Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Derek Fell’s beautiful book, The Gardens of Frank Lloyd Wright, published by Frances Lincoln Limited, London in 2009, highlights Wright’s work as a landscape gardener. It is indeed astonishing. Usually plants and foliage are seen as sundry scribbles, smudges to illustrate his drawings, to ‘soften’ them. The actual landscapes are considered, if at all, as backgrounds to the buildings, incidental decorative additions, perhaps just the natural setting that Wright had worked with. It seems that Falling Water alone used its natural setting untouched. The only non-indigenous plant added was a white wisteria. All other contexts that Wright worked in were manipulated by him, using nature as his guide. “A tree out of place is a weed,” he declared when a client object to his instruction to cut down a mature oak tree. (p.41) Fell shows Wright as a landscaper working on a scale similar to Capability Brown.
 Wright was as ruthless in manipulating all within his sight to his aesthetic ideal as Capability Brown. (p.38) “The valley will bloom in your hands.” Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother, Anna. (p.40) Before he was satisfied with the views from Taliesin Wright eliminated thirty-two “nuisance buildings” from his view. (p.44)

 Taliesin West - gate to gardens of staff annex

The distinguished landscape gardener Jen Jensen (1860 – 1951) became a close friend of Frank Lloyd Wright. (p.108) “As a model for designers, Jensen’s approach stressed the clear need for careful study of natural landscapes. He objected to design training that was purely academic. He felt than an intimate knowledge of plants and horticulture and a genuine sense of humility were essential for landscape design to reach the level of art.”  (p.111 - quoted from  Robert E. Greese’s biography, Jen Jensen: Maker of Natural Parks and Gardens, John Hopkins university Press).

We can learn a lot from Wright and Jensen, and from Fell’s wonderful photographs of Wright’s parks and gardens too. This publication truly shows how Wright worked with nature in a manner that was more than philosophical and theoretical.

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