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Orchestration of Use


August 03, 2021

From The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives American Gardens

Many gardens included in The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens hold a proud distinction: they embody design principles developed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903). In addition to establishing a firm that had a hand in the design of more than 6,000 landscapes and gardens for over a century, Olmsted published influential theories about landscape design that transformed how people organized and maintained the outdoor space around them. Olmsted scholars have distilled Olmsted’s ideas down to a list of six design principles. 

Here is Principle Four.

According to Olmsted, greenspaces needed to have “logical precincts” that served a variety of uses. The Philadelphia community garden Aspen Farms embodies that multi-use principle today. The Aspen Farms Community Garden Club constructed individual vegetable plots on the site of demolished residences, as well as a butterfly garden and separate common area. This combination of individual spaces contributes to the garden’s mission to “foster relationships, community pride, aesthetic value, and provide a social spot for the gardeners of the community."

Olmsted was especially concerned that each precinct appear in the most logical place. Private owners honor that principle in their own gardens. At the Waterman Garden in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, for example, owner Lois Waterman placed a birdbath in a logical spot for birds: the open clearing had lots of sunlight, was easy to see from the sky, and discouraged prowling cats.

Olmsted scholars have been careful to note that designers should create distinct spaces for each type of use or activity, so that people enjoying parks for different purposes do not compete with each other. Along those lines, designer Elmer Awl included an amphitheater in his plan for El Mirador in Santa Barbara, California. The amphitheater fulfilled owner Lolita Armour’s desire for a concert venue, and she was able to invite dancers like Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis to perform. Other sections of the estate, such as an orchard and a poultry farm, did not interfere with the performance space.

Olmsted’s consideration of the different purposes served by space influences how communities across the country envision their own gardens and parks.

“Design Principles,”, National Association for Olmsted Parks.

Redmon, Michael. “El Mirador,” Santa Barbara independent. May 11, 2006. (accessed July 1, 2020). Smaus, Robert. “When Placing a Birdbath, Think Location, Location, Location,” Los Angeles Times. November 12, 1998. July 1, 2020).

Images from The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens. By Alanna Natanson, GCA Garden History & Design Intern at AAG. July 2020.



 PA352, Aspen Farms Community Garden, Philadelphia, PA. Ira Beckoff, photographer.

M1013, Waterman Garden, Grosse Pointe, MI. 1926.

CA060, El Mirador, Santa Barbara, CA. 1990. Eleanor C. Weller, photographer


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