Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Excellent, Timeless Book

Anyone interested in gardening with native plants, especially in the Midwest, should read The Prairie Spirit in Landscape Gardening, by Wilhelm Miller. Originally published in 1915, it was reprinted in 2002 by the University of Massachusetts Press, with a valuable, contextualizing introduction by Christopher Vernon.

Wilhelm Miller was a horticulturalist, ecologist and writer. He associated with Chicago's great prairie school architects and landscape designers such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Jens Jensen. He also knew the brilliant ecologist Henry C. Cowles. In fact, Miller originated the terms "prairie school" and "prairie style," still in use today, that describe the distinctive style of architecture and landscaping originating in Illinois at that time. Miller was also the first head of the University of Illinois "Division of Landscape Extension." Many people today are familiar with the U. of I. Extension educational services, including those provided by U. of I. Extension Master Gardeners. Other states have similar programs.

This short book, published by the University, was offered "free to anyone in Illinois who will sign a promise to do some permanent ornamental planting within a year." Like all the best gardening books, it offers inspiration and instruction, well illustrated with the work of Jensen and others. It includes recommendations for farmers, as well as city dwellers and suburbanites.

To Miller, ornamental planting meant using native plants extensively, understanding plant associations, and basing design on the natural prairie landscape. At the time this was nearly revolutionary--and even today remains something of a minority view among the public and in the horticulture industry. Since that time, thousands of books have been written extolling naturalistic design, conservation and the use of native plants, but it is all in place right here. His principles are still current and his lists of plants still useful. I've been making a list of proposed species for a hedgerow project and was surprised to find most of them in this book. Maybe I should just copy his list and save myself some work!

5 comments:

garden girl said...

Sounds like my kind of book. Thank you for the review!

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hi Garden Girl,
Hope you enjoying reading it.

Edith Hope said...

dear Adrian, This sounds to be a most interesting book. I love the idea that free copies were issued to those agreeing to be disciples of the 'Prairie Style'.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hello Edith,

I feel you would also find it interesting because Miller felt himself most influenced by the British style of natural gardening. He was creating an American version.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting!
MRG