Category Archives: plants

Life in gardens: village green

Children on grass, Greendale, WIGreendale, Wisconsin, September 1939, by John Vachon, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (all photos here).

Greendale was one of three New Deal “greenbelt” towns built by the federal government in the late 1930s. The other two were Greenhills, Ohio, and Greenbelt, Maryland.

Children on grass 2, Greendale, WI

The planned communities offered affordable housing and commercial, educational, and social facilities — all within walking distances and in the midst of park-like landscaping.

Their construction also created jobs, supporting each area’s recovery from the Depression.

Child on tricycle, Greendale, WI

Greendale was built on 3,400 acres about 3 miles southwest of Milwaukee. Work began in 1936. The first families moved in in April 1938.

There were 366 residential buildings (for 572 families), and each had an average of 5,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space.  The town center included the Village Hall, a movie theater, a newspaper, a volunteer fire station, schools, a co-op market, a tavern, and other businesses.

Children with wagon, Greendale, WI

A large old barn on the town site — which can just be seen on the left above — was preserved as a community theater and social center.

flag and street, Greendale, WI

Greendale’s chief planner was Wisconsin landscape architect Elbert Peets, a designer somewhat at odds with his own time.

“He disliked the curvilinear suburban streets and sweeping lawns then in fashion,” according to William H. Tishler in his book, Midwestern Landscape Architecture.

In 1917, he had visited a number of European cities. “He was especially impressed with the urban squares, piazzas, and parks that he saw on foot,” according to Tishler.

“To Peets. . . , the ‘calamity of the first magnitude’ was the reverence given by American landscape architects to ‘the English landscaped style of gardening.’ A proper antidote for the ‘native-imitative’ design schemes. . . could be found in ‘such rudimentary principles of design as straightness, uniformity, economy and equal balance.'”

He blamed Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., for making nature “the holy word of his time.” He believed Central Park was a failure because its planners had “thought of the city as the enemy of the country.”

Accordingly — and also influenced by American colonial towns and midwestern villages — he built his experimental town “around a line instead of a point,” writes Tishler.

There was a long main boulevard. Side streets were mostly straight and set into grids.

Street of houses, Greendale, WI

Most houses were placed within several feet of the curb.

There are two drawings of Peet’s plan here, on pages 205 and 208 (you will need to scroll up and down).

street and roses, Greendale, WI

And, unlike as in some other planned communities, “Peets also assumed that midwesterners would prefer housing lots that were ‘definitely bounded and privately controlled.'”

Girl on fence, Greendale, WI

He called Greendale “a workingmen’s town” — “in actuality and in appearance it must be direct, simple, and practical, free of snobbishness, not afraid of standardization.” 

Playing ball, Greendale, WI

He did not neglect the new community’s link to the countryside, desiring that “our people may have close contact with the land and its plants and also with farm life and its work.”

“The initial plan was for two-thousand acres of permanent open space* encircling the residential districts. Greendale was unique among the three federal towns. . . since its greenbelt included exceptionally productive agricultural land — seventeen dairy farms and twenty-three small truck and poultry farms. Besides providing for some continuation of farming, Peets planned for hiking and cross-country ski trails through much of the greenbelt. Moreover, . . . he assured, ‘we shall do whatever we can to preserve and create communities of native plants.'”

"Mr. Kroenig, community manager, talking with farmer who operates [Greendale] cooperative pasteurizing plant, June1941.

“Mr. Kroenig, community manager, talking with farmer who operates [the Greendale] cooperative pasteurizing plant,” June 1941.

Peets ultimately used non-natives for about a quarter of all the landscaping plants, which incurred the ire of Jens Jensen; he called it “a tragedy.” Peets answered that the number of Jensen-approved plants were too few and that certain non-native plants “were appropriate to the setting,” according to Tishler.** (That debate continues.)

Jenson was also unhappy that the recently reconstructed Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia provided the models for Greendale’s Village Hall and other public buildings: “The buildings are lost. Frank Lloyd Wright, a true son of Wisconsin, should have been the guiding hand, but a profit [sic] is always stoned in his own country.”

(A have to say that I once saw Wright’s plan for Broadacre City at Taliesin, and it was dismal  — all about the car.)

Man on crutches, Greendale, WI

Greendale’s particularly house-y houses were designed by architect Harry Bentley.

house front, Greendale, WI

“[M]ost of the residential buildings exhibit a stripped-down, functional, modernistic variant of the Colonial Revival style in which architectural features, such as hipped roofs, brick pilasters and quoins, wide brick chimneys, and enclosed vestibules are predominant,” according to Greendale’s National Historic Landmark Registration Form.

“Others reflect a simplification of the English Cottage Style through the use of gabled roofs, the placement of chimneys on the street-side elevations, and window configuration.”

Apple St. House, Greendale, WI

I like the garage/shed side buildings, below.

Children with tents, Greendale, WI

They look like a re-use of shipping containers (although they probably aren’t); the effect is rather current.

woman w/ flowers, Greendale, WI

Greendale’s residents could plant flowers and small vegetables in their yards. Larger plants like corn had to be grown in the town’s allotment gardens.

A limited budget helped determine both the fairly simple houses and, some thought, Old World look of the town, according to Tishler.

“Greendale’s planning staff paid a great deal of attention to keeping down costs. Cinderblock, stucco, whitewash, and drab-colored paints could be purchased locally and inexpensively; once in place the materials were regarded as providing a ‘gracious functionalism’ to a workingmen’s village. Peets and Bentley disavowed any intention to imitate European villages, and were somewhat bewildered when early visitors commented on the similarity.”

Originally, all the families rented their dwellings from the government. But after 1950, they were given the right to purchase their units. Nearly all were in private ownership two years later.

In 2012, Greendale was named a National Historic Landmark.

Greendale in 2012, by Freekee, via Wikimedia Commons.

Greendale in 2012, by Freekee, via Wikimedia Commons. Siding has been added to some houses.

Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheared the laboring swain . . .

How often have I loitered o’er thy green,
Where humble happiness endeared each scene!

– Oliver Goldsmith, from “The Deserted Village

I’m sorry that there was no “The Sunday porch” post yesterday — the internet was out most of the day.

* “Unfortunately, the large greenbelt that Peets so strongly sought to maintain and protect was reduced in size; today, only a small version exists as part of the Root River Parkway,” according to Tishler.

**According to Greendale’s National Historic Landmark Registration Form, Peets said that his proposed plants “needed little skilled care and . . . were familiar to the residents. Familiarity, in Peets’s terms meant plants, shrubs, and trees that appealed to the average person and were likely to evoke the image of small town America, drawing from a long history of use and collective memory in the Midwest. Regardless of whether such species were technically endemic to the Great Lakes region, their use was justified on the basis that such old favorites were culturally appropriate, had popular appeal, and responded favorably to the growing conditions of the upper Midwest. “

There are some good old drawings and plans and pictures of a more recent Greendale if you scroll to the last pages of the Registration Form.

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Filed under a garden in history, American gardens, architecture, culture and history, design, garden design, landscape, life in gardens, nature, plants, vintage landscape

In our garden: Ross’s Turaco

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. . . an occasional large and dramatic avian visitor to our garden — about 30′ up, climbing around in one of our several Grevillea robusta trees.

Also known as Lady Ross Turacos, the birds are about 18″ long with mostly dark blue feathers. I got a very quick look at the ends of this one’s wings — bright red and only visible in flight.

I have seen them in different tall trees around the garden before — the last time in a pair. The males and females look exactly alike.

Today, this one was making only a noisy, repetitive croak, which drew me to look for it.  But, previously, I have also heard them make a more melodious call, which I remember as sort of a loud cooing sound (a contradictory description, I know).

My soul into the boughs does glide;
There like a bird it sits and sings,
Then whets, and combs its silver wings;
And, till prepar’d for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.

– Andrew Marvell, from “The Garden


Filed under African gardens, nature, our garden, plants, Rwanda life, Rwandan gardens

The Sunday porch: Miss Kale’s

Miss Kale's house, via LoC“Washington, D.C. The home of Miss Norma Kale, a Woodrow Wilson High School English teacher,” October 1943, by Esther Bubley, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (all photos here).

What a charming, patchwork quilt of a house: a Gothic window, a Dutch Colonial Revival shape, and a couple of Greek columns. The screened porch angles away from each side of the door. There are climbing rose canes around the downstairs windows.

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The specific location is not given.  The Palisades neighborhood in northwest Washington comes to mind.  It still has old tall trees and funny little houses set among them. But much more of the city must have looked that way 70 years ago.

Bubley took a large number of photographs of students and teachers at Woodrow Wilson High School — including several of Miss Kale grading papers at home and hosting the editors of the student newspaper in front of the fire in her living room.

Two of the pictures also include an elderly man, who may have been her father; she was about 40 at the time.

Miss Kale and students, via LoC“Miss Norma Kale. . . greeting some of her students who have come to her home on a Sunday afternoon.”

I like the old concrete and wire fence and gate too.  It looks like the posts go up to support an arbor over the gate.

Sadly, an In Memoriam page in the 1956 Woodrow Wilson yearbook said that Miss Kale had died in March of that year. It noted that “Miss Kale placed importance on nature and the worth of human character, rather than on material possessions.”

. . . I love
this garden in all its moods,
even under its winter coat
of salt hay, or now,
in October, more than
half gone over: here
a rose, there a clump
of aconite. . . .

James Schuyler, from “Korean mums


Filed under American gardens, architecture, culture and history, design, garden design, life in gardens, nature, plants, The Sunday porch, vintage landscape, Washington, D.C., gardens

Our garden: sunflowers

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Just a little follow up to yesterday’s Bloom Day. . . .

The sunflowers I planted about a year and a half ago have continued to self-seed.

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They like to come up in the paths of the vegetable garden.

To see what’s blooming in other garden bloggers’ gardens, visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens.


Filed under African gardens, nature, our garden, plants, Rwandan gardens

Bloom Day in August

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Flowers in the borders around our lower lawn, August 15, 2014.

To see what’s blooming in other garden bloggers’ gardens, visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens.


Filed under African gardens, design, garden design, landscape, nature, our garden, plants, Rwandan gardens