Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Foundation Planting is Not Gardening!*

It turns out foundation planting is a concept developed by the Olmsted brothers in the late 1800's. They designed a suburb in Chicago with tall Victorian houses fronted by at least 30 feet of lawn sweeping up from the sidewalk. Plantings were 3 to five feet wide and crammed with rhododendrons, yews, holly and eunonymus up against the front and sides.

Apparently, they wanted to create "open and democratic" front yards, as opposed to the English and European model of a hedged, private (and presumably elite) front garden.

The idea was popularized by Frank Waugh in a book called Foundation Planting in 1927.

This way of planting represents a different relationship with nature than one we have now, writes Hayward, the author of this historical tid-bit. Then, we had "dominion" over nature, (blah, blah, blah.) Now we see nature as endangered (because of our action) and "look to it as a model for our own." Gardens, too, are now a form of self-expression.

I don't know about all that. But it is interesting that foundation plantings (or the "open" suburban front yard) had its origins in an ideology. It's a great reminder that design always serves a purpose. It's not to be focused on for its own sake, it's not about ego as one of my favourite design books says. (Unlike, say, art.)

So what should a front garden do? What is its purpose? Hayward quotes Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language. It is to:
  • provide a graceful transition from the street to inside.
  • provide an experience of entering the building which influences your experience inside the building
  • create a feeling of "arrival" to the "inner sanctum"
  • make a transition space between street and house
  • put a path through it which connects both and mark it with
    --a change of light
    --a change of direction
    --a change of surface
    --a change of level (perhaps with a gateway which makes a change of enclosure)
    --and, above all, a change of view

  • That seems to be asking an awful lot of a simple entry way path, but it's interesting nonetheless. And inspiring.

    *from: Your House, Your Garden, by Gordon Hayward. P. 27


    zooza said...

    I briefly wondered if it was an ideological thing when you first mentioned that a high fence, as you would find in England, would make your neighbours suspicious. But I didn't have the spare brain power to express any such thoughts at the time (and I still don't, hence my lack of posting). Very interesting.

    lorijo said...

    I am having the worst time with my front yard plantings! I have casement windows that come out - not up- so I can't have window boxes or items that come up to high. I will be writing about it soon- ( I am getting new glasses tomorrow so I will be back to normal soon!)

    Dan said...

    Nice article.

    Gardens are one of those things in life that are 'beauty in the beholder's eyes' :-)

    We are remodeling our front garden to be one of as low maintenance as possible. To do that restricts us in the type of plants so what we end up with might not have as much colour as most folks would prefer.


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