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Setting the Stage

In March of 1930, influential landscape architect Jens Jensen looked back over his accomplishments and talked about his landscape philosophy with a reporter for the Saturday Evening Post magazine.

Not only in the parks, but in private gardens as well, it has become my creed that a garden to be a work of art, must have the soul of the native landscape in it. You cannot put a French garden or an English garden or a German or an Italian garden in America and have it express America . . . Nor can you transpose a Florida or Iowa garden to California and have it feel true, or a New England garden to Illinois, or an Illinois garden to Maine. Each type of landscape must have its own individual expression.1

Jensen pioneered landscape design inspired by the natural landscape. It featured the native plants of a region rather than exotic imports, natural-looking bodies of water, horizontally-layered stonework, winding paths, and sunny meadows.

Jensen did not think that a landscaper merely copied nature; he had to try to idealize nature, distilling its essence, appealing to all five senses. He believed that people, especially city dwellers, ". . . need the out-of-doors, as expressed in beauty and art for a greater vision and a broader interest in life . . . Should this not be told them in the language of their native landscape, so that they may here experience our native beauty, and thus not be deprived of the opportunity to commune with Nature even though it be in very small measure?"2 Within the 150-acre confines of Columbus Park, Jens Jensen recreated the vanishing Illinois prairie for the dwellers of Chicago creating a masterpiece of Prairie landscape design.

1 Jens Jensen as told to Ragna B. Eskil, "Natural Parks and Gardens," Saturday Evening Post, 8 March 1930, 18-19, 169-170.

2 Jens Jensen to the West Park Commission. Forty-Ninth Annual Report of the West Chicago Park Commission, 1917, 18.