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Across the Open Field

Essays Drawn from English Landscapes

By Laurie Olin

Publication Year: 2012

"Twenty-eight years ago I went to England for a three-month visit and rest. What I found changed my life."

So begins this memoir by one of America's best-known landscape architects, Laurie Olin. Raised in a frontier town in Alaska, trained in Seattle and New York, Olin found himself dissatisfied with his job as an urban architect and accepted an invitation to England to take a respite from work. What he found, in abundance, was the serendipity of a human environment built over time to respond to the land's own character and to the people who lived and worked there. For Olin, the English countryside was a palimpsest of the most eloquent and moving sort, yet whose manifestation was of ordinary buildings meant to shelter their inhabitants and further their work.

With evocative language and exquisite line drawings, the author takes us back to his introduction to the scenes of English country towns, their ancient universities, meandering waterways, and dramatic cloudscapes racing in from the Atlantic. He limns the geologic histories found within the rock, the near-forgotten histories of place-names, and the recent histories of train lines and auto routes. Comparing the growth of building in the English countryside, Olin draws some sobering conclusions about our modern lifestyle and its increasing separation from the landscape.

As much a plea for saving the modern American landscape as it is a passionate exploration of what makes the English landscape so characteristically English, Across the Open Field is "an affectionate ramble through real places of lasting worth."

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiii

IN 1970, I WENT TO ENGLAND for a three-month visit and rest. What I found changed my life. Trained as an architect, but frustrated with the field as I knew it, I was overwhelmed by the English landscape. This was especially so as I came to see it that summer as a built artifact, a mosaic of designs and purpose. This experience launched me into...

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1. As the Twig Is Bent

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pp. 1-23

ONE DAY NEAR THE END of my first summer in Britain, while visiting Magdalen College, Oxford, the cumulative experience of recent walks, sights, senses, and ideas, the layering of efforts and disciplines that have made the landscape of southern Britain, became overwhelming. Many thousands of people before me have passed...

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2. On Buckland and Drawing: First Impressions and Later Observations

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pp. 25-69

THERE IS AN ELUSIVE ASPECT to life in the English countryside. If l were to name any one quality that best describes the feeling of the village of Buckland in midsummer, I would probably choose that of calm, of stillness and quiet. It would be a mistake, however, to presume that Buckland was a ghost town or somehow dull and...

3. Village and Farm: Longbridge Deverill, Wiltshire

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pp. 71-87

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An Agricultural Landscape

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pp. 73-81

I WAS NOT IN FACT to return to Buckland, even when I secured funding a few years later and set off for England once again. In returning to the topic of the English landscape with a wife whom I'd met in England during that first summer visit and our six-month-old daughter, I went to a property in Wiltshire that my wife's family had recently...

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Bronze and Iron Age Developments

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pp. 81-92

Salisbury Plain is a great upland mass of chalk, hardly a plain by American standards but very much of one within the context of the fine-grain and intricate landscape of southern England. It is the setting for the great stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury, and of Silbury Hill--the largest artificial mound in all of Europe--as well as numerous barrows,...

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Medieval Longbridge and the Emergence of Wessex

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pp. 92-97

Popular literature rarely discusses the remarkable Saxon achievement in the six hundred years between the depature of the Romans and the arrival of the Normans. Yet the lengthy lists in the Domesday Book of 1086 are just that--Saxon towns, mills, farms, abbeys, villages, churches and manors, burgesses, taxes and tithes, all recorded and taken over by the...

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Norman Prosperity

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pp. 97-101

The same church holds Deverel. It was assessed T.R.E. [Tempore Regis Edwardi, or "in the time of Edward the Confessor"] at ten hides. Five of these hides are in demesne, where are three plowlands and two servants, fourteen villagers, twenty-four borders, and twelve cottagers occupy six plowlands. Three mills pay fourteen shillings and ten pence. Here are six acres of meadow. The pasture is...

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Architecture in the Landscape: The Great Rebuilding

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pp. 101-127

As the fifteenth century drew to a close, an increasing stream of money poured into the southwest of England from the great weaving, dyeing, and market centers of Antwerp, Malines, Bruges, Lille, and Delft. Sweeping social and physical changes began to take place, the most noticeable one of which was that of the Great Rebuilding. At first glance to an...

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Climate, Ecology, and the Landscape

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pp. 127-187

Although only a large island off the coast of Europe, a fragment once broadly connected to it, in fact, England behaves more like a miniature continent. There are a remarkable diversity of geological formations and many ecological communities. Within a generally mild climate there is a myriad of exceptions and variations, some extreme-from subarctic in...

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Longbridge at the Crossroads

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pp. 187-205

Changes in transportation, more than any other single factor, have wreaked havoc with the villages, towns, and cities of the Western world in this century. Longbridge Deverill is no exception. Located on early trade routes, partially formed by a crossroads since at least early Roman times, it has witnessed the characteristic phases of roadway evolution in Britain:...

4. Et in Arcadia Ego: Landscape Gardens and Parks

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pp. 207-229

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Love at First Sight

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pp. 209-213

I HAD BEEN IN ENGLAND for the first time for all of eight hours when friends took me out onto a terrace overlooking a private park in Oxfordshire. It was a lovely July evening with the sun flooding a meadow below, and across the golden wheat fields of the Thames valley and the hills of the Cotswolds beyond to the north. A herd of fallow deer...

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Habits of Mind

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pp. 214-222

It is difficult to determine why a people or nation develops some of its habits. Why does one country raise to a higher art something that in a more rudimentary form is common to many others? Consider gardens. More than anywhere else that one can think of in the West, England is a nation of gardeners. France, Germany, and Italy all have great gardens...

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pp. 222-232

The closest such park to Longbridge Deverill is Longleat, belonging to the Thynne family. Best known as a place of public entertainment and recreation and as the first drivethrough wild animal park in Europe, a visit today can become a very mixed experience, combining a handsome arboretum and sweeping pastoral park, serene vistas, and classical...

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Italian Moods, Palladians, and the Landscape

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pp. 233-256

Twenty-five years ago there was only a handful of scholarly books on English gardens. Since then landscape and garden history has emerged as a rich field of scholarship, loosing a torrent of work, some by cultural historians, some by art or architectural historians, and some as well by geographers and literary scholars. An information lacuna similar to that of...

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pp. 257-276

In 1743 on the old manor of Stourton, which lay within the former Saxon forest of Selwood, only seven miles southwest of Longbridge Deverill, a wealthy London banker, Henry Hoare, began to build a remarkable garden while mourning the recent death of his wife. This manor, with all of its property-houses, mills, rivers, pastures, as well as traditional...

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Lancelot "Capability" Brown

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pp. 276-286

William Kent may be the father of modern landscape gardening and the link between the eighteenth century and the garden art of an earlier period, but it is Lancelot Brown who is the most famous practitioner of the art as it evolved. Although some gardeners, scholars, and landscape architects know of Kent's existence and a smaller number are aware of what...

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The Landscape Movement Spreads

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pp. 286-291

Capability Brown was the central designer and arbiter of taste in the making of country parks for nearly thirty years. During this period the passion for "improvement" of estates continued unabated and was to continue well into the next century. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, approximately 25 percent of the entire agricultural resources of the...

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Pusey House

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pp. 292-297

The second English garden I explored that first summer was Pusey. It lay only a mile south of Buckland. Taking less than an hour to reach by footpath through the fields from Buckland, it was even quicker to visit by bicycle. In recent times most visitors have come to see the remarkable garden of flowering shrubs, perennials, herbs, and exotic trees created in...

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Buscot House

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pp. 298-307

Six miles west of Buckland along the same ridge lies Buscot House and Park, first built between 1770 and 1780. Heavily derived from the style of Adam inside and out, the house had been altered several times and was restored to its earlier appearance just before World War II. Although the main lines of the park are distinctly representative of Brown's manner...

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Wardour Castle, Buckland House, and Richard Woods

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pp. 308-323

By far the most impressive house along the Golden Ridge west of Oxford is Buckland House. Begun in 1757 by Sir Robert Throckmorton, the house was designed by John Wood the Younger, the designer of the Royal Crescent in Bath and son of Ralph Allen's architect at Prior Park. The house, neo-Palladian in design and illustrated in,...

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In Conclusion: Beauty Past Change

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pp. 325-329

BUCKLAND HOUSE may stand, then, for the eighteenth century's great achievementthe image and idea of a park: undulating land forms; trees set out singly and in groves, occasionally with underplanting; a sprinkling of neoclassical features in visually significant locations; gently curving paths and drives; and natural-appearing bodies...

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Suggestions for Further Reading

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pp. 331-342

IN MOST ENDEAVORS, part of the pleasure of pursuing an interest issues from the activity itself. In the case of landscape history this entails the pursuit of information in several forms. First there is that displayed by the land itself, a sample of which is portrayed herein; then there is the vast wealth of information located in archives in the form of letters, deeds, maps, contracts, and all manner...

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pp. 343-369

I WOULD LIKE TO THANK the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the American Academy in Rome, for without their generous aid I could never have attempted this project. I owe a particular debt to the late Frank Brown and to Henry N. Millon, the two people most responsible for the vigor of the American Academy during my years there. While in Rome I was aided...


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pp. 345-352

E-ISBN-13: 9780812207866
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812235319

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture

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Subject Headings

  • Landscape architecture -- England -- History.
  • Gardens -- England -- History.
  • Gardens, English -- History.
  • Olin, Laurie -- Travel -- England.
  • England -- Description and travel.
  • Landscapes -- England.
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