Dunn Gardens In Seattle WA - A Well Preserved Olmsted Design

The word landscaping can make most of us hold our breath. Landscape? We buy pretty plants and hope they will thrive.

One way to decide how to improve the look of your gardens, and yes, your landscape, is to visit public gardens and go on garden tours. There you can see what pleases your eye and recreate it at home.

We visited Dunn Gardens in Seattle, WA, in late April to see landscapes designed by the father of landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903).

Olmsted and his descendents John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., designed Central Park in New York City, Yosemite National Park, MO Botanical Garden, 1893 World’s Fair, the 37 park system in Seattle and others (http://www.olmstedparks.org/).

Olmsted’s landscapes were based in a personal philosophy that he had developed by the time he began landscape design at the age of 43.

In the Victorian era, the poor lived mostly in overcrowded inner cities and the wealthy had the advantage of exercise, fresh air, open spaces and recreation. Olmsted wanted to level that playing field by creating harmonious recreational and cultural environments that all citizens could use to improve their health and reduce stress. The Olmsted’s also originated playgrounds.

Paige Johnson, author of the garden blog, Garden History Girl (gardenhistorygirl.blogspot.com/) said in an email that Olmsted was a genius who was inspired by landscape architects Andrew Jackson Downing, Humphrey Repton and Lancelot Brown. Johnson said Olmsted’s Central Park was inspired by a visit to Birkenhead Park in Liverpool, designed by Joseph Paxton.

One of Olmsted’s Seattle residential gardens is open to the public. Characteristic of Olmsted’s work, the Dunn Garden was designed without the use of a bulldozer, retaining the natural contour of the land, and preserving native fir and cedar trees.

The entrance to the Dunn Gardens and residence is through those red brick posts. It takes good driving directions and a committment to find it on this little side street!

Olmsted’s lawns were for croquet, social gatherings and viewing from the house. Paths curve around the lawn and through the woods of the site.

Arthur Dunn hired Olmsted in 1914 to design the gardens. Upon Arthur’s death in 1945, his son, E. B. Dunn, dedicated himself to turning the land into a horticultural haven. Hundreds of shrubs, trees, Winter Hazel, Flowering Fuji Cherry, Red Quince, Handkerchief Trees, bulbs, trilliums, ferns, bleeding hearts, rhododendrons and other plants fill the beds and line the winding woodland trails throughout Dunn Gardens.

E.B. Dunn, a banker by profession, became an authority on native plants and a garden writer. He collected native plants from the wild and preserved them in his gardens. He also propagated the native erythronium (dogtooth violet) and rhododendrons. Upon his death in 1991, Dunn left an endowment to preserve his estate as a public garden.

All Olmsted Brothers’ projects have the spirit of Victorian and English Romantic gardens. A central green space was surrounded by masses of plantings.

To make their gardens a relaxing and peaceful escape, they used lots of blue and white and very few brightly colored flowers. Flowerbeds had a background of green foliage.

Olmsted designs blocked street views with thick, mixed plantings to make a buffer. Existing trees were preserved and vines on trellises covered building walls. Paths follow the contour of the land rather than have straight lines and square corners.

Patio behind the house.

The Great LawnVines on the buildings to soften their structure
On Saturday, June 13, from 10 to 5, Muskogee Garden Club will hold a tour in the Country Club area where you can walk through 7 residential gardens to get more ideas. The tour starts at Harris Jobe School, 2809 North Country Club.
The garden tour is held every two years as a fundraiser to provide scholarships for horticulture students and civic projects. Tickets $5. Information: mollyday1@gmail.com and Anita Whitaker 918-687-6124.


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