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Gardens for a Beautiful America, 1895-1935. Photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnston [Hardcover]

by Sam Watters
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 15, 2012 0926494155 978-0926494152
Gardens for a Beautiful America, 1895- 1935, written by Sam Watters and published in collaboration with the Library of Congress, presents for the first time 250 colored photographs of urban and suburban gardens taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston- photographer of presidents, celebrity authors, tastemakers, and estates of the County House Era.
At the opening of the 20th century, as artist and progressive, Johnston was front and center in the movement to beautify America. Gilded Age industrialism had brought at new prosperity to life coast to coast, but at the price of once pristine forests, rivers, and blue skies, wrecked by continental railroad building and factory pollution in growing cities.
As guardians of home and community, wealthy women rallied clubs and societies to green America through design and horticulture. To show all gardeners, rich and poor, what a garden should be, they turned to Frances Benjamin Johnston.
Johnston s colored lantern slides have not been seen since the 1940s. They picture New York town house yards, Long Island villas, California hillside terraces and plantations of the South identified by Watters over years of research and travel.
Johnston produced each slide for illustrated lectures she presented to gardening women. Today, these hand-painted miniatures on glass still resonate with her crusading message: garden the nation back to America the Beautiful, one elm, one rose, one fountain and one boxwood terrace at a time. Preserve our wildflowers and forests for future generations.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Skillfully narrated... The research and identification of these slides by Watters, uncataloged when he first saw them five years ago, are exhaustively presented and annotated and will be a rich fund for later historians. --John Dixon Hunt, Landscape Architecture Magazine, April 2012

Pioneering American photojournalist Frances Benjamin Johnston never planted a garden of her own until she was in her 80s, but she masterfully recorded hundreds of others on hand-painted glass lantern slides used for her horticultural lectures... Author Sam Watters has meticulously identified the landscapes, which range from humble backyards to noble estates. --Architectural Digest, May 2012

Far more than pretty pictures (Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. deemed Ms. Johnston s photographs the finest existing on the subject of American gardens ), the carefully composed painterly images of these elegant, often opulent gardens were meant to educate the masses. --Anne Raver, the New York Times
<br Rarely does a book appear that feels like a revelation. The Acanthus Press' recent Gardens for a Beautiful America, by Sam Watters, is just such book, however... Today, anyone interested in the history of gardens owes Mr. Watters a huge debt of gratitude as he painstakingly identified the slides and presents 250 of them in this ravishing book, giving us miniature portraits of gardens in both America and Europe. ----Jane Garmey, 1st Dibs, June 2012<br /


From the very first glimpse, the pictures are spellbinding. The subjects are stunning: Handsome buildings flanked by gorgeous flowers and trees. The composition of each view is balanced. The colors are ethereal., with a palette mirroring that of the dreamiest Impressionist artist, inviting the observer to enter a fairytale world of wealth and beauty. The overall artistic quality of the pictures blurs the line between photography and art, and there is timelessness that cannot be denied. This is the world of beautiful America, a place captured by Frances Benjamin Johnston and frozen in time. --New England Antiques Journal, July 2012

For Johnston s admirers, the images represent a true artist at work, one who would manipulate her pictures at every stage in pursuit of the perfect evocation of a given garden. --Adrian Higgins, the Washington Post



--Adrian Higgins, the Washington Post

This is an unusually sumptuous book that is a welcome addition to a small shelf devoted to serious, well-illustrated books about garden history.It's basically a scholarly study, but in the guise of a luscious coffee-table book; aficionados of early twentieth-century American gardens couldn't do better...Sam Watters...has done a superb job of sifting through the collection of eleven hundred hand-coloured slides housed in the Library of Congress...His resulting research is tucked away in copious notes that are packed with information. But scholarship aside, this is a book to enjoy for its sheer visual appeal... --Judith Tankard, Hortus, Number 104, Winter 2012

Some design books are interesting and stimulating, or even downright titillating. And some are beautiful, with luscious photography, luxe paper, and typography. Bu here we have something
rare: a book with the power to bring you into another world. [...] Many books of breathtaking garden images leave out information on the particulars and circumstances of the gardens depicted. Mr. Watters' book is instead a welcome exception to this failing, and in a later chapter he gives us the details on the location, features, client, architect/landscape architect, and even - when known - a name of the key player for turning a concept into beauty: the gardener. --The Forum, Fall 2012

Winner of the 2012 Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Annual Literature Award in the general book category.

"The council was impressed by this gorgeous and informative book." --Gretchen Wade, Harvard Botany Libraries --CBHL Annual Meeting

Some design books are interesting and stimulating, or even downright titillating. And some are beautiful, with luscious photography, luxe paper, and typography. Bu here we have something
rare: a book with the power to bring you into another world. [...] Many books of breathtaking garden images leave out information on the particulars and circumstances of the gardens depicted. Mr. Watters' book is instead a welcome exception to this failing, and in a later chapter he gives us the details on the location, features, client, architect/landscape architect, and even - when known - a name of the key player for turning a concept into beauty: the gardener. --The Forum, Fall 2012

About the Author

Sam Watters writes and lectures about American house and garden culture. He is the author of books and essays on wide-ranging subjects including cactus theft for suburban gardens, the public gallery in the private house, and photographing Hollywood at home.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 378 pages
  • Publisher: Acanthus Press (April 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0926494155
  • ISBN-13: 978-0926494152
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 11 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #306,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crusader for a Beautiful America April 14, 2012
Format:Hardcover
Well Known as an emminent architectural and portrait photographer, Frances Benjamin Johnston is perhaps less well remembered for her pioneering role as a champion of American garden design and the training of women as landscape architects. With GARDENS FOR A BEAUTIFUL AMERICA, 1895-1935, author and Los Angeles Times columnist Sam Watters' provides a resplendent and evocative testimony to Ms. Johnston's outstanding achievements in this field.

Culled from the Library of Congress's collection of over a thousand, meticulously hand-colored photographs Ms. Johnston created over a forty-year period for use in her illustrated lectures to garden clubs, landscaping schools and civic groups, GARDENS FOR A BEAUTIFUL AMERICA is a handsomely-produced, voluminously illustrated record of Johnston's life and work, divided geograpically into sections on the estates of Newport, Long Island and the East Coast, the lush, semi-tropical gardens of the Pacific coast, Spanish moss-laden landscapes of the Old South,intimate enclaves of the cities and the famed gardens of Europe. Accompanying these luxuriant images are informative essays by Mr. Watters providing biographical information on Frances Benjamin Johnston and an analytical consideration of her role in what might be called the Country Beautiful movement.

Requiring intensive use of labor and large areas of vacant land, nothing has proven to be more ephemeral from the age of the Great Estates than its once-breathtakingly beautiful gardens. Mr. Watters's GARDENS FOR A BEAUTIFUL AMERICA is thus a most-welcome conjuring up of some of the most spectacular glories of that bygone era as recorded by one of its finest photographers.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Illustrations! May 12, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a collection of wonderful hand colored glass plates of gardens spanning many years. There are gardens from numerous parts of the United States, which gives a good idea of the diverse garden styles throughout the country. It is a great help for the amateur gardener as well as the professional landscaper and for those who just love to look at beautiful gardens.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gardens for a Beautiful America June 14, 2012
By BCH
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What an unusual and magnificent collection of photographs, all the more remarkable because they were hand-tinted for color by the photographer. I enjoy just thumbing through the collection over and over again ... it's inspiring and relaxing. It would be useful if future editions included a list of the gardens that still exist and/or that are open to the public.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful images; recommend February 24, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
wonderful images of another time. Very good addition to your gardening library; I would highly reccommend buying this book now
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