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Article reflecting 100 years of Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape to landscaping theories of Richard Jurgens, Jurgens Landscape.  Article excerpted from the Newark New Jersey, Star Ledger - Home and Garden section, May 10, 2000 written by Valerie Sudol.  Please click on the article thumbnail to view the article in full:

A LOOK BACK TO SEE IMPROVEMENT OF LIFE IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM

Many years ago, say a thousand or so, formal castle and estate gardens were generally constructed with geometric configurations such as the garden at Hadrian’s Roman Villa back in back in 100 AD. Even in 1700, the manipulation of nature in the garden was seen as an important way to symbolize a ruler’s power not only over his subjects but over nature illustrated in French garden of Louis XIV at Versailles for example.

On the other hand, the 1800’s offered a transformation from considering the natural world’s mountains and streams as obstacles to magnets of beauty providing participants aesthetic delight. Garden vistas were composed in England with integrated sweeping lawns, water, hills and even mountain trails to stroll. Birkenhead Park started in 1843 brought a naturalistic flavor to the city. It was acclaimed for its social enhancements in an area filled with the offensive components of industry. A visit to this park in particular amazed Olmsted in 1850 calling it a "people’s garden". In the United States, the Catskill and Pocono Mountains, and even Feltsville, that historic village in Union County, were evolving as popular retreats for "city people". Olmsted believed it should be possible to create convenient "country parks" for the exploding urban population in New York City and other areas of the nation. The accuracy of that line of thinking is made apparent by the popularity of Central Park.

The wonders of nature as the season’s changes could be appreciated by many people in a park. The current popularity of our national park system continues witness to the fact that even in the computer age, many people want to see, hear and feel the glories of natural beauty. Recently a friend of mine moving from western New Jersey indicated he was alarmed that so much of that natural remaining landscape would soon be destroyed to accommodate new houses and streets. Is there an alternative to this vast destruction of farm and woodland? With the ever increasing hurry and time pressure of today’s living, finding a location with simplicity and serenity can be a pivotal to our well being. The ability to escape from the noise and congestion of the harsh edges of city life has, over the years, produced an antidote, a healing garden. Could the wise use of our natural land resources be the pivotal heritage we leave for our children?

Central Park in New York could be thought of as a type of "cluster development". This concept encourages building construction that is clustered, or built with greater density while saving part of the site for community appreciation and recreation. This concept was actually employed in the 1920’s when the community of Radburn, N.J. was planned with homes and cars separated from the central green. Walking the paths, sled riding and many other sport activities occur here. Planned Unit Developments [PUD] carried the central green one step further in New Jersey and other states where designed with open space surrounded by residences, commercial interests and office buildings are situated within easy commute.

 WHAT QUALITIES MAKE CENTRAL PARK SO SPECIAL?

Our appreciation of a landscape scene is mainly a visual one. Our eyes can smoothly flow though a harmonious landscape much as the ear comprehends good music or the mind successfully unravels the theme of a play. There should be continuity, related parts dancing as part of the whole creation. This is Central Park, a series of discoveries that can achieve surprise or learning power that are of greater value to an observer than a garden of clutter. A variety of outdoor spaces accommodate different personal moods for rest or entertainment with the seasonal interest that provides the outdoor room’s wall paper. Including a spirit of adventure, exploration, and change as the landscape grows and flowers, provides the atmosphere to achieve personal satisfaction.

HOW CAN WE CREATE A SPECIAL PLACE FOR LIVING today using the ideas from the past?

Landscape architecture, which addresses both the design and stewardship of the land, integrates human participation into this resource. This residential site in Mountainside, New Jersey is used to illustrate how the principles of inspiring park design can be applied to your home. Whether site amenities are preserved or created the spirit of natural harmony can be attained. Grade changes add interest, paths encourage participation, special water features offer sound and visual highlights, the smooth curves create a more restful flow than sharp angles, plants are used to instill intrigue and privacy while the open terrace ties in with the vista’s freedom. Here beautiful sounds, changes in levels, multiple vistas, plant interest integrate the dwelling with life outdoors.

In the world of creating environments for well being, Olmsted set a precedent fostering the spirit of community. Whether a place requires home site design, town and park development or larger scale endeavors, many of Olmsted’s original strategies for harmonizing people with the land using landscape architecture are valid even after the 100 years!

written by - Richard Jurgens

                     Jurgens Landscape, Westfield, NJ