blandness and integrate the style melded from our own tastes and ideas from contemporary designers. Yet, the styles of the past are the foundation and sometimes the springboard for our own gardening “genius”.
Examples of Country Place Style And Design
Vestiges of “The Country Place Era”, an important movement in American architecture and landscape design between 1900 and 1940, especially impacts us.
Even though we may not know the name for it, our general sense of a naturalistic and open landscape derives from this conscientious application of ideals in neighborhood, garden, and park planning of that time. I think it continues in the ‘New American’ style of incorporating grasses, creating urban meadows, and many of our people-friendly garden plans, both residential and commercial.
Whether we create formal or informal gardens, idiosyncratic or historic ones, we are mindful of the “spirit of the place”. Even if it is not conscious, we keep in mind the architecture, the background scenery, and the integration into our climate and neighboring surrounds. Very few of us garden without some relationship to these items.
Even though we may not know the name for it, our general sense of a naturalistic and open landscape derives from this deeply American “Country Place” style
Components of Style
The composition of style consists of:
One of the first things in design is the question: What do you want from your garden?
The many combinations of these artistic concepts create the feeling and the identifying marks of a particular style.
In a garden we choose formal/informal, enclosed/open, bright/muted, symmetrical/asymmetrical, straight/curving… and along with making choices we often follow a pattern of a named style: Cottage, Japanese, Colonial, English, Italian, etc. The method in which the components of design are combined outline general “principles” which make up specific garden styles.
The exciting thing about a garden is that it is made up of living things, constantly changing and growing. This means that no matter what the style there will always be something new about the garden, although in the negative sense it also means we have to accommodate to such things as weeds, disrepair, loss of plants to circumstance, and many such factors. This is the challenge to the gardener, to manage and create from ones own vision and gardening elements. This is what makes our garden.
It All Starts Here
With you! One of the first things in design is the question: What do you want from your garden? Encouraged to make a list, we might include a border of flowers, a vegetable area, a play are for children, a quiet seat with a serene scene.
The list is unique to you and your family. Map out spaces for such activities. A firepit? A sandbox or dining al fresco? a rose garden or espaliered fruit trees? Dream as much as you want in the planning stage, paint a big picture…. then break down the parts into a schedule of construction. You may not have all accomplished, but it will be a guide to your efforts and help to finish some of the important areas you envision.
So make a plan. Use a professional service, a guidebook, or a landscape software program to put it together. I liked to draw things out, some people like graph paper, and the landscaping software gives you virtual images to work with. Once you have worked on the bones of the place you are ready to give life to the vision with plants.
I like the idea of planting one area at a time, it is easier to manage and you have more satisfaction at getting a project underway instead of fits and starts all over the place. Of course, if you are renovating, this is more along the lines of “prioritizing” the work. Prioritize one or two major areas to make the most progress in that season.
There is no such thing as a “maintenance free” garden, but there are differing levels in the amount of required work. An intensive garden such as an English perennial border may not be for you if you have limited time for your gardening efforts. Adjust your design plan to fit your interest level and ability to expend the energy necessary. Sometimes this means time limitations, and sometimes physical limitations such as aging. It never means you can’t garden- it is more a matter that you change the plan to fit your needs.