New American Garden Style
Lower Maintenance Gardening……..letting the ‘genius loci’ speak to you
While there are erudite books and articles on the topic, I will give you my own interpretation of how I see this style, especially as it is developing in popular gardening. Previously, if you read the components of xeriscaping, you likely read a bit about the New American garden style.
The idea or feeling of a place is comprised of many things, and it is this that makes a “style” as we recognize it. A worksheet to help you think out your own style is one way to begin observing your own space and decide your place in it and its place in the wider community. One example can be found from “Louisiana Voices”. I don’t personally subscribe to the ideas of spirit and soul being as presented in this idea which originated with the Romans, but at the same time I think it is descriptive of what we innately gather from our environment and interpret through our emotions. The dark coolness of a woodsy ravine is very different from an open savanna plain dotted with trees: the light of the sunshine is different, the colors are different, and the entire feeling of space and plants creates the raw resource against which we build our living spaces of homes and gardens.
This book covers the entirety of the Country Place movement, including the designers Olmstead, Ellen Biddle Shipman, Beatrix Farrand, and has hundreds of illustrations.
So what are the factors that give it interest and attractiveness?
- masses of ornamental grasses
- strong drifts of brightly colored native flowers
- naturalistic “feel”
- importance of foliage, en masse
- pathways and ‘hardscape’ that give freedom to the visual effect
- a sense of drama and importance
The American Style
“Do gardens have to be so tame, so harnessed, so unfree? What’s new about our New American Garden is what’s new about America itself: it is vigorous and audacious, and it vividly blends the natural and the cultivated.”
-James van Sweden
This style seemed to ripen in Europe with a development and replication of the feeling which native plants give American natural landscapes. It wasn’t so very long ago that long grasses were eschewed as the bane of the garden, giving an impression of neglect, but now everywhere are innovative uses of ornamental grass clumps and their graceful swaying reminding us of prairie views of long ago. Real prairie is now hard to come by, but it lives on in the large drifts of Rudbeckia and grasses, interspersed with Echinacea and Liatris. In tandem has been the growing American interest in creating meadow or naturalistic areas in their landscapes, sometimes in defiance of neighborhood sentiment and zoning.
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You also may be interested in the following page:
All about the concept of incorporating the surrounding landscape.
As I see it now, the “New American” garden has strong elements of the cottage style tempered with the landscape style … or the natural look of Downing‘s Country Place Era illustrated by Oldfields Gardens in Indianpolis..
One of the biggest differences in New American style is the use of ornamental grasses
, and the large sweep of plants with strong visual presence. If English gardening
is about the intricate interplay
of plants in textured layers of plantings,then the American style, in this new shape-shift, is simplicity of impact
. The strong colors of the flowers against the (mainly) neutrals of the grasses, (which is why Rudbeckias
, Black-eyed Susans, are so popular an element) create geometries of color inside a frame of “natural” wide open spaces. Grasses automatically insert a gracefulness of movement into the garden scheme, and create the perfect foil for bright color blocks of flowering plants. Another thing about this style is that it is left on its own much more, something unimaginable in English-style gardens. Native plants which are stalwart and hardy in ones climate, large expanses of plants which thrive together in the wild, and low maintenance plants, all these things factor into a garden area much easier to maintain. They are minus the “gaps” of careful color plans, meticulous maintenance, and stepped heights that many other styles require. This makes it a style for public area landscaping, and that might prove its downside. The very ubiquity of the style means an unthinking wholesale application to any and all environments, and the consequent disdain that is now apparent towards “suburban foundation planting”.
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The American prairies had a huge influence on the the look and plantings of the New American garden, to know more about them read my article on prairies,”The Prairie Garden
“. A Squidoo lens focus on Prairie Plants
gives another perspective.
That mundane future does not need to be the fate of this rich and subtle style.
It is a further evolving of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s integration of home with surroundings in design, the keywords being freedom, ease, and harmony.
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New American Garden Philosophy