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'50's gardens in America - 'historical' yet?

20 years ago

In introducing herself on the "garden history people" thread, Fran writes:

"I work in a historic museum in Washington DC called Hillwood. Its gardens were designed in the 1950s."

Fran's statement prompts me to post something I've been thinking about recently: the '50's style American (Canadian, too??) suburban/rural garden and landscape. Typically associated with overused evergreens as foundation plantings, meatball and cube pruning, pink flamingos, garden gnomes, black jockey lantern holders, striped petunia and marigold bedding plants, and lotsa, lotsa lawn in order to keep up with the Joneses. Also the barbeque and perhaps a swimming pool. The rural areas were different, of course, but not far behind in emulating this wealthier, suburban landscaping style. In the small town where I grew up, there are still very "pure" examples of these '50's style gardens and yards.

We are now at the point that these gardens may be considered "historical" by some. In the antiques business, 100 years is a rule of thumb in considering what is and is not "antique." "Collectibles", on the other hand, come in at around age 50. Actually, anything that is no longer produced or available can be considered "collectible." Are '50's gardens, then, at the "collectible" age stage and thereby worthy of restoration and preservation? Should the suburban raised ranch receive the suburban '50's garden treatment to add authenticity?

I was raised in the 50's and 60's. For many years I felt the decor/style of the time was ugly and laughable - not much worth saving. In the '70's and 80's my sister and mother and I would laugh about our pink and turquoise color themes, the boomerang-patterned kitchen counter tops, outer-space shaped ashtrays, and chenille bedspreads. Years later, as I see these things in museums and as reproductions -- they begin to look like good design, attractive and functional . . .!!

I have several gardening clients who have modern, Frank Lloyd Wright-like homes. What sort of landscaping and plantings were associated with the "upscale modern" home of the '50's??

Fran, where is Hillwood? I lived in DC and suburban VA for 13 years in the '60's and '70's. Just visited DC in Oct.

Ginger

Comments (52)

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    there are a number of imporatnt designers of the 1950's, including Roberto Burle Marx who was Brazillian but made a significant contribution to even the landscape art here in the US.
    the 1950's were pretty dismal however there were lights... I think of Marx because when i think of the 50's i think of an era in-between, an era poised at a brink especially in the US. "The landscape" here was just dawining for the average homeowner. It simply didn't exist before then. Landscape Articuecture itself had only just become a wide spread academic discipline. In Japan the fist Ladscape Architect didn't exist before the mid fifties.
    I think you have to consider the American garden of the 50's within a world context. Certainly many military service men were returning home to a whole new mode of architecture, the "development", which had rules and regulations for the landscape. Houses were being built in mass in a way just hinted at in the 30's and 40's but in the 50's were brought to a massive scale which made changes so fast no one could keep up aesthetically... if too many changes take place it is difficult for the average person to tell good from bad.
    But what was the perspective of the 50's? certainly one thing that i often see is this tension of being in a place in-between. ioiin between a fiven landscape for most people and a created landscape for residential liiving. It is a place/state with which, I think, we have not yet finished. The current rash of decorating, even a whole channel of TV dedicated to decorating and instant cheap quick renovation just for the sake of change, is, in my opinion a hold over of this state of tension and discomfort. But occasionally, within that place some genius appears. Now we are often reminded of good old stuff, then, in the 50's, "old stuff" was verboten!
    There is the classic book by Tommy Church published in 1955 (most designers have probably read it) Gardens are for People. It's very title is telling, people weren't sure what landscapes were for. Though of course Tommy Church is very West Coast... but how can i think of the americna landscape without thinking of all the work of Edard Hopper? I still see images from both these men reflecxted so very strongly even today ... but somehow just now there is another sea change waiting to happen... manye. It is allwyas hard to read the present day state.
    Of course, plants were limited, and peoples familiarity with plnts were limited, even the appreciation of plants was unsure and tentative. Just then large landscape nurseries (mass plant producers) were only begining. Now, it is intersting, teny tiny nurseries are recroping up to produce the many varities possible. So there was a very limited plant availabity; which naturallly had some impact on design.
    I think there were some dimly lit ideals that guided the designing,though, of course these dreams were rarely actually realized. It is more difficult to try to unearth these ideals, though again, I am reminded of the impace of Roberto Marx.
    - Asha

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hillwood is a fabulous estate (one of several) formerly owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post (of Post cereal family). The house is packed with fabulous Russian antiques and the gardens are supposed to be wonderful--but as far from Ozzie and Harriet as you could imagine. They are most certainly not the typical American 1950s look. I think you need a reservation to see them. They haven't been open that long--just went thru a major re-do, if I am correct. Think the website is www.hillwoodmuseum.org. A must-see in DC and on my list for my next trip.

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  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Q. I have several gardening clients who have modern, Frank Lloyd Wright-like homes. What sort of landscaping and plantings were associated with the "upscale modern" home of the '50's??

    Depend on the region that they are located. - Regionalism played a strong role in the 1950's landscape architectual aesthetic.

    Florida deco homes go tropical, midwestern tend to go coniferous, and the California aesthetic depends on whether is it northern or southern California, the south goes slightly subtropical and the north used the basic staple of agapanthus, rhaphiolepsis, native oaks and oleander.

    My small firm has been fortunate enough to work on the renovation of several architectural gems from the 50's and much older.
    Several of the architects have name recognition while other home designs were copies of the day.
    When we renovated the govenors' city mansion we updated it with more drought resistant and a more mediterranean plant pallete.
    For a 1950 Eichler we did not stay within the architectural vernacular but totally updated both the architectural facade as well as the landscape architecture by adding a modern lap pool, entry pavillion , colored concrete terraces and more.
    For another 1950 Minton piece we stayed strictly in the vernacular but used an updated plant pallete of ornamental grasses , less lawn, and artistically sculpted the surrounding trees in the forest so as to open up a view. The hardscaping also was completely renovated but the original intention of sparse minimalism and attention to fine detail was upheld.

    For an interesting book on 1950's style California Modernist Gardens check out Pamela Burtons new book that goes by the same title.
    Or for a broader range of modernist architectural projects the hefty book entitled " Modern Landscape Architecture, Redefining the Garden " by Frankel is superb and should belong in the personal library of all landscape history aficionadoes.

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Mich is Wright (heeheehee), it depends on place and period. Falling Water is nothing like the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, nor should it be...

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Gardening/landscaping in the 1950's was influenced by several national happenings plus regional changes within the country. A population, newly freed from the constraints of rationing and vegetable gardening during WWII returned the backyard to lawn and partied and multiplied. To meet the serious housing shortage developers roared into old growth forest and farm land, leveling them to build suburbia. Little houses on little lots, one after another sprang up across the country. This presented a new problem to landscapers and I would suggest that they are still dealing with the problem of how to landscape a 1950's box with no significant architectural features wedged into groupings of similar boxes.

    For many parts of the country loss of the elm trees to Dutch Elm disease really changed the landscape. Elms had been planted as a monoculture in cities and towns. They arched gracefully over structures, highways and byways negating the need for a great deal of landscaping. Despite the efforts of scientists, the disease could not be controlled. One by one the elms died. Only now are the replacement trees beginning to mature. Historically the loss of the elm is significant for many parts of the country.

    Basically, the process of gardening and landscaping has changed very little over the centuries. However, the 1950's was the beginning of a change of attitude within this country. A population shrugged off the frugality of a Great Depression and a major war. We are still trying to define those changes begun after World War II. It is interesting to note that with the publication of Rachael Carlson's "Silent Spring" backward steps began to return us to the sound ideas of the past. Now, with a faltering economy once again...look where we are....back to organics...a return to sound landscape principles. Yup, you can place a Calder mobile in a landscape but it still needs firm underpinnings to make it stable. That's what the 'tear it down, rebuild it cheap, chemical introductions, throw it away' 1950's taught us historically.

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Nandina ,
    Did I misunderstand that last sentence or two but are you saying our current faltering economy has had an effect on the return to organic principles ?

    If so , can you discuss this theory further ?

    Thanks, Michelle

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    To get to the heart of Ginger's question "Are '50's gardens, then, at the "collectible" age stage and thereby worthy of restoration and preservation?"

    As was so well put, there are different definitions for historical, collectible, antique (by the way, a car is considered an "antique" at 25). The National Register for Historic Properties requires a property, which includes buildings, landscapes, archaeological sites and other cultural sites, to be at least 50 years old. They do allow exceptions for significant properties that are younger. Therefore, any garden created before 1954 could be considered historical by this admittedly arbitrary standard. It is interesting, because early 20th century restorations such as a colonial revival garden created in the 20s through the 50s are now being considered for their own significance and not for the period they were attempting to replicate. Gardens that were created/restored by people such as Arthur Shurcliffe (at Colonial Williamsburg) and Morley Williams (Mt. Vernon, Tryon Palace in NC) now have two periods of significance to consider.

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I see some one else has given a glowing description of Hillwood. It is indeed a large estate garden, and of course far from what ordinary working and middle class people would have done, but it doesn't take long to see how differently woody and herbaceous plants were used. It is particularly glaring at Hillwood, where a few planting beds that were not historic were designed by a contemporary landscape architect. Bah. Those beds look like they belong in front of an office building, gas station, or shopping mall compared to the rest of the garden.

    As for colonial revivalism, arrgh! Don't get me started on the idea that the horrendously inaccurate "restorations" done to innocent colonial and federal period historic sites are themselves historic and deserve preservation. If that's true, let's put Piltdown Man back in the museums of natural history, and go back to using Ptolemy and Tycho Brahe's methods of astronomical calculations.

    Mount Vernon, by the way, tore out most of their old restoration in the 1980s and replaced it with a design that can be well documented by archeology and other sources. After all, what what are they trying to show people, how George Washington lived, or how people in the early 20th C thought he lived (but didn't)?

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    In the historic preservation field the generally accepted age for buildings and landscapes to be considered historic is fifty years, but then we have to look at other factors, such as the state of preservation and the significance of the work, as well.

    It is often very difficult to convince someone that the little cottage or ranch like the one they grew up in is actually historic, much less that the landscape is historic, too.

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Asha-
    You make some very interesting observations. Could you expand on the two quotes below? Perhaps others could chime in re the second one.

    Also, how and where do you see the influence of Edward Hopper in today's landscape? Isolation? separation from nature? desecration of the land? The landscape is so busy and overwrought today(signage, fast food/big box store/chain shopping strips, etc.)that I value lonely vistas in city or country, ala Hopper. But then I have always been drawn to Hopper. (or are you speaking of a different Hopper?)

    "Houses were being built in mass in a way just hinted at in the 30's and 40's but in the 50's were brought to a massive scale which made changes so fast no one could keep up aesthetically... if too many changes take place it is difficult for the average person to tell good from bad"

    " I think there were some dimly lit ideals that guided the designing,though, of course these dreams were rarely actually realized. It is more difficult to try to unearth these ideals, though again, I am reminded of the impact of Roberto Marx. "
    - Asha

    Fran-
    So I take it you do not mind hx revisionism?(smile- understatement) I have a friend who is an anthropolgist and museum specialist at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural Hx; she travels the world and authenticates collections;she has a hard time of it with certain museums. Also has been quite unpopular in unmasking various historical "truths." Meso America is her specialty area.

    I was surprised to read part of PucPuggy's post that "early 20th century restorations such as a colonial revival garden created in the 20s through the 50s are now being considered for their own significance and not for the period they were attempting to replicate. Gardens that were created/restored by people such as Arthur Shurcliffe (at Colonial Williamsburg) and Morley Williams (Mt. Vernon, Tryon Palace in NC) now have two periods of significance to consider."
    Maybe I shouldn't have been.

    Ginger

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Mich,
    You caught the drift of what I was suggesting. Historically a generation, when caught in economic chaos, returns to the best of the previous generation. Suddenly our age 20-30 youngsters realize that all is not well in fairyland. That generation is returning to the 1950's for comfort. They are bombarded with doomsday chemicals plus a myriad of other problems over which they have little control. Those who follow GardenWeb closely have noted that one by one people are desperately trying to figure out how to reduce these hazards in their lives. Suddenly, everything including music, is returning to those simpler days. And it is always seems to be the economy that ticks off this type of change. At least, that has been my observation. DH has been a jazz musician for many years. Now the brides-to-be are calling him for a wedding band because he knows the 'old' music. Perhaps the overweight problem in this country can be solved with a return to jitterbugging! Great exercise and lots of fun! And just as an aside, the music during the 1950's, in part, returned to the former generation's blues and dixieland style. During the 1950's DH's dixie band had people up on their feet screaming for more.

    Of course, there are many factors to be considered in the return to an interest in organics. And that interest, in turn, is sparking a new industry devoted to researching and promoting the best of organic products for the home and commercial gardener. This is good! And now we in the business must in turn trial new organic ideas and teach our customers. These GW Forums are being studied closely by writers and organic businesses. I note quite a few ideas that were first suggested on these pages appearing in garden catalogs.

    Sort of a mishmash of an answer, Michelle. There are many reasons for the renewed interest in organics. But, don't discount the economy as one of them. For many gardening problems organic methods work slowly or not very well. I wonder what the next generation will decide to do? Or, will all our plant material be so genetically engineered that they can throw out the chemicals? Will this be the page in history the early part of the 21st century will write? Sorry to wander off topic...

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Found a book that sounds like a pretty definitive account of Frank Lloyd Wright's landscape design accomplishments. It is "Wrightscapes" by Charles and Berdeana Aguar, 2002.

    From the McGraw-Hill review:

    "* Wright originated the visionary concept of a rear living-room opening into a garden terrace -- fifty years before the California architects generally credited with the concept
    * Wright actually designed the first carport three decades prior to the date he is said to have Âinvented it
    * During the first forty years of WrightÂs career, he personally and professionally interacted with, and was significantly influenced by, designers who today would be described as landscape architects
    * Wright had a career-long fascination with community-scale planning

    Wrightscapes also chronicles how and why WrightÂs famous ecological sensibilities were established, delving into Japanese and European influences as well as forces that shaped both the young and the mature architect. The authors also demonstrate how his design aspirations went far beyond the accepted definitions of architecture. In order to be as complete as possible, Wrightscapes even includes a detailed listing of Âdos and donÂts for owners of homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright."

    The focus of the book is on the little explored influence FLW had on landscape design. He is certainly and commonly admired for his ability to meld homes with their environments. This book seems to examine his methods in detail. Might be a good book to check out in starting to view the '50's as a "historical" period in gardening and landscape design.

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Nandina, this is your agent speaking. Say no more before you call me.

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    California in the 50's did produce a group of landscape architects who made their work into a "style" which I think defines the era. California with it's generous climate had big nurseries and wide selections of plants to work with. People had been flocking there for years to get away from harsh climates where you were forced to live inside for months on end. So California developed a style of outdoor- indoor living that reflected itself in the gardens. Garrett Eckbo's book, The Art of Home Landscape , is a great source for what the California style is. In warm climate areas it is certainly as useful today as it was then.

    Now these gardens were found probably only with afluent people because all the boys coming home from war did not have the culture, the resources or know-how to build one. I would guess that in the square mile around where I grew up in Anaheim back then , that there may have been one or two other homes with a garden instead of a yard. Average middle class America did not have the money to spend on such things even if they had the culture to go with it. Today money flows and so people can spend money on landscape. People are bombarded with landscape wherever they go so they are concious of it and want it, if only to increase their properties value. Back in the 50's the average Joe Blow getting started in life ,did not even consider this. So there is probably very little from that era historically worth preserving.

    chris

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    This is a great thread. Just as Cady said, the first word that popped into my head when I thought of the 1950's was "vintage."

    Nandina, your post was particularly interesting even if it went off-topic because I see an example of what you describe in my neighborhood. The neighbor behind me has been laid off of work and guess what she's doing? She's planting what she terms is her "Victory" garden.--All veggies & organic. Prior to this, she just dabbled in gardening. (The frugality and basics of the past come back into vogue with the change in the economy.)

    This concept of returning to the comfort of the previous generation extends to housing. In Austin, some of the hottest neighborhoods are those with houses from the 1940's & 1950's. Little two bedroom cottages are selling for exhorbitant prices in certain neighborhoods. However, I don't see the homeowners in these neighborhoods creating 1940's & 1950's gardens--as they have been described here. Most are either xeriscapic, cottagy, or modern.

    I do think the 1950's is "collectible" or "vintage" although this may not apply to everything (landscaping). For me, part of the value of an age is the durability & uniqueness of its goods and it's overall impact. The 1950's were "safe" in many respects.--We weren't in a war, and you knew what society's rules were; however, as I mentioned, not everything from an era may be worth saving e.g. chastity belts, bustles, corsets, dental & medical techniques from the 1800's, & 1950's middle-income nondescript landscaping.

    Thanks for this thread.

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Isn't some history better forgotten?

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    No, I think all (garden) history should be retained and archived, taught in some encapsulated form. It behooves us to analyze and ponder the bad stuff to understand why it happened -- and to recognize it when we see it. Otherwise, we create the danger of repeating mistakes of the past.

    I'm not suggesting that we PRESERVE it, though. We don't need a living history museum of the original Levittown prefab communities. ;)

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Ginger, I'm not sure if I can trust myself to expound on revisionist garden history being preserved, especially in the commonwealth of Virginia. But that's why I decided to strike out into a new specialty at Hillwood.

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Nandina hit on a pivotal point in American garden history; the loss of the American Elm. How do we create a period garden when the plant material is lost or is no longer viable? (Planting multiflora rose in a Colonial garden would be tres period, but you'd be breaking the law in my state, anyway)...

    Cady has a point, as well. Do we need to recreate Leavittown? Why then recreate the meatballs and boxes of that era? It's bad design in most of our books, just because it fits the period we should do it? Most colonial gardens used chickens for IPM; don't see people rushing to recreate that aspect...

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Er. I have chickens, and they get free rein of the garden. They eat bugs and weeds, make fertlizer, and give me eggs. OTOH, I have had to modify the plantings to include only species that can withstand a chicken assault. ;)

    We have lost some of the heirloom species that characterized earlier American landscapes and gardens, so the best that we can do is to create "authentic" reproductions using the closest species to the originals that we can find. There are new strains of Dutch Elm Disease-resistent American elms, and they are the best hope for restoring this grand tree to our country's "Elm Streets" and parks.

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    The 'Washington' American elm is a cultivar outstanding in traditional appearance AND resistance. But I have to brag a bit here. At Hillwood we have at least 20, perhaps as many as two dozen, mature (DED-free) American elms that are perhaps 80 years old. Magnificent! (But a constant worry every time the wind blows.)

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago


    ginger wrote:
    >>>Could you expand on the two quotes below? Perhaps others could chime in re the second one.
    Also, how and where do you see the influence of Edward Hopper in today's landscape? I was thinking of E. Hopper as one who picked up on some of the deep and somewhat difficult themes of the '50s... themes that you point out well

    >>>"Houses were being built in mass in a way just hinted at in the 30's and 40's but in the 50's were brought to a massive scale which made changes so fast no one could keep up aesthetically ... if too many changes take place it is difficult for the average person to tell good from bad" Levittown was the bright idea for the returning troops. For $50 bucks you could have a down payment on a home far cheaper than anything else ever imagined. Levit built homes in mass, and controlled not only the look and function of the individual house but for the whole development. For instance, you can't hang your washing out on a line in the front of the house etc etc.. It all seemed simple enough but really, everything about this landscape was different. The relationship of houses to the city, to each other, the neat trim lawns, the back yards the regimentation and order that inspired the book "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit". This conceived suburb reorganized lives. And yet it was a created place without any genus loci (and, sadly there seemed to be no levity in Levittown) . Still we are struggling with getting it right...
    There is a rule of art, that you need to change one thing at a time so that when you change it you can look at it and feel if it is "right" or not. One simple change can change everything and if it doesn't feel right then at least you know what the change is. With two changes, and three and four the number of variables increase exponentially.
    There is a story of a Ukrainian village that was famous for producing beautiful scarves for centuries. If you had a scarf from this village you could be assured that the scarf was valuable. They always produced beauty. It was documented that when a new color was made available by some new access or trade they would make some less than great scarves. But they had a sense and eventually they incorporated the new color. After W.W.II acrylic colors became available, the village no loner produces scarves.

    >>>" I think there were some dimly lit ideals that guided the designing,though, of course these dreams were rarely actually realized. It is more difficult to try to unearth these ideals, though again, I am reminded of the impact of Roberto Marx. " You also picked up on another of the great landscape innovators in sense/metaphor, F L W...
    In Germany the Bauhaus was destroyed. But Frank even thought but little of the great architects of modernism in Europe...it is said that when he would swat a fly he'd say, "Gropiius Ha!" or "Corbusieur Ha!"
    His falling water is worth a great deal of study as it is such a perfect fit with the landscape, but the truth is that he had these ideas long before. It is an outgrowth of the genus loci but it is also a new vision. Certainly he related his sense to a comfortable whole feeling while the others often related their ideas to an ideal of machinism. FLW never had the idea of the house as a great machine, but of living. I do think that the designers such as Ecbo whom Venezuela mentioned and the other Californians especially owe a great deal to FLW. I couldn't begin to go into ideals here, I suppose, but if you read about Franks ideals you will see how ideals become design. His ideals inspired the school of Taliessen. He drew from many deeply American influences not simply as decorative ideas but rather as embodiments of ideals.
    What ideals were smuggling to come out in these modern scapes? ideals of community battling with ideals of getting ahead, ideals of a radical systems logic tussling with a morality that accuses the individual of ( not keeping tidy, for instance), the vast open in a space that is closing in, light penetrating the darkness rather than a darkness ensconced in the light, and appreciation of the beauties of nature for itself and not for what it can give you rages with taking what nature has for personal benefit, ... the sensuousness of distance, and freedom of space rather the a distance from the sensuous and a place secured and tethered....
    If there is anything that I am really passionate about it is ideals in the landscape.
    -- the "50's embody the uncomfortable beginings of this uncomforatble transition, but some landcapers did interesting things. If i was to try to embody some of the worst of the fifties I might do it with humore. I love a fence that someone made in a little neighborhood in town. It is pink flamingos beak to butt, beak to butt...a pink flamingo picket.
    - Asha
    p.s. as for the great Elems of Hillwood... to see that tree again, planted in rows down my street. As a child i used to look up to the leavy vaults streaming light like a green stained glass roof and know i was in church. In the fifties they were already old (then thirty years was old)

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    Thank you, thank you, thank you . . .

  • 20 years ago
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    WOW! What a thread. Definitley one of the collectables.
    you guys are the best!!!!
    P.

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    ooooo--I LOVE the idea of a pink flamingo picket...will have to share that with my buddy in FLA.

    Saw a stand of Elms in NYC's Central Park early spring of 2001. They weren't leafed out yet--but the bare trees were lovely. Someday I may make it back...

    melanie

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    There still are elms surviving on the Boston Commons. They were planted in the late 19th century. Most succumbed to DED, but I believe that some are being treated with systemics and have had their lives extended. Still, it looks like every year, limbs die and many of the trees lose a little more of their vitality. I see paintings and photos of the Commons that were made in the early 20th century, and the promenades are lined with grand rows of American Elms. Now they are gone from the Tremont Street side, but some specimens still dot the park.

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    Cady, if those elms were planted in the late 19th C, then they have had a remarkable run, DED or no. I was surprised to learn that elms aren't especially long-lived, not like oaks, for example. 80 years would be a typical life span, I believe.

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    Fran, I believe they were planted as saplings in the 1890s, which means they'd be over 100 years old. I'm going to double check to see if I can confirm a date.

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    Okay, I couldn't find a date for the elms planted on the Boston Commons, but in my perambulations on the Internet, I did find several sites averring that the lifespan of an American elm is as much as 300 years.

    I believe that the Boston Common may not have been assailed by DED until much later than wild elms and those in towns less insulated by an urban barricade.

    Also while Googling, I found a cool urban forestry site that mentions the trees that were planted in New England in the early 19th century. Among them were elms planted on Salem Common (Salem, Mass. - my hometown). I believe some of those original elms are still there, although many were replaced long ago with maples and oaks.

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    Well, Cady, I stand corrected on elm lifespan! I must for my own curiosity look up where I got the idea they were relatively short-lived.

  • 20 years ago
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    Sorry! Gotta say it! Boston Common, *not* Commons.

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    Heehee! You're right of course, Ginny12. I tend to use "Commons" and "Common" interchangeably. Same with "Boston Public Garden" and "Boston Public Gardens" (although the former is the correct name). It's just Lazy Massachusetts Bumpkin (LMB) talk. :)

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    uh, isn't any style indicative of an era considered 'historical' once the era is passed? History's not something that happened in grandma's time, folks- it's something we make to pass to our kids.

    FLW favored japanese-style plantings around his homes, or naturalized beds the further blurred the lines between indoors and out, wild and domesticated areas...

    as his houses have horizontal tendencies (gotta love 5,000 sq. ft. ranchers) with vast expanses of glass and strong vertical accents...plants inside can be as important as plants outside (god knows my folks' has build in planters, and it's only a COPY!)

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    chinacat,
    I think we have to wait at least 80-100 years to call it "historical." Younger stuff is "vintage." For example, 45rpm pop records from the '50s are "vintage," but not historic, while a wax-cut 1903 recording of Enrico Caruso is "historical."

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    Generalizations about FLW and his landscapes don't really hold up. You can't say that his landscapes were Japanese, or prairie style, or naturalistic or any one thing. They all vary according to the site and style of the building. The house I used to work at had a copy of the landscape plan, (it was one of his "Usonian" houses) and the design was highly architectural. He specified a color scheme of blue and white flowers only, and he suggested delphiniums, which do not grow in northern Virginia. The owners, of course, did what they wanted, which mad the whole business of restoration kind of hard.

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    Fran, that anecdote about FLW and delphiniums is amusing. It is why landscape architects (the few who know anything about plants) and designers, not to mention gardeners, go crazy when the architect insists upon designing the garden.

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    Don't worry, Ginny, I substituted Lobelia syphilitica and the effect was quite nice. But the restoration plan drawn up by a large LA firm was so idiotic that it was never completed. I redid it, to everyone's satisfaction, but that wasn't completed either, due to no money (so much for the National Trust).

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    a Unsonian house?
    Cool with the hand made concrete blocks and all?
    And indeed one can only take FLW landscape suggestions as a sense... I think the Usonian was probably a planted landscape from easy to get plants ... so in a way FLW was a good person to draw a landscape for the U house cause it was supposed to be very practical and all ... but back then good designers didn't exist. Indeed as you point out even a big LA firm can get it very wrong cause they don't develop a personal relationship with the client and see their needs...
    so here is another aspect of HISTORICAL .. i think, given what we know and can feel from FLW, you can ask what would he have designed TODAY given the same house and THESE clients and given that maybe he'd have turned over some of the design to a designer/Gardner (though not likely cause of his ego back then but maybe that has changed too!) and maybe he'd also change the landscpae based on how the nieighborhood has changd and how the value of the house has changed and how the nursery industry has changed...
    I think this can be done and still be historical!!
    the National Tryst - hooray
    -A

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    Actually, Asha, this particular Usonian house was mostly wood with some brick, no concrete blocks. And it seems pretty clear from his lack of writings on the subject (close to zero, in fact) that landscape architecture or design didn't interest him that much. And don't get excited by the house being owned by the National Trust--they do nothing to help their properties anymore. It's sink or swim on your own, as long as they are comfy in their national headquarters offices. Notice I said the landscape I designed was not installed, because it couldn't be done for free! I found the house to be dark and cold-seeming, the roof leaked (a common problem with his flat-roofed designs), and there were no closets. I certainly would never want to live in such a house!

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    "I have several gardening clients who have modern, Frank Lloyd Wright-like homes."

    To over-generalize, wasn't there was a whole school of Prairie garden design?

    These articles and books might be helpful --

    "Grese, Robert E. 2002. Review of The Prairie Spirit in Landscape Gardening by Wilhelm Miller inJournal of the New England Garden Society. 10 (Fall 2002): 62-63"

    Foreword: Jens Jensen and the Soul of the Native Landscape, Siftings, reprint, 1990, xiii"

    "Alfred Caldwell : The Life and Work of a Prairie School Landscape Architect"

    "Prairie Style: Houses and Gardens by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School"

    "Country and Suburban Homes of the Prairie School Period"

    Im sure there is much more out there. This was just what rose to the top of a quick google.

    Springcherry -- when period revivals work it is because the best of a period is reproduced. Of course, judgement of what is best is both induvidual and trend-sensitive. Its not just a question of what was, but how we now choose to remake it. Some of the most creative stuff in any period comes out of reviving anopther period. Wrights roots were deep in the english arts and crafts movement, those roots were deep in the medieval revival movement, etc etc.

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    There is a skirmish over historical designation of a 1951 redwood house and garden happpening right now in San Diego. It's a bit odd, because it is the architect who designed the house who is applying for historical status over the objections of the new homeowners who wish to do a major remodel, or possibly scrape and rebuild. The garden and its designer are briefly mentioned as being of historical note.

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    KayGardener:

    Get your hands up and step away from the keyboard. It's OK, but get your fingers away from the "Caps Lock" key . . .that's it . . . no one's going to hurt you, you can do it. No, no, don't keep your finger on the "Shift" key either . . . you can do it . . . we are all friends here. Sloooowwwlly, that's it . . . .

    Phheeewww . . . that was a close one. Cancel request for backup.

    spectre

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    Catkim-
    Nice article. They set the age of historical status for a home and its landscaping at 45 years, not 50 as mentioned in posts above. Does lend credence to the notion that '50's landscape garden design is indeed deserving of preservation and conservation from a time aspect, if not always from an aesthetic one!
    G.

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    45???? Holy catfish. If humans were categorized that way, some of us would be Historic Landmarks! Yikes.

    How are numbers like this chosen? Arbitrarily? I wonder what the process is by which something's status as "antique" or "historic" is determined. And, can it ever be universal?

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    No, no history is ever better forgotten. Once we forget history, we begin to change history and history serves no better purpose than from which to learn.

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    Someone pointed this thread out to me on another forum. Great info on the 50"s. We're refreshing our 1959 ranch home, and I am interested in the landscape history that went with the era. Not that we want to neccessarily duplicate it, but 'history serves no better purpose than from which to learn.' Well said, Patricia.
    Thanks to all of you.
    cantstop

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    I've been noticeably absent from all my boards lately and now find that I have a little more time to browse...and found this very timely conversation ;-)

    Cady and Mel will remember that I've been renovating/restoring my parent's '56 contemporary that had been neglected for almost 25 years (mom had alzehiemer's, dad took care of her, she died he wouldn't let us touch anything, brother is terminal and could care less about fixing or cleaning) Well, the end is in sight ...the house is to be officially listed this Tuesday.

    I made a marked effort to bring back the landscape to what my mother had planted in the late 50's early 60's ...not strictly due to nostalgia but because my mother had an excellent eye for design and color that spurred my interest in gardening at a very young age. I found the comment on Frank Llloyd, "* Wright originated the visionary concept of a rear living-room opening into a garden terrace -- fifty years before the California architects generally credited with the concept" described my parent's house to a 'T' and we tried to make the most of it - it may not be a Wright but it is certainly '50's California. I thought I'd share a few pictures...I will take all the final photos this weekend when we do all the little nit picky stuff.

    This is a view of the refloored rear living room and gives you a shot of the windows overlooking the back patio i.e garden terrace pre landscaping -


    http://www.ofoto.com/PhotoView.jsp?&collid=342900975105&photoid=501321897105

    This is that same back patio Before -

    http://www.ofoto.com/PhotoView.jsp?&collid=567043265105&photoid=287043265105

    And after After -

    http://www.ofoto.com/PhotoView.jsp?&collid=342900975105&photoid=921321897105

    We did remove the junipers out front (person loathing involved in that decision) and repeated the fern/fuscia theme my mother had had out back. I'll take photos this weekend.

    Barbara in Hollywood

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    Barbara-
    I looked at all 70 photos! What a lot of work; I love the green floor tiles that look like your beach rock, the cherry-look wood flooring, your grouted bathroom tiles, the landscaping like your Mom used to have it, and your kitties. Your partner in crime is pretty cute, too.

    The Victorian is a whole 'nother story. Wouldn't that make a great tale for this forum?

    I, too, have some more time now. I saw that momcat2000 wrote the other day on the book club thread that she now has time to start the G.Jekyll book. Me, too. Anyway, maybe we will start to see more action on this forum.

    Enjoyed your photos and catching up on your restoration.
    Ginger

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    Ginger-

    Thanks...Michael is a dish even though that photo doesn't do him justice. This house restoration has been more work, worry, and heartache than I ever imagined.

    I'm so pleased you noticed my "Carmel" theme throughout the house - the kitchen floor tile was picked because it does look like the Carmel Jade you find at the beach. I also put in hints of beach glass throughout all the tile work in the house...because I still can't resist picking up every piece I find. The color of the wood floors was picked to mimic the color of the redwoods up in Big Sur, the blue bathroom symbolizes the ocean on a sunny September day and the second bath flooring mimics Carmel Stone, and when combined with the butter yellow walls that room it feels like a hike out in Carmel Valley on a hot day. My neighbor said the house has a wonderful zen feel to it which is what I was after. I will have another album that will highlight all the finished details including the garden.

    As for the Victorian...a true diamond in the rough. Michael was floored that I would want to save such a derelict..he really did call it kindling, that is until I pointed out just how easy it would be to rewire and replumb and suddenly it seemed attractive! Men ;-)

    I think I'm most pleased with the garden restoration - we tried to mimic what was best about the original landscaping while still pleasing contemporary aesthetics and utilizing more xeriscape materials than was original and Michael came up with some really terrific ideas that I wouldn't have considered - but that may be because I'm a little too close to the project. We did have to show some reserve since I seem to be of the "more plant material the better" persuasion but since the house is going on the market we had to keep in mind not all homeowners are into gardening like we are.

    Barbara

  • 19 years ago
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    Hi,

    Barbara, I tried to see your pictures but got a "link no longer valid". Is it all still there? Thanks.

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