From the Architect's Desk
I’ve been asked to serve on a design jury for Project Olmsted, Guilford’s first-annual garden design competition.
As much as I love beautiful landscape design and cherish the small yet lovely garden (complete with small pond and fountain) behind my own home, I do not for a minute consider myself an “expert.” However, I do bring an architect’s eye, and I understand that balance (not necessarily symmetry), color and vistas are what make any type of architecture special. Yet I am sure that I am the least qualified of the three jurors, the other two having landscape backgrounds. So, being the type ‘A” that I am, I am doing my homework!
Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) is often thought of as America’s first landscape architect and “The Shaper of the American Landscape.” [i] When most people hear about an “Olmsted Park” they might only think of New York’s Central Park or Boston’s Emerald Necklace. But Olmsted also created garden and green spaces throughout the country and, luckily for us, several right here in Baltimore.
Indeed Olmsted’s vision for Baltimore’s park system was second only to Boston’s in size and scope. [ii] In addition to planning improvements to Baltimore’s major Druid Hill and Patterson Parks, many of Baltimore’s smaller parks, such as Carroll, Clifton, Leakin, and Wyman, were planned and developed by the Olmsted firm from private estates.
The impact of Olmsted did not end with parks. Frederick Law Olmsted served as landscape architect to the Roland Park Company, which was developing the historic residential communities of Roland Park, Guilford and Homeland in northern Baltimore City. These neighborhoods, both the homes and the connecting landscape, continue to flourish today. Greenspace, lot, and street layouts in these communities were designed a century ago using Olmsted’s design principles of natural characteristics, unified composition, separation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and conservation. I know these areas well as I live in Roland Park and do a significant number of residential projects in these lovely areas.
One very special small garden within the Guilford neighborhood continues to be associated with Olmsted’s design principles and is cherished by the residents in surrounding homes and visitors alike. Sherwood Gardens, or Stratford Green as it is also known, is perhaps the heart of this historic and lovely residential neighborhood. Sherwood Gardens was created by conservationist John Sherwood in the1920s within Olmsted’s Stratford Green Community Park. After Sherwood’s death his estate bequeathed sufficient funds to continue care for the extraordinary tulip gardens for one year, and in the following years the neighborhood association carried on the stewardship of what is now known simply as “Sherwood Gardens.”[iii]
Those in Baltimore typically think of Sherwood Gardens only as the “tulip place,” and it’s true that every year over 60,000 tulips bulbs are planted in the six-acre garden’s 18 beds. Between the vibrant tulip colors and the flowering trees, the garden is a favorite destination each spring for families and photographers.
This year, the Stratford Green and the Guilford Association are sponsoring Project Olmsted, a summer planting exhibition and competition as the planting beds are given their seasonal rest from tulips. From June to September, nine landscape architects and landscape designers will compete to make new planting installations that hew most closely to Olmsted’s vision.
Now armed with my better understanding of Olmsted’s landscape and residential development legacy, I am hoping that I can add my architect’s perspective to a lovely and special garden in my part of Baltimore.
Wish me luck!
Post Competition/Project Olmstead follow up—-
Honorable mentions to New World Gardens and International Landscaping and Design, Third Place to Beechfield Landscaping, Inc, Second Place to Pinehurst Landscaping Company, First Place to Bob Jackson Landscapes, Inc.
[ii] Friends of Maryland’s Olmsted Parks & Landscapes [http://www.olmstedmaryland.org/history/]