American Eden: From Monticello to Central Park to Our Backyards: What Our Gardens Tell Us About Who We Are

Overview

From Frederick Law Olmsted to Richard Neutra, Michelle Obama to our neighbors, Americans throughout history have revealed themselves in the gardens they create. Melding biography, history, and cultural commentary, American Eden presents a dynamic, sweeping, one-of-a-kind look at this country's landscapes and the visionaries behind them.

Monticello's gardens helped Jefferson reconcile his feelings about slavery. Edith Wharton's gardens made her feel more European. Isamu Noguchi's...

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American Eden: From Monticello to Central Park to Our Backyards: What Our Gardens Tell Us about Who We Are

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Overview

From Frederick Law Olmsted to Richard Neutra, Michelle Obama to our neighbors, Americans throughout history have revealed themselves in the gardens they create. Melding biography, history, and cultural commentary, American Eden presents a dynamic, sweeping, one-of-a-kind look at this country's landscapes and the visionaries behind them.

Monticello's gardens helped Jefferson reconcile his feelings about slavery. Edith Wharton's gardens made her feel more European. Isamu Noguchi's and Robert Smithson's experiments reinvigorated the age-old exchange between art and the garden. Manhattan's High Line park, reclaimed from freight train tracks, reimagined an urban landscape.

Moving deftly through time and place across America's diverse landscapes—from Revolutionary-era Virginia to turn-of-the-century Chicago to 1960s suburban California—and featuring an equally diverse cast of landscape-makers, whether artists, architects, housewives, robber barons, politicians, or dreamers, Wade Graham vividly unfolds the larger cultural history through more personal dramas.

Beautifully illustrated, American Eden is at once a different kind of garden book and a different kind of American history, one that offers a compelling, untold story that mirrors and illuminates our nation's invention—and constant reinvention—of itself.

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Editorial Reviews

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Europeans weren't the first gardeners in the New World. Early 17th century colonial settlers found that Native Americans were already planting small plots near their homes. By the following century, however, New England and Virginia colonists had far outstripped such rudimentary efforts. Wade Graham's American Eden displays the continuing development of gardening in our country from their experimental tracts to those of Martha Stewart, Michelle Obama, and backyard naturalists. Copiously illustrated, this 440-page history places this private passion within the contexts of its times.

John Steele Gordon
“Mr. Graham recounts his tale with considerable verve and a vast erudition in the history of gardening and the arts generally…. Among much else, Mr. Graham shows us that the history of how our nation grew can be found in what it has grown.”
Ann Herold
“We are what we plant, L.A.-based writer Wade Graham posits in his history of gardens. When he isn’t explaining the economic and cultural influences, he crafts fascinating profiles…. An engaging look at our own pieces of paradise.”
Tricia Springstubb
“A shrewd, comprehensive and often entertaining guide…. Sure to be a scholarly as well as popular resource for years to come…. And its illustrations and photos tour of some of the world’s most ravishing gardens.”
Charles Donelan
“The most comprehensive and readable history ever written about the men and women who created the environments in which we now live…. will change the way you look not only at gardens, but also at American history and the hybrid world-part nature, part design-in which we live.”
Publishers Weekly
From Jefferson's founding garden, Monticello, to Martha Stewart's Turkey Hill, American gardens have been revealing self-portraits that reflect their owners aspirations and anxieties, cultural legacies and passing fashions. In his far-ranging survey, designer and historian Graham unveils the aesthetic, political, psychological, and ethical dimensions of the American garden. This is a world in which hedges, lawns, parks, and cemeteries are revealing displays of national identity, class distinction, and political correctness. Our gardens are a pastiche of classical pastoral ideals, the 19th-century European grand tour, and the distinctly American tension between our democratic ideals and aristocratic pretensions. Graham is able to gently mock the fashions of history while astutely observing that we are still as vulnerable to gardening fads today. After more than 250 years, the American gardening tradition has bequeathed to us treasured public parks, suburban sprawl, Kentucky bluegrass lawns in the desert, and kitchen gardens at the White House. Graham's history is a fascinating and illuminating tour of this American landscape. Includes extensive notes and bibliography. More than 70 color and b&w illus. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews

Scrupulous history of American gardens and the imaginative creators who made them possible.

Los Angeles–based garden designer and environmental writer Graham shares a wealth of knowledge on the genesis and development of America's most striking landscapes. Each a "miniature Utopia," these leafy environs are a reflection of their respective architects. The author ardently describes the first garden creations of the 1600s, then moves on to the Arts & Crafts romantic naturalism movement in the mid-19th century and Martha Stewart's unique brand of house-and-garden style, which is interwoven with business savvy and "controlled enthusiasm." Graham's visit to the panoramic "founding garden" of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, derived from British poet Alexander Pope's "cutting-edge" landscaping approach, provides an intimate history of the third president's life and boundless passion as a dedicated architecture and flora aficionado. The planned landscaping influence of "aesthetic giant" Andrew Jackson Downing paved the way for the blossoming genius of Frederick Law Olmsted, who, in collaboration with architect Calvert Vaux, brought "country to the city" in the redesign of New York's Prospect Park and Central Park and Boston's Emerald Necklace, among others. Graham points to the greening of New York's Chelsea and West Village neighborhoods, the installation of Manhattan's unique aerial greenway, High Line Park, and Michelle Obama's White House kitchen garden as examples of a modern "return to agriculture" movement. Accented by paintings, photographs and drawings, the author's appealing commentary introduces a distinctive line of gardeners and foliage engineers whose work has become timeless.

A bright, comprehensive horticultural celebration written with a fine eye for detail.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061583438
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/2/2013
  • Pages: 459
  • Sales rank: 1,391,608
  • Product dimensions: 7.10 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Wade Graham is a Los Angeles-based garden designer, historian,and writer whose work on the environment, landscape, urbanism, and the arts hasappeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Outside, andother publications.

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 1 of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    American Eden by Wade Graham: an Enlightening, Fascinating, and Accessible Tour of American Gardens and Gardeners

    In this publication, Graham (Bachelor of Arts, Comparative Literature, Columbia University; Master of Arts and Ph.D., U.S. History, University of California, Los Angeles; teacher of urban and environmental policy, School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University), a renown, Los Angeles- based garden designer, landscape architect, historian, writer, journalist, and environmental activist, presents a fascinating yet erudite history of American gardens. According to the author, for more than two hundred years, Americans have revealed themselves in their gardens, which have been rooted in time and place and have reflected our national spirit and concerns. To prove his thesis, Graham melds various methodological approaches, including biography, history, cultural commentary, literature, and horticultural studies, into a lengthy, discursive narrative, thereby resulting in a multivalent examination of American gardens and the people who have created them from the eighteenth century to the present. In seven chapters, Graham discusses what he considers to be the various types of American gardens in terms of broad historical categories: the Founding Gardens (1600-1826), parks and suburban gardens (1820-1890), Golden Age gardens (1880-1914), Arts and Crafts gardens (1850-1925), Californian gardens (1920-1960), post-modern gardens (1940s-2000), and contemporary gardens (2000- ). Within each era, he shows how the geometric and naturalistic aesthetic paradigms from the Renaissance and 18th century continued and were modified to suit the tastes of mostly wealthy and middle-class, American-born individuals, who sought to express themselves and their ideals through their gardens. Overall, Graham successfully distinguishes American gardens from their counterparts in other countries. While the author?s thesis that American gardens are unique yet reflective of various aesthetic, cultural, ethical, political, psychological, and social influences may not be entirely new, the original value of Graham?s text rests in its comprehensive, scholarly analysis of the subject and its vast, encyclopedic overview. Well-documented, with endnotes, a bibliography, and an index, this publication may need more reproductions (75 black-and-white reproductions and a 16- page color insert are included), to the extent that they further may illustrate and clarify the author?s main points for readers, who may get sidetracked by his approach. Enlightening, interesting, engaging, and accessibly-written, but not necessarily easy-to-follow, this foundational book, which serves as an intelligent guide to American gardens, will be of considerable interest to some garden lovers, students, scholars, professionals, and others. It is highly recommended for large public, academic, and special library collections--C. A. Lajos, Art History, Architecture, Decorative Arts, Museum, and Visual Studies Book Review Blog

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