ECOLOGICAL SENSITIVITY IN LANDSCAPE GARDENING

by

J. Gordon Millichap, MD, FRCP, Professor Emeritus, Northwestern University Medical School, Professional Advisory Board Member, NOHA. Dr. Millichap is co-author (with his son, Gordon T. Millichap) of a book, "The School in a Garden. Foundations and Founders of Landscape Architecture. " (ISBN 0-9629115-2-4-6; Chicago, PNB Publishers, 2000).

It may be asked, "Why, as a physician, is Dr. Millichap writing about landscape gardening?" Physicians, especially in England, my birthplace, have long been interested in gardening as an avocation. In my childhood, I was exposed to gardens and gardening, since my father was landscape gardener at an English private boarding school. Both he and the school gardens were the inspiration for the book. In his time, the beauty of the landscape and gardens were the first comment of every visitor, a tribute that led to the name, "The School in a Garden," which was recognized by a documentary in the December 6, 1958 issue of The London Illustrated News.

In the English countryside, the climate was conducive to luxuriant growth of flowers and fresh vegetables, all available on site, to be enjoyed by students and faculty. In those days, gardening and farming were aided by organic supplements to the soil. The use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides was unknown and unnecessary. In modern times since World War II, and especially in America, our food is mass produced and transported over long distances. Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and preservatives are employed, often to excess, to speed and expand production and delay spoilage. With increasing concern about the health hazards of these chemicals, particularly in children and pregnant mothers, some alternative to pesticides must be found.

As consumers, we have little or no control over potential food risks introduced via the environment (industrial wastes and nuclear contaminants), agriculture (fertilizers, pesticides), commercial processing (additives), or packaging. We can buy organic foods grown locally and, in our own suburban gardens, we can reduce and/or eliminate any need for fertilizers and pesticides by practicing "ecological sensitivity" in landscape design. Our NOHA Newsletter Editor, Marjorie Fisher, is an exemplary proponent of "Ecological Gardening." In the May 28, 2000 issue of the Sunday Chicago Sun-Times, Marjorie is pictured in her environmentally friendly Evanston garden. Continuing to avoid the use of potentially harmful pesticides and fertilizers, she has replaced the grass in her yard with phlox, purple coneflower, and other native flowers.


As consumers, we have little or no control over potential food risks introduced via the environment . . .


Ecological sensitivity in landscape gardening has evolved slowly since 1900, when Harvard University created a curriculum for landscape architects. Among principles emphasized were the conservation of existing materials and the use of native plants, leading to less disturbance of the environmental site and a preservation of the ecology. This was a change from the seventeenth century French Renaissance gardens of Versailles, designed by Le Notre, and the eighteenth century picturesque English revolution in garden design, developed by the famous "Capability" Brown, and his successors, Humphry Repton and Gertrude Jekyll.

In America, Jens Jensen (1860-1951) was the leading exponent of an ecologically sensitive approach to landscape gardening. Jensonís finest legacies include the Lincoln Memorial Garden in Springfield, Illinois, and the Shakespeare Garden at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. His "prairie style" landscape designs in Chicagoís Humboldt, Union, and Columbus Parks, what he called "natural gardens," were filled with perennial wild flowers, transported by team and wagon from outlying woods and prairie. Although Olmsted and others were advocating "natural" designs in the 1880s, Jensen probably initiated the idea of using local plantings. His work paralleled that of O. C. Simonds, a landscape architect noted for his transformation of Chicagoís Graceland Cemetery, using wild plants from the region.


In the English countryside, the climate was conducive to luxuriant growth of flowers and fresh vegetables, all available on site, to be enjoyed by students and faculty. In those days, gardening and farming were aided by organic supplements to the soil. The use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides was unknown and unnecessary.


In Jensenís park designs, the "kitchen" or vegetable garden was a frequent component, and often used as a demonstration tool for teaching children and parents in urban areas about horticulture and food production. His students in landscape architecture were taught to recognize a social responsibility toward the environment. In some ways his vision in educating students was similar to that of Frank Lloyd Wright, who established a "prairie style" and school of architecture, Taliesin, Wisconsin. The difference was that Wright taught his students to obey the masterís methods implicitly, whereas Jensen encouraged original thought and learning directly from the environment. The following statement, selected from Jensenís writings (Siftings, 1939), sums up his philosophies of landscape architecture and environmental conservation:

Our native landscape is our home. . . . To keep this pure and unadulterated is a sacred heritage, a noble task of the highest cultural value.

While providing a history of the foundations and founders of landscape architecture, such as Jensen and his prairie style, it is hoped that the example set by "The School in a Garden" will help to promote "ecological sensitivity" in landscape design and gardening, and a lasting benefit to our health and emotional well-being.

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[The original article contained these two illustrations]

Shakespeare Garden, Northwestern University. Evanston, Illinois. Designed by Jens Jensen (1930). (Reproduced from "The School in a Garden")

Below: Graceland Cemetery. Chicago, Illinois. Landscape by O. C. Simonds (1881-1898). Lake with "natural," irregular shore-line, and trees and shrubs, integrated with monuments. (Authorís photographs, May 2000, reproduced from "The School in a Garden")

Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XXV, No. 4, Fall 2000, pages 1-3.