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Captivating Landscape Design
Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.

Captivating Landscape Design
  • Frederick Law Olmsted : Landscape Archit... (by )
  • Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in... (by )
  • A Consideration of the Justifying Value ... (by )
  • The Everglades and Other Essays Relating... (by )
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Sprawling green lawns and picturesque gardens offer an ideal respite from the frenetic pace of city life. In the middle of Manhattan, Central Park serves as an oasis, inviting city dwellers and visitors to relax and unwind on the grass or  stroll through the gardens.

Some of America’s stunning parks and grounds were created by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., who is widely regarded as the father of American landscape architecture. The Connecticut-born landscape architect, author, and conservationist developed an appreciation for picturesque scenery early in life when he went on local tours with his father. The family traveled through northern New England and upstate New York in search of verdant green landscapes and gardens.

After studying surveying and engineering, chemistry, and scientific farming, Law Olmsted had a stint running a farm on Staten Island, New York. In 1850, he took a six-month walking tour of Europe. 

In Frederick Law Olmsted: Landscape Architect 1822 to 1903, author Theodora Kimball writes, 

We know from Mr. Olmsted’s own words that he had a particular interest in visiting parks both on his first European journey of 1850, and in 1856, when he was abroad attending to his publishing business and travelling also somewhat with his sisters. (p. 94)

In Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England, Law Olmsted describes the scene unfolding around him during an enjoyable ride he took through the countryside. He says, 

“A market-garden, with rows of early cabbages, and lettuce, and peas;--Over a hedge, a nice, new stone villa, with the gardener shoving up the sashes of the conservatory, and the maids tearing clothes from the drying-lines;--A bridge, with children shouting and waving hats;--A field of wheat, in drills as precisely straight, and in earth as clean and finely tilled, as if it were a garden-plant.” (p. 69)
He and architect Calvert Vaux collaborated on the design of Manhattan’s Central Park after winning a design competition in 1858.

After establishing Olmsted, Vaux, and Company, the duo designed Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The company was eventually dissolved and Congress commissioned Olmsted to design the landscape surrounding the United States Capitol building. 

It is open to question whether we care much more than our ancestors did for all manner of beauty of nature; whether we appreciate leaf and flower form and flower color, for instance, more than they. We have a greater variety of flowers; our curiosity about them is more stimulated, our science advanced, we take more interest in them from the point of view of the collector and classifier; they are matters of fashion; we use them more profusely. (p. 18) 

His son Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. was also a landscape architect and city planner. Committed to wildlife conservation, he worked on many national parks, including The Everglades and Yosemite National Park. Soon after his father’s passing, Olmsted dropped the “Jr.” from his name. It’s important to note that any work attributed to Frederick Law Olmsted after 1896 refers to his son’s work.

By Regina Molaro

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