The New American Garden: The uncertain future of a great legacy

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The New American Garden: The uncertain future of a great legacy

Landscape architecture is an innately ephemeral art form and a new exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. – The New American Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Oehme, van Sweden – provides opportunities to examine a body of work, explore its significance and ponder its future. It coincides with the 25th anniversary of the publication of Bold Romantic Gardens (1990), the widely influential book that introduced the world to the New American Garden; unfortunately, nine of the twenty-one gardens featured have since been lost, including the one at van Sweden’s townhouse in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., which like Page’s Frick garden, was purposefully designed as a viewing garden.

Since 2003, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) has annually issued Landslide, a thematic compendium of threatened and at-risk landscapes and landscape features, which calls attention to designed landscapes in the United States and Canada; it also informs advocates and helps promote sound stewardship. In 2013 TCLF dedicated Landslide for the first time to the legacy of a single designer, Dan Kiley (1912-2004), and launched the traveling photographic exhibition The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley (currently on view at LSU Student Union Gallery through December 12, 2015). Within a decade of his death, several of Kiley’s most important designs had been lost or substantially altered; on the plus side, five of his projects, including the Miller House and Garden owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, are now listed as National Historic Landmarks, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a site in the United States. As the traveling exhibition continues its nationwide tour, interest in Kiley’s work grows, documentation and advocacy efforts broaden, and the import of his legacy is more widely understood and valued. […]