Recently with the help of Zoom I attended a wonderful lecture on Frederick Law Olmsted…
[left: The more natural landscape at the estate of A. J. Downing in mid 19th century Newburgh, NY. Photo courtesy of Francis Loeb Library, Graduate School.]
In 1864 Philadelphia nurseryman and writer Thomas Meehan in his Gardener’s Monthly agreed with English landscape designer Edward Kemp that landscape design should include more art than the ‘old’ natural view encouraged.
John Claudius Loudon, the English horticultural champion who wrote books, articles, and edited a magazine til his last hour, wondered how America could be satisfied with the natural landscape because America had “so much inimitable natural scenery”. American landscape needed art, expressed in symmetry and formality.
Meehan fought for a return to more formality in the landscape, and in that effort, he wrote , that “I stood alone in urging this point to the attention of American gardeners.”
Andrew Jackson Downing, the New York landscape designer, writer, and editor, supported the English natural look for American landscapes. Downing turned down an article that Meehan had written for Downing’s magazine The Horticulturalist. The articleencouraged the formal, artistic view of the landscape, something Downing did not encourage.
What I find curious in the art versus natural landscape debate in nineteenth century America is that the seedsmen and nurserymen of that time were quite vocal in the debate. They did not stand on the sidelines.
Loudon, Downing, and Meehan had strong opinions on the kind of landscape American gardeners should cultivate.
That debate goes on today as well.
Do you like a more natural landscape, with native plants, and little formality? Do you avoid rows of closely trimmed hedges, or an extensive lawn to maintain?