"AMERICAN LANDSCAPE DESIGN"

MAIN STREET

Main Street is a place that exists in the physical and theoretical world.

“Why do Main Streets Matter? We all know where our Main Streets are, but do we know what they are and why they matter? Whether they are named First Avenue or Water Street or Martin Luther King Boulevard, what they represent is universal. Main Street is the economic engine, the big stage, and the core of the community. Our Main Streets tell us who we are and who we were, and how the past has shaped us. We do not go to bland suburbs or enclosed shopping malls to learn about our past, explore our culture, or discover our identity.”1

Our Main Streets are the places of shared memory where people still come together to live, work, and play. In Sinclair Lewis’ novel “Main Street”it is traditional American morals and values in the midst of a changing and somewhat frightening modern world.  It is a place of challenge and conflict, the individual vs. the community, change of society through thought, spoken word and action.

What is Main Street?  “The phrase has been used to describe everything from our nostalgic past to our current economic woes, but when we talk about Main Street, we are thinking of real places doing real work to revitalize economies and preserve the character of the city and town.”2

Main St, Flushing, Queens ©Art Print Images

Main St, Flushing, Queens ©Art Print Images

Main Street, Auburn  1909  ©pauldorpat.com,

Main Street, Auburn  1909  ©pauldorpat.com,

Main Streets tell us who we are and who we were, and how the past has shaped us. We do not go to bland suburbs or enclosed shopping malls to learn about our past, explore our culture, or discover our identity. Our Main Streets are the places of shared memory where people still come together to live, work, and play.

Main Street, Red Lodge, Montana ©Wikipedia

Main Street, Red Lodge, Montana ©Wikipedia

Main Street, USA in Disneyland is a sanitized composite of a typical American town during the turn of the century. Fashioned loosely after Walt Disney's hometown of Marceline, Missouri, Main Street USA features themed dining, entertainment and shopping experiences. Traveling up Main Street USA, you arrive at the Hub, or Central Plaza of Disneyland, which leads to the other various lands of Disneyland.

Main Street Town Sq. Disneyland old postcard

Main Street Town Sq. Disneyland old postcard

At the center of town is a public square. Typically this “node” is a swollen activity center.   Be it the core, the public room, the central activity node which in some way links the town, it is the heart of the town/city. As history tells us, many times a church, body of government is nearby and with it, this functional node is an area that can accommodate crowds, festivities, carnivals, dancing, speeches, shouting and mourning – “the life of a town”.3

It could be argued that in fact Main Street is really a mosaic of a diverse country and varied points of view. Mapping Main Street is a collaborative documentary media project that creates a new map of the United States through stories, photos and videos recorded on actual Main Streets. The goal is to document all of the more than 10,000 streets named Main Street in the United States.

HEDGES


The word "hedge" appears to stem from the Old English word "HEGG" which is believed to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon words ;
HAEG - hurdle 
HECG - territorial boundary dead or planted
HEGA - living border boundary 1
Hedges are a bordering and design tool. They enclose and subdivide fields, orchards, yards, parks and gardens. They form vegetative edges, topographic spaces, garden rooms, gateways, screens, enclosures, foci and forms within the landscape.

The term Hedgerow used to refer to 2 hedges running side by side separated by a track or pathway. These hedgerows served 2 traditional purposes , that of being a barrier to livestock and as a means of marking out territory or property boundaries. The term however tends to be used these days to describe a hedge of shrubs and occasional trees that create a border between fields and gardens or to create a privacy wall for a homeowner.

An extreme privacy hedge
www.dicts.info/img/ud/hedge.jpg

It is believed that the Romans may have first planted hedges in Britain but most of the few ancient hedges date from Saxon times, making some of them 1000 years old. The Saxons organized ‘strip farming’ in which each community of people would have a field which was divided into strips separated by grass verges. Each strip was one furrow long (one furlong or 201 metres). People were given a number of strips to farm by the lord of the manor. This system changed in the late Middle Ages when landlords wanted to put boundaries around their property, so they enclosed their land with walls or hedges. Enclosure Acts in the 18th and 19th centuries allowed farmers to put more hedges round their fields and most of Britain’s 300, 000 miles or so of hedges date from this time.

“During the 16th and 17th centuries, dense hedgerow patterns provided shelter for persecuted Protestants in France and Holland to organize their clandestine religious meetings. During the WW II the dense bocage in Normandy caused the invading Allied forces much trouble in advancing to conquer the Nazi regime.”2

In the past hawthorne (Crataegus monogyna) was the most popular choice for hedgerows in the ancient woodland for marking territory or as barriers to contain livestock. Nowadays hedges are commonly constructed of various plant and non-plant material for more ornamental purposes yet still as a privacy tool.  Boxwood, Privet, Beech, Cherry Laurel, Hedge Maple, Hornbeam, Holly and Yew are but a few of the more desirous plants used currently for hedges.
 Designer Luciano Giubbilei's masterful use of hedges at a Chelsea Flower Show garden in 2009

1. Hedgerows, Hedges and Verges of Britain and Ireland
2. Natural History Museum of Britain. www.nhm.ac.uk/index.html


*all photos copyright Todd Haiman unless otherwise noted

LOST LANDSCAPE

The Catskill Mountains and Hudson River Valley in New York State were the inspiration for a group of painters in the early to mid 1800’s - The Hudson River School.  It is through their eyes that we have a sense of that original landscape.  As development and climate change continue to change our landscape it is their depiction that we consider an accurate indication of that virginal world.

Sketching outdoors, these artists paid careful attention to the correct rendering of the minute details of the landscape, although they were not afraid to literally move mountains in order to create an effect that would fit their sense of the “Picturesque.”

While the great European landscape painters traditionally inspired them, the Hudson River artists, were in search of an art form that would allow them to express and celebrate that which set America apart from Europe. And they found it in the paintings that captured the grandeur of the American Landscape.

“Kindred Spirits” is perhaps one of the best known of these paintings.  The painting by Asher Durant, depicts his friend, the deceased painter Thomas Cole and the poet William Cullen Bryant standing on a rocky ledge overlooking the Catskills

It is titled after a phrase in a Keats sonnet and has long been considered one of the finest examples of Hudson River School painting. It was commissioned by Jonathan Sturges, one of Durand's most important patrons, as a gift for Bryant, and it remained in the Bryant family until his daughter, Julia, donated it to the New York Public Library early in the 20th century. The painting’s idealized composition brings together several sites, including the Clove of the Catskills, Kaaterskill Falls and Fawn’s Leap, in a way that is not geographically possible.

The author Bill Bryson describes his affection for the painting....“It shows two men standing on a rock ledge in the Catskills in one of those sublime lost world settings that look as if they would take an expedition to reach, though the two figures in the painting are dressed, incongruously, as if for the office, in long coats and plump cravats.  Below them, in a shadowy chasm, a stream dashes through a jumble of boulders.  Beyond, glimpsed through a canopy of leaves, is a long view of gorgeously forbidding Blue Mountains. To right and left, jostling into frame, are disorderly ranks of trees, which immediately vanish into consuming darkness.  I can’t tell you how much I would like to step into that view. The scene is so manifestly untamed, so full of an impenetrable beyond, as to present a clearly foolhardy temptation.  You would die out there for sure -- shredded by a cougar or thudded with a tomahawk or just left to wander to a stumbling, confounding death.  You can see that at a glance.  But never mind.  Already you are studying the foreground for a way down the stream over the steep rocks and wondering if that notch ahead will get you through to the neighboring valley. Farewell, my friends. Destiny calls.  Don’t wait supper.”1

Bill Bryson continues to jest about the scene.  He questions how much artistic license these painters took with replicating the scenery --  “Who, after all, is going to struggle with an easel and campstool and box of paints to some difficult overlook, on a hot July afternoon, in a wilderness filled with danger, and NOT paint something exquisite and grand?”

This painting hung in New York Public Library for decades until several years ago, when desperately needing funding, the Library sold it at auction to Walmart heiress, Alice Walton for 35 million dollars to display at her new museum. 

New York art lovers reacted with outrage  seeing it as a civic landmark. “60 Minutes” TV Correspondent Morley Safer commented that the “grand inherent irony is that all that Wal-Mart money was gleaned from the systematic destruction of the very American landscape Ms. Walton so expensively celebrates.”

 Thomas Cole "Sunrise in the Catskill Mountains"

Frederick Church "Morning Looking East"

1. A Walk in the Woods: Bill Bryson, Broadway Books 1998

FOUNDING FATHERS, FOUNDING GARDENERS

In the summer of 1776 the thirteen colonies declared independence.

30,000 British troops were approaching on warships, about to invade New York Harbor in the “Battle of New York” - George Washington sits down, takes his time and writes a letter to his estate gardener requesting him to plant a garden of native species only.  Shunning the past and as Andrea Wulfh calls it “horticultural independence.”  

Washington decided that Mount Vernon was to be an American garden where no English trees would burgeon in american soil.

By creating a landscape exclusively designed with plants and trees native to America, Washington was making a bold statement—a botanical declaration of independence from England.

(George Washington) "The Farmer", 1853 lithograph, The Granger Collection, NY

In Andrea Wulf’s,

“Founding Gardeners”

she argues that the economic importance of agricultural crops, self-sufficiency and self-dependence and  a passion for nature, plants and agriculture was interwoven in the growth of the United States in its formative years – an ideological level of America as an agrarian republic. A national identity of nature was being invested with patriotic meaning. The “Founding Fathers” of the United States (George Washington,

Thomas Jefferson

, John Adams and James Madison) made everlasting political statements within the garden.

In 1786  Jefferson was American minister in France stationed in Paris, John Adams was minister to Britain stationed in London. The time is just after the Revolutionary War, when the United States was severely in debt after the war and looking to create trade alliances.  The British were not receptive to trade agreements with the burgeoning country that had just gained its independence, and could only hope for an economic collapse and Britain could perhaps reclaim them.

Adams asks Jefferson for assistance in negotiating with the Brits, cause the Brits truly despise the Americans at this point. This proves unsuccessful.  Looking for a respite, they adventure on a garden tour… traveling many miles a day visiting multiple gardens a day, taking notes, speaking with owners, their estate managers, gardeners.   Among the many highlights of the trip was Stowe, originally created by Lord Cobham. Jefferson and Adams appreciated the unstylized look of these new landscapes with unclipped trees, sinuous paths, irregular groupings of plant material, “naturally shaped” ponds and lakes. What struck them (and resonated with them) was the “liberation” of rigid landscape design, geometrical patterns formerly associated in with Louis XIV’s absolute and despotic rule, symbolic within the French landscape.  Hereupon “the irregularity of nature had become a symbol of liberty.”

Monticello 2011, still a working farm 

image: Monticello.com

Most significant was the consideration of an ornamental farm, a “

femme ornee

” -- witnessed at Woburn and elsewhere.  A style of garden that combined the beauty of a pleasure ground with the agricultural elements of a working farm.  This played right into Jefferson’s belief of a self-sustaining nation through agriculture.  A way to unite the fertile fields with the grandeur of the American continent.  Eventually he created the embodiment of this abstraction at

Monticello

.

 painting of John Adam's farm, "Peacefield" by E. Malcolm 1798

nps. gov