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Olmsted’s Legacy

We recently celebrated Frederick Law Olmsted’s birthday.

He was born April 26, 1822 – two hundred years ago.

What to me is astounding about Olmsted is his passion to make public green spaces available to all, especially in the many parks he designed.

Frederick Law Olmsted

In L. H. Bailey’s classic Cyclopedia of Horticulture we read of Olmsted’s genius.

“Mr. Olmsted took the greatest interest in and secured the adoption of what may be called the naturalistic style of planting.

“He may fairly be said to have been the originator in this country of the extensive use of shrubbery borders and masses as a main feature of landscape planting instead of planting individual shrubs as mere decoration.

“His influence througout the whole country has been very great, as shown by the adoption by a host of imitators of the irregular, informal, picturesque or naturalistic landscape style, with the prevalence of curvilinear roads, walks, and the like.”

Last week the New York Times published a wonderful tribute to Olmsted.

It includes a quote from OImsted himself.

He once wrote, “We want a ground to which people may easily go after their day’s work is done,

“and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets,

“where they shall, in effect, find the city put far away from them.”

That’s exactly what Olmsted provided at a time in this country when work, achievement, action, power and the bottom line took center stage.

We call that period of the late nineteenth century the Gilded Age for a reason.

Today we can still see Olmsted in the many splendid parks he designed around the country.

They remain his legacy.

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