FDR Memorial by Lawrence Halprin

FDR Memorial by Lawrence Halprin

For a plain-old home gardener and gardenblogger, I’ve gotten to meet an amazing assortment of landscape architects with marquee names in their profession.  Like Laurie Olin, who redesigned the grounds of Washington Monument, and the late Lawrence Halprin, whose Roosevelt Memorial (photo right) is a local favorite.

And Jim van Sweden, whose D.C.-based firm pioneered the New American Garden style and is now working on the Martin Luther King Memorial.

Another locally based bigshot is the gentlemanly Roger Courtenay, who designed the garden around the American Indian Museum and is now working on the Eisenhower Memorial (more on that later – the architect is Frank Gehry and it’s going to blow some minds.)

Michael Van Valkenburgh was in town a lot redesigning Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.

And Katherine Gustafson, well known for the Lurie Garden in Chicago, is winning her share of D.C. projects – the courtyard at the American Portrait Gallery, and still in planning, the African-American Museum. 

So now I’ll tell you how I’ve come to “know” (okay, most of them don’t even know my name) these stars of landscape architecture.  They’ve all appeared repeatedly before two review boards I worked for in my previous career, when I provided transcripts of their meetings.  These public events involve designers of all types presenting and defending their projects here in Washington – the big, important ones.  And my front-row seat for this show taught me just a bit about design but made big impressions on me – like how little I actually know as a home gardener, and how awed I am by their profession.  (And not just by these famous ones.)

But finally I come to another big name in landscape architecture – that of Diana Balmori, who sits on one of those boards as a presidential appointee.   At the time of her appointment I already knew of her because she co-authored  Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony back in ’93 and even coined the term “Freedom Lawn”.  A pioneer of the Lawn Reform movement!

So when I heard the title of Diana’s latest book – a Landscape Manifesto – I knew I had to get my hands on it and review it right here.  You know, the place with the Manifesto.  

So, presenting myself as the co-author of a popular gardening blog (!) I asked Yale Press for a copy, got one immediately, and dug right in – tackling the section on lawn first, of course.  She calls the American lawn a “dramatically impoverished ecology” and goes on to assert that “Your back yard is…your private property and nobody else’s business” – love it!  

Then I got into the meat of the book, the manifesto part, filled with other-worldly visuals and scholarly discourse, and I came to a realization:  This isn’t gardening, or garden writing.  This belongs in the more rarefied world of planners, those artistic, brainy people who get published by Yale, work all over the world and get paid very well.  Like I’m assuming Diana was for her design shown here that surrounds and improves on Gehry’s most famous project – in Bilbao, Spain.

What was I thinking?  It’s time for me to return the book, or maybe pass it along to a local blogger who’s an actual landscape architect for him to review.