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John Black

True, Oehme & van Sweden gardens don't translate to every corner of this immense land (I'm constantly frustrated at how many of High Country Gardens' delicious specimens won't stand my California clay soil). But it sounds as if Sawyer may be missing a few things, too. First, in the small-scale gardens (e.g. an acre or less) in our increasingly subdivided neighborhoods, it's very difficult to divine a spirit of place. Natural outcroppings were graded away long ago; open land has been infilled; the lines between urban and suburban have been erased.

Second, because of this geographic homogeneity, it's easier to identify the garden not with the land but with the residential architecture, and most American homes derive from somewhere else. Even "truly American" styles have roots in other aesthetics: Japanesque landscaping works well with Craftsman homes because they share values of reductionism and integration between man and nature. Until an authentically American vernacular predominates, landscapers will have difficulty moving away from borrowed styles.

Finally, my cynical alter ego can't help but feel that what is TRULY American is wanting it all, and getting it now, no matter the aesthetic or environmental costs. Lawns have no business in the deserts of California, Nevada, Arizona, etc., but try telling that to the millions of homeowners and golfers who moved there from somewhere else and won't live without them. Or your architecture is Spanish Romantic Revival but you really adore that Italian villa from your honeymoon? OK, we'll design in a generic "Mediterranean" style to bridge that gap. Or, for that matter, the homeowner has blown their budget on a truly American kitchen and has just a few thousand bucks left for the landscape, let alone the landscape designer, so they have their gardener fill the land with whatever's on sale at the hardware store. Not that extraordinary gardens don't get made every day, but these issues all create resistance to landscapes that are truly unique, personal and innovative -- the most American style of all.

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