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In 2006, GardenSMART visited the gardens of Carolyn and Derek Fell in Pipersville,

Pennsylvania (Show #31-505). Derek Fell is a garden author and photographer who is a multiple winner of Garden Writers Association awards. His latest book, The Gardens of Frank Lloyd Wright (Frances Lincoln, publishers) is 160 pages in full color; price $40.00, available through bookstores and  In this book review by the author, we learn Wright's ideas about how to landscape a home.
---Anne K Moore September 11, 2009---

By Derek Fell

This year is 50 years since the death of Frank Lloyd Wright, and my new book entitled 'The Gardens of Frank Lloyd Wright' is one of a plethora of books about various aspects of his controversial life.

About ten years ago, I received a call from Cornelia Brierly, a member of the staff at Frank Lloyd Wright's summer home, Taliesin, in Wisconsin. Cornelia had joined the Wright fellowship at age 21 and helped Wright with landscape designs for many of his projects and those of his graduates. She was staying with friends locally and asked if she could visit Cedaridge Farm to see my garden. Cornelia had heard about it through reading my books about the gardens of Impressionist painters, Renoir and Monet. After the tour, over a cup of tea and cookies at the farmhouse, she suggested that I consider writing a book about Wright's gardens, and offered to help with the research.

It wasn't until the fall of 2006 that I found time to pursue the idea and began the project with a visit to Wright's winter home in Scottsdale, Arizona, called Taliesin West. I was pleased with the way Wright had designed his home with a low profile using desert stone, and also his use of desert plants, to help it blend with the harsh landscape. The following summer I then visited his first home and studio at Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, and Taliesin West. A subsequent visit to the Oak Park facility and Taliesin in the fall, and a final visit to Taliesin West in spring of 2008, helped me conclude my research and photography for the book.

The result is a hard cover work of 160 pages in full color. The introduction explains where Wright got a lot of his inspiration, both for his buildings and garden design. For example, he digested both Mayan and Japanese architecture, and in his design for the Imperial hotel, Tokyo, he combined both styles - Japanese for the outside and Mayan for the inside. He liked the way Japanese buildings were so skillfully integrated into the natural landscape, it was difficult to tell where the hand of man ended, and the natural environment began. He called his hotel design a series of gardens - roof gardens, terrace gardens, courtyard gardens, balcony gardens in recognition of Japan's reputation as a great gardening nation.

At Taliesin, Wisconsin, the scale of Wright's landscaping is astonishing for its sophistication and scale, comparable to the work of the great 18th century British landscaper, Capability Brown whose landscapes for large estates altered the British countryside, and Roberto Burle Marx, whose work in Brazil often required his landscaping an entire valley for wealthy clients. At Taliesin, for example, every landscape feature within one's view was placed or planted by Wright, even to the trees on the horizon that appear as mere silhouettes.

Wright sometimes drove the bulldozer himself to obtain the right contour for his critical eye, and in order to have enough trees to place in the previously barren landscape, he bought out a local tree nursery. With the previous owner following in his footsteps and an armful of bamboo canes, Wright would stick canes in the ground and decree 'sumac' or 'willow' or 'bur oak' or some other tree accent.

Frances Nemtin, who joined the Wright fellowship at age 23 as Wright's assistant, is today responsible for the landscaping at Taliesin and Taliesin West. She remembers helping Wright plant a pine forest, not only as a landscape feature but also to provide armloads of fragrant branches to decorate the living quarters and workshop at Taliesin.

Wright had very definite ideas about how to landscape a home, and the following tips I gleaned from many sources - mostly his autobiography, lectures, magazine articles, and comments he made to staff and students.

1-    Expose the house foundation to show where it meets the ground. Wright particularly liked dense shrubbery hiding his artistry. To soften hard architectural lines he preferred to plant trailing vines in dish planters on pedestals, and cascading from window box planters.

2-    Where a site needs plantings for shelter or beauty, first consider the use of indigenous plants, as these are likely to be more reliable and require less maintenance than non-natives.

3-    Flower color should be secondary to texture, shape and form. Wright liked to plant flowering trees and shrubs for fleeting color, and flowering perennials to provide cut flowers for indoor decoration.

4-    Try to make your home landscaper distinctive. When Wright began landscaping at Taliesin West in the Sonora Desert, the local practice was to eliminate desert plants such as cactus and Palo Verde trees in favor of �non-natives' or �exotics', not only owing to the over familiarity of the natives, but also their spiny nature. Wright, however, saw the use of desert natives as vital in making his winter home part of the desert and to create inspirational sculptural accents from their tortuous forms and distinctive shapes designed for survival.

5-    Allow trees and shrubs to grow naturally. Trees and shrubs that outgrow their boundaries can be pruned and still look natural. Do not trim shrubs into topiary shapes.

6-    Take as much interest in the house surroundings as the house interior. Plant for privacy and shelter as well as beauty.

7-    Create vistas where none exist. A view of water - especially a lake or river - is especially desirable.

8-    Consider a vine-covered pergola leading from the house to a garden room or between two sunny garden spaces. This produces a leafy tunnel and a sense of compression, then release, when you emerge into the sunlight.

9-    Use sculpture as focal points, especially at the end of a path as a destination, or the middle of a garden space for introspection.

10- Digest other garden styles such as French formality, Italian baroque and Japanese imperial, but do not slavishly copy them. Monet, for example, was inspired by Japanese art to create his water garden. A Japanese-style arched bridge, weeping willows edging the pond and water lilies on its surface, give it a Japanese aura, but it is devoid of other stylized Japanese elements such as stone lanterns, bonsai'd trees, stepping stones and a tea house that would have been jarring in his corner of the Normandy countryside.

The book also explains the influence of a famous mid-western landscaper, Jens Jensen. For example, Wright admired Jensen's prairie style plantings using mostly prairie wildflowers such as coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, beebalm and summer phlox. He also liked Jensen's stone meeting circles as places for friends to gather and bond. A stone meeting circle at Taliesin is located above a courtyard and a second, at Taliesin West, is reached by a meandering path that leads through stands of saguaro cactus and colonies of teddy bear cholla to the foothills of the McDowell Mountains.

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