Redefining Paradise

Private Paradise: Contemporary American Gardens
is a collection of forty-one gardens located throughout the United States designed by notable contemporary landscape architects such as OLIN, Kathryn Gustafson, ASLA, Ken Smith, ASLA, and Thomas Woltz, FASLA. The author, Charlotte Frieze, FASLA, is a contributing editor at Town & Country and was the garden editor at House and Garden for nearly 10 years. She provides compelling descriptions of an array of residential landscapes. Each is beautifully photographed and includes notes on the particular climate, soils, and other existing conditions that influenced the designs.

In the introduction, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, Founder and President of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), describes the collection of projects as somewhat of an homage to the legacy of Dan Kiley, whose work on the Miller Garden influenced many of the designers featured in the book. He describes them as following “the rise and development of Modernist design principles that balance form and function, now refined to show that a beautiful Modern garden can be horticulturally rich, sustainable, and sensitive to a site’s environmental and cultural systems.” In turn, the book demonstrates the integration of Modern residential landscape architecture with current environmental concerns and sustainable practices.

The projects vary in their response to these concerns and are informed by the particulars of scale. Many address resource conservation with features like permeable surfaces, recycled materials, and native and low-maintenance plant palettes that require no pesticides, limited water, and organic fertilizer. Water conservation and protection are major design considerations in several of the projects where solutions included planted buffers for stormwater management, rainwater-harvesting gardens, and irrigation systems that prioritize irrigation sources and only activate when the landscape requires supplemental water. Gustafson Guthrie Nichol’s design for a residence along Lake Washington utilized a planted edge of grasses and perennials along the lake to absorb stormwater runoff and protect the water from excess natural fertilizers applied to other areas of the landscape (see image above). Mikyoung Kim employed a similar strategy at Farrar Pond Garden in Lincoln, Massachusetts, where she planted a “tapestry” of native plants along the edge of the property to protect the historic watershed.

Some larger-scale projects address resource conservation as well as the complexities of sustainable agriculture and ecological restoration. At Seven Ponds Farm, an agricultural landscape in Central Virginia, Nelson Byrd Woltz aimed to provide wildlife habitats and protect water quality within the context of a working farm. They transformed former pasture lands into meadows of wild flowers and native grasses to attract local bird and butterfly populations. They also reshaped muddy stock ponds and planted the edges in order to prevent erosion and filter stormwater runoff carrying fertilizers and other pollutants.

Similar intentions informed the restoration of a riparian habitat located on a former ranch outside Grand Teton National Park. Design Workshop sought to restore the area destroyed by cattle grazing by reintroducing native grasses, sedges, and reeds to control creek bank erosion, prevent sedimentation, and improve water quality downstream.

These spaces seek to provide the private luxury that traditional residential landscape architecture affords while creating site-specific responses to contemporary environmental issues. From expansive vineyards in California to high-rise patios in New York, landscape architects are finding innovative ways to redefine residential landscapes with an increasing attentiveness to broader environmental considerations. Most display a sensitivity to location, such as desert and coastal landscapes where native grasses, drought-tolerant plants, and gravel gardens replace maintenance-intensive lawns. The overall range of projects demonstrates that there is no one type of American landscape.

Explore the book.

This guest post is by Shannon Leahy, Masters of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of Pennsylvania

Image credits: (1) Lakeshore Residence, Gustafson, Guthrie, Nichol, Lake Washington, Washington, (2) Farrar Pond Garden, Mikyoung Kim, Lincoln, MA, (3) Seven Ponds Farm, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Central Virginia, (4) Snake River Residence, Design Workshop, Near Snake River, WY. Private Paradise / The Monacelli Press

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