- The Poetics of Landscape Architecture
Since 1980 Paula Deitz has written about landscape design and architecture for a variety of newspapers and other periodicals, including the New York Times, Architectural Review, and Gardens Illustrated. Her new book, Of Gardens, is the latest volume in Penn Studies in Landscape [End Page l] Architecture. John Dixon Hunt has added an afterword, in which he sums up the distinction of this book by noting that the accessibility and freshness of the essays are never obscured by the botanical and historical erudition of the author. He adds that, while many books about gardens are full of showy color photographs, these essays do not need them because the verbal description is so precise and vivid and the literary formulation so evocative. (Each section is prefaced by a single, well-chosen, black-and-white photograph.) Because Of Gardens collects essays written over three decades and covering many different countries, their order is essential to the impact of the book. The table of contents and thematic coherence of the essays reveal the author's thoughtful principles of selection and organization.
Paula Deitz explores the way that American gardens integrate cultivation and wilderness: the importance of urban gardens and parks to civic life; the transmission of garden culture from Italy, France, and England to the United States; the importation of elements from Chinese and Japanese sources; and the central roles that women have played in landscape design in Britain and the United States in the past century. These are not treated as separate topics, however, but are considerations constantly interwoven with one another that refer back to the two places where Deitz lives: New York City and the Maine coast near Mount Desert Island. For example chapter 1, "Landscape Architects and Designers," begins with an essay about Beatrix Ferrand and her Reef Point Gardens, which surrounded her house in Bar Harbor. Chapter 3, "American," begins with "The Poetics of the American Garden," which invokes Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs, "in which she portrayed the fragile balance and intermingling between the cultivated plot protected by the house and the wilderness, which sheltered a vigorous growth of its own." Deitz also considers Jewett's friend Celia Thaxter, whose cottage garden on Appledore, the largest of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of southern Maine, is recorded in her memoir An Island Garden, and is depicted in the illustrations of the Boston artist Childe Hassam. "The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden: A Blend of Far Eastern and English Inspiration" describes the garden of David and Peggy Rockefeller in Seal Harbor designed by Farrand. It not only expresses Farrand's admiration for Gertrude Jekyll, but also includes elements of construction that the Rockefellers brought back from China.
Likewise the importance of green spaces to urban life is never far from the author's thoughts. Chapter 2, "Parks and Public Places," begins with essays on Central Park's Bethesda Terrace, Lynden B. Miller's long mixed borders in the English style, and the Conservatory Garden. In her essay on poetics Deitz argues that the novel characteristic of the American garden is the constructed merging of garden (flowers, herbs, vegetables) and wilderness, without the protective and divisive barrier of walls: pine trees often loom over formal beds and garden paths disappear into meadows. Central Park is an inversion of the American [End Page li] garden, its wilderness fringed with skyscrapers: the meadow paths lose themselves on Fifth Avenue, and all night long the reservoir reflects the city's unsleeping lights. The rooftop gardens at Rockefeller Center are not only green but European; in the north gardens, on the Palazzo d'Italia and the International Building North, the cobblestones for the walkways were taken from Italian streets, and two stone plaques come from a courtyard fountain in the Roman Forum. This essay naturally leads to an essay on the Cloisters and another on the ibm Garden Plaza, whose public glasshouse structure recalls the greenhouses at Kew Gardens outside London. It is echoed as well by the essay in chapter 6, "Japanese," "Rice...