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American Landscape Designer Charles Eliot Discouraged English Garden Design

Landscape designer Charles Eliot (1859-1897)  advocated for the natural beauty in America.  He did not encourage simply duplicating a European style landscape when we had so much to offer in our own land, rivers, trees, and mountains.

Charles Eliot, American landscape designer

In an article called “Anglomania in Park Making”  he wrote: “Within the area of the United States we have many types of scenery and many climates, but in designing the surrounding of dwellings, in working upon the landscape, we too often take no account of these facts. On the rocky coast of Maine each summer sees money worse than wasted in endeavoring to make Newport lawns on ground which naturally bears countless lichen-covered rocks, dwarf Pines and Spruces, and thickets of Sweet Fern, Bayberry, and wild Rose.  The owners of this particular type of country spend thousands in destroying its natural beauty, with the intention of attaining to a foreign beauty.”

His words struck me when I first read them in Denise Otis’ Grounds for Pleasure.  This week I also read some of Eliot’s biography, written by his father and Harvard president Charles W. Eliot.

I thought to myself, what have we done in forcing our land to imitate a landscape of another country?

Charles Eliot wrote: “If the lawn were perfect and ‘truly English,’ would it harmonize with the Pitch Pines and scrub Birches and dwarf Junipers which clothe the lands around? No.”

His words make me think that we need to look at the garden and landscape in its own evniroment as the first step in landscape design.  Sounds much like English poet Alexander Pope’s famous quote from the Romans that we need to know  ‘the genius of the place’ before we decide on landscape style.



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