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Olmsted’s Legacy: His String of Parks

Recently with the help of Zoom I attended a wonderful lecture on Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) by landscape architect Lauren Martin.

It got me thinking of Olmsted’s genius.

He is, as we all know, the country’s most signficiant landscape designer of the nineteenth century.

You can see his legacy across the country, wherever he spread inspiration on a particular college campus or city park or or government building, or the personl residence of a client.

His legacy was based on the idea that people need the opportunity to enjoy outside air along with the beauty of nature, expressed in grass, trees, shrubs, and water and stone as well. Such a connection is essential for all of us.

Everything he did was based on that principle.

English Inspiration

He got the idea from the English.

Before he started to advise here in the US Olmsted visited Birkenhead Park in England in 1851.

There he witnessed for the first time what a park could do for people.

When you read that Olmsted designed dozens of landscapes around the country, remember that he did that with the help of his team, located by the end of the nineteenth century in his office at Brookline, Massachusetts.

Birkenhead Park

In  1826 the English gardener Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) became head-gardener at Chatsworth, an early classic English garden, still visited by thousands every year.

Paxton also designed England’s first public park, Birkenhead Park, which opened in 1847.

Olmsted visited Birkenhead before his design of  Central Park would take America by storm.

Bill Bryson wrote in his book At Home: “Olmsted was enchanted. The quality of landscape design ‘had here reached a perfection that I had never before dreamed of,’ he recalled in Words and Talks of an American Farmer in England, Olmsted’s popular account of the trip. At that time, many people in New York were actively pressing for a decent public park for the city, and this, thought Olmsted, was the very park they needed.”

Central Park

Today Central Park stands as America’s premier public park, designed along the lines of the picturesque, romantic English park style of the nineteenth century.

That park came from the inspiration of Frederick Law Olmsted.

Here is a bird’s eye view of the beautiful Central Park in New York. [below]

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