Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
December, 2010
Regional Report

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Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed NYC's Central Park, the first great American city park, to welcome everyone.

Olmsted - Urban Parks for Everyone

There is the land - 843 acres of trees, bridges, boulders, paths, lakes, lawn, meadow, woodland, international sports fields, skating rinks, romantic niches, theatrical and musical stages, all dynamically and democratically engaging people and nature. This is New York City's Central Park, which many consider the first, greatest, most important public park in the United States.

There is the man, the visionary-- Frederick Law Olmsted, the talented, late-blooming, driven Father of American Landscape Architecture. He, along with architect Calvert Vaux, designed the award-winning Greenswald plan in 1858 for 2.5 miles of rocks, swamps, and residential-to-be-vacated land from 59th to 106th streets. Together, Olmsted and Vaux shepherded the controversial creation of a landscaped Central Park.

Who is this Olmsted, who championed the concept that every citizen, poor or rich, young or old, was entitled to enjoy nature, to have access to a healthy environment? He designed parks with winding paths, scenic views and large open areas where people could relax. How did his vision evolve? How did his passion change America's value and use of open space in urban areas?

Young filmmaker and storyteller Rebecca Messner brings Olmsted-- his boyhood, struggles, ailments, accomplishments, heartache, loves and obsession-- to life in The Olmsted Legacy This one-hour documentary examines the formation of America's first great city parks in the late 19th century through Olmsted's enigmatic eyes.

Messner's work is exquisite, artful, entrancing. She weaves Olmsted's life story-- he lived from 1822 to 1903-- with Manhattan's growth and its people. She captures that time and spirit, pathos and beauty with historic drawings and photos, letters and fascinating narrative.

Olmsted's Closer Than We Think
When we stroll through a park or landscape in most any American city, we're likely walking in or near Olmstead land. When he found this calling late in life, Olmsted dove deep. He immersed himself in the creative process, designing hundreds of public parks, landscapes and private commissions nationwide, from Cushing Island and Deering Oaks in Maine to the Back Bay Fens and more in Boston to Druid Hills in Georgia to San Francisco's Public Pleasure Grounds to Seattle parks.

With incredible foresight that spanned centuries, Olmsted brought nourishing green spaces to New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Louisville, Washington D.C., New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit, Bryn Mawr and dozens of other U.S. cities. Throughout his working life, Olmsted and his firm carried out over 500 commissions, some 100 of which were public parks. His raison d'etre was a belief in landscapes as vital, democratic, city spaces where citizens from all walks of life could intermingle and be refreshed.

"It is one great purpose of the Park to supply to the hundreds of thousands of tired workers, who have no opportunity to spend their summers in the country, a specimen of God's handiwork that shall be to them, inexpensively, what a month of two in the White Mountains or the Adirondacks is, at great cost, to those in easier circumstances." - Frederick Law Olmsted
(Excerpted from

To watch clips and interviews from The Olmsted Legacy and learn where and when it's being screened next and on PBS, go to For more about Olmsted and his contributions to landscape architecture, see

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