Forest and Garden: Traces of Wildness in a Modernizing Land, 1897–1949 by Melanie L. Simo (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2003)
Between 1888 and 1897, Garden and Forest magazine docu- mented a remarkable period of shift- ing attitudes and sensibili- ties toward the American ld an scape.1 Published weekly by Charles Sprague Sargent, director of the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, the magazine combined articles and information in related fields of interest that today are often Balkanized by their own professional organiza- tions and university depart- ments. In the pages of Garden and Forest, Sargent and his editor, William A. Stiles, juxtaposed reports on scenic preservation efforts and botanical research with
T h e m a g a z i n e i s a c c e s s i b l e
online through a joint effort by the Library of Congress, the Arnold Arboretum, and the University of Michigan’s “Making of America” project (http://www.loc.gov/preserv/prd/ gardfor/gfhome.html).
G a r d e n a n
d F o r e s t ( M a y 1 9 ,
descriptions of contemporary landscape design and aesthet- ic theory. Foresters, landscape gardeners, and horticulturists made common cause and, notably in one case, spoke with a single voice: Sargent himself engaged in all three
practices and extolled the value of inter- disciplinary inquiry. Landscape gar- dening, for example, was not to be limit- ed to the “planting of flower-beds and of orna- mental shrubs,” but was a “broad and catholic art…as useful in the preserva- tion of the Yosemite Valley or the scenery of Niagara as it is in planning a pastoral park or the grounds about a country
o u s e h . ” 2 T h i s e d i t o r i a l t r a d i - tion was rooted in the nine- teenth-century periodicals of J. C. Loudon and A. J. Downing; Garden and Forest exhorted its readers to expand the aesthetic sensibilities developed working on their own “home grounds” and to become advocates for the preservation of landscape beauty wherever it was found, from their own neighbor- hoods to remote public lands.
Melanie Simo’s interesting and erudite book takes its title and its point of departure
from Garden and Forest. Her inquiries begin in 1897, when the magazine ceased publica- tion following the death of Stiles. Frederick Law Olmsted had ended his professional activities two years earlier, and a new era was beginning in which writers and artists created new responses to and representations of the American landscape, and sci- entists, landscape architects, and foresters struggled to develop and organize their professional theories and practices.
Simo reassembles the strains of scientific, literary, and artistic endeavor that were joined during the first half of the twentieth century in related efforts to define and elevate what remained of “wildness” in North America. Before there was anything as organized as a “wilderness” movement, nature writers, landscape architects, painters, and scientists had already constructed a cultural basis for describing and appreciat- ing the vanishing traces of a world that was succumbing to twentieth-century technology and population levels. To doc- ument and analyze this pro- foundly diverse phenomenon, Simo wisely eschews compre- hensive “analytical or theoret- ical frameworks” and avoids
current debates over wilder- ness designations and the management of public lands. She structures the discussion as a series of narrative chap- ters from which certain themes emerge: “A growing awareness of conflict… between natural processes and the processes of civiliza- tion…; trends towards the professionalization of a body of knowledge, values, and purposes…; a growing appre- ciation for small remnants of once-wild lands…; at the same time, a growing desire to preserve vast tracts of wilderness.”
The history of the idea of wilderness and the move- ment to preserve it have gen- erated a considerable amount of literature over the last 20 years (much of which the author discusses in this book). But Simo’s unique point of view as a historian gives her work its own special insight. The author of the most important histories of post–World War II American landscape design, Simo also is a Loudon scholar and the author of a 1988 book on that
a n d s c a p e g a r d e n e r . 3 H e r
See: Peter Wa
M e l a n i e
Simo, Invisible Gardens: The Search for Modernism in the American Landscape (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996); Melanie L. Simo, 100 Years of Landscape Architecture: Some Patterns of a Century (Washington, D.C.:
torical research made her aware, she notes, of a “gap in time” in the history of American landscape architec- ture. The nineteenth-century career of Frederick Law Olmsted was well appreciat- ed, and Simo’s own work on postwar modernism led to a better understanding of the recent past; but the interven- ing years – a time of “critical transition in American histo- ry,” generally – were not well understood by landscape his- torians. As she studied the generation of American land- scape designers who “for one reason or another resisted or ignored the modern move- ment” in the early twentieth century, she noticed that this older generation retained “affiliations with horticultur- ists, geologists, foresters, and painters of the old school.”
She also noticed the pas- sion with which two promi- nent members of that group, Henry Vincent Hubbard and Theodora Kimball, described the “blind destructive forces of man’s enterprise,” and the need for modern people to “find something in wild nature…to fulfill and com- plete their being.” Simo’s
ASLA Press, 1999); idem, The Coalescing of Different Forces and Ideas: A History of Landscape Architecture at Harvard, 1900–1999 (Cambridge: Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 2000); and idem, Loudon & the Landscape: From Country Seat to Metropolis, 1783–1843 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).
interest in the history of pro- fessional landscape architec- ture between the 1890s and the 1940s brought her to other key figures, such as Frank A. Waugh and Arthur H. Carhart, landscape archi- tects who crossed disciplines (into horticulture and forestry, respectively) and who developed influential theory and management plans for the preservation of “native landscapes” and “wilderness.” The history of American landscape architec- ture during these crucial decades before the wide- spread adoption of modernist theory and practice, it turns out, figured prominently in the development of American attitudes and ideas toward the value of preserving wild places. Carhart’s collaboration with forester Aldo Leopold in the early 1920s to develop the U.S. Forest Service “wilder- ness” land-use designation is well known, but Simo also uncovers an older and broad- er strain of professional thinking. She discusses the influence of Harvard scientist Nathaniel Southgate Shaler in the 1890s, for example, on a second generation of land- scape architects that included Charles Eliot and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Shaler was dean of the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard during this critical period, where he influenced the for- mation of Harvard profes- sional degree programs in both landscape architecture