From 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.)
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*Starred Review* Garden designer and historian Graham takes a panoramic perspective in his bold interpretation of the form, function, and meaning of American gardens. Thomas Jefferson is the first, and most complex, of the many pioneering gardeners Graham incisively profiles, and Graham’s frank dissection of the profound paradoxes implicit in Jefferson’s landscape vision for Monticello in a time of slavery and genocide against Native Americans sets the groundwork for his central insight, the fact that wilderness was a catalyst for the American imagination even as we rapidly destroyed it. Other intriguing garden designers include the nineteenth-century advocates for middle-class gardens as “emblems of virtue” A. J. Downing and Charles Platt, and their heir, the ever-ambitious Martha Stewart, as well as Beatrix Jones Farrand, Jens Jensen, and Lawrence Halprin. As Graham unwinds the DNA of American garden design from grandiose to utilitarian, he matches garden aesthetics with the social mores of each era to surprising effect. His discussion of the pastoral dream underlying suburban sprawl is of particular resonance, and his comparisons between Eastern and Western gardens are fascinating. This blazingly fresh, critical, and ecologically astute masterwork brilliantly traces the great cycles of American life through a spectrum of gardens that embody our devotion to the art of cultivation for beauty and status, sanctuary and sustenance. --Donna Seaman