April 26, 2013 - Happy Birthday, Frederick Law Olmsted

Here's a fellow who was a landscape architect before there was such a thing as a landscape architect!

Olmsted, who was born on this date in 1822, was also a journalist and a public administrator, and he probably called his work with landscapes “designing,” but many now say that he was the father of landscape architecture.

What do landscape architects do? Well, Olmsted and a man named Calvert Vaux designed New York City's Central Park and Brooklyn's Prospect Park. They designed other major parks in other cities as well.

A landscape architect designs outdoor public areas and landmarks. She or he studies existing elements of an area—buildings, skylines, trees, lakes or streams—and come up with a concept of what the outcome should be. The hard part, of course, is figuring out what plants and sprinkler systems, paving and storm drains, trees and structures should be installed in order to achieve that outcome. The job is a combination of architecture, urban planning, gardening, environmental analysis, and recreation planning.

Central Park is a huge public park at the center of Manhattan in New York City. When it opened in 1857, the park had 778 acres of land (it is now larger, with 843 acres). These days, about 35 million people visit the park every year—making this the most visited city park in the U.S.

Central Park has several lakes and ponds, plenty of walking paths, several bridle paths (for people on horseback), two ice-skating rinks (one of which becomes a swimming pool in the summer!), a zoo, a formal garden, a wildlife sanctuary, a forest. AND there is an outdoor theater, a “castle” with a nature center, a marionette theater, and an historic carousel. AND there are at least 3 fountains, 7 major lawns, a meadow, a huge boulder outcropping, smaller swaths of grass, and multiple enclosed playgrounds for kids.

It's a great place! One of my favorite spots is the boulder area, and another is the Alice in Wonderland statue.

The thing is, these lakes and forests and meadows and boulder outcroppings look so natural. It looks very much as if Olmsted and Vaux just had to plan a few paths in between some great natural features. However, almost all these features are landscaped. They were carefully designed to look NOT designed! Cool, huh?

Did you know...?

More gunpowder was used to clear the area than was used at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

During construction, more than 18,500 cubic yards of topsoil were brought in from New Jersey, and more than 10 million cartloads of rocks and soil was taken out of the park! More than 4 million trees, shrubs, and other plants were transplanted in the park.

Sheep used to graze on the Sheep Meadow in Central Park, but they were moved to a more rural area of New York in 1934. City officials worried that they would be killed and eaten by hungry people during the depression!

Also on this date:

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