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Public Garden Reveals Formal Design’s Bare Bones

Public garden reveals formal design’s bare bones.

Recently my wife and I traveled to Spokane where I gave a talk on my book. Our hosts, the Inland Empire Gardeners, gave us a tour of the city of Spokane.

The only place I was really interested in visiting, and the only thing I knew about Spokane, was the formal Duncan Garden at Manito Park.

To my surprise the Park’s Duncan Garden was the first place we visited. You could see the bare bones of the formal garden that attracts so many visitors. [below] It seemed like the beds were just waiting for the day when their plants would arrive.

Manito Park, Spokane
Manito Park, Spokane

There is something magical about a formal garden. It certainly speaks to the artistic skill of the designer to create such forms of color and structure with plants, stone, and soil.

In August of 1881 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1881) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “Although the artificial or geometric style of gardening has passed away, a trace of it is still to be seen in some of the best grounds, where a small space is devoted to flowerbeds made in exact patterns, either cut in the grass or bordered with some low edging plants, with gravel walks between.”

In England that formal design took a back seat in the early 1700s to open the door to a new kind of garden design, called the natural or picturesque. Gardeners wanted a more natural look to the garden.

It would not be long, however, before the English would return to a more formal look in the garden. You can see it below in the Penshurst Place garden in Kent. [below]

Penshurst Place in Tonbridge
Penshurst Place in Tonbridge

The Manito Park formal garden dates to 1904, a time when there was a resurgence of interest in the formal design for the landsape both in England and in America.

Spokane today reflects that tradition in this famous park called Manito and its Duncan Garden with its carpet beds, which were empty when I took the photo above, but soon will be filled with color.  Then people will once again come to visit and enjoy this special garden.

I am grateful to the wonderful people we met in Spokane, especially the members of the Inland Empire Gardeners, who were so kind to make sure we visited Manito Park.

Thanks to Pat Schilling Photography for this photo [below] of what the Duncan Garden will look like in the summer. Amazing beautiful color in this formal design will await the visitor.

Spokane's Duncan Garden [Courtesy of Pat Schilling]
Spokane’s Duncan Garden [Courtesy of Pat Schilling]
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