Synopses & Reviews
The story of our nation and ourselves—as told through our country's most significant gardens and their creators
From Frederick Law Olmsted to Richard Neutra, Michelle Obama to our neighbors, Americans throughout history have revealed something of themselves—their personalities, desires, and beliefs—in the gardens they create. Rooted in the time and place of their making, as much as in the minds and identities of their makers, gardens mirror the struggles and energies of a changing society. Melding biography, history, and cultural commentary in a one-of-a-kind narrative, American Eden presents a dynamic, sweeping look at this country's landscapes and the visionaries behind them.
Monticello's gardens helped Jefferson reconcile his conflicted feelings about slavery—and take his mind off his increasing debt. Edith Wharton's gardens made her feel more European and superior to her wealthy but insufficiently sophisticated countrymen. Martha Stewart's how-to instructions helped bring Americans back into their gardens, while at the same time stoking and exploiting our anxieties about social class. Isamu Noguchi's and Robert Smithson's experiments reinvigorated the age-old exchange between art and the garden.
American Eden offers an inclusive definition of the garden, considering intentional landscapes that range from domestic kitchen gardens to city parks and national parks, suburban backyards and golf courses, public plazas and Manhattan's High Line park, reclaimed from freight train tracks. And it exposes the overlap between garden-making and painting, literature, and especially architecture—the garden's inseparable sibling—to reveal the deep interconnections between the arts and their most inspired practitioners.
Moving deftly through time and place across America's diverse landscapes—from Revolutionary-era Virginia to turn-of-the-century Chicago to 1960s suburban California—and featuring a diverse cast of landscape-makers—whether artists, architects, or housewives, amateurs or professionals, robber barons, politicians, reformers, or dreamers—Wade Graham vividly unfolds the larger cultural history through more personal dramas.
Beautifully illustrated with color and black-and-white images, American Eden is at once a different kind of garden book and a different kind of American history, one that offers a compelling, untold story—a saga that mirrors and illuminates our nation's invention, and constant reinvention, of itself.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWxyz LLC)
“Mr. Graham recounts his tale with considerable verve and a vast erudition in the history of gardening and the arts generally…. Among much else, Mr. Graham shows us that the history of how our nation grew can be found in what it has grown.” John Steele Gordon, Wall Street Journal
“We are what we plant, L.A.-based writer Wade Graham posits in his history of gardens. When he isnt explaining the economic and cultural influences, he crafts fascinating profiles…. An engaging look at our own pieces of paradise.” Ann Herold, Los Angeles Magazine
“A shrewd, comprehensive and often entertaining guide…. Sure to be a scholarly as well as popular resource for years to come…. And its illustrations and photos tour of some of the worlds most ravishing gardens.” Tricia Springstubb, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“The most comprehensive and readable history ever written about the men and women who created the environments in which we now live…. will change the way you look not only at gardens, but also at American history and the hybrid world-part nature, part design-in which we live.” Charles Donelan, Santa Barbara Independent
moves luminously through landscapes of history, literature, biography, and design theory. . . . fusing sharp-edged analysis and graceful American prose.” —Kevin Starr, author of Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Bridge
“Informative and absolutely engrossing.” —Ross King, author of Brunelleschi's Dome
Garden designer and historian Wade Graham offers a unique vision of the story of America in this riveting exploration of the nations gardens and the visionaries behind them, from Thomas Thomas Jeffersons Monticello to Michelle Obamas vegetable garden, Fredrick Law Olmsteds expansive Central Park to Martha Stewarts how-to landscaping guides. In the tradition of Mark Kurlansky, Simon Schama, and Michael Pollan, Graham delivers a sweeping social history that examines our nations history from an overlooked vantage point, illuminating anew the living drama of American self-creation.
About the Author
Wade Graham is a Los Angeles-based garden designer, historian,and writer whose work on the environment, landscape, urbanism, and the arts hasappeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Outside, andother publications.