Wild Ones   Green Gables: Introduction to An American Landscape Designed With Nature in Mind  
By Richard J. Ehrenberg

Here is a sneak preview of the back yard several years into the project. Frankly, thee was little to see at the outset. A view of the lake may be seen between trees in the upper-right corner.

Green Gables

Here is a sneak preview of the back yard several years into the project. Frankly, there was little to see at the outset. A view of the lake may be seen between trees in the upper-right corner.

Fourteen years and 56 seasons have passed since the fall of 1993, when I first set foot on my yard at Green Gables. This is the name I gave to a newly purchased lakeside property within the university town of Whitewater, Wisconsin. While the lawn-covered property and the pink shingles on the roof did nothing to remind one of the beautiful country-scape in the movie, “Anne of Green Gables,” I knew that it would in the future.

The roof was easily reshingled with green, and the blue Cape Cod-style house was easily repainted, not white, but a light clay color. Any transformation of the landscape would take years; but as anyone who has passed middle age knows, the years go by quickly.

Each of the seasons at Green Gables has been filled with anticipation and learning; and, as my 150-page photo-history album attests, each new year it looked somewhat different from the preceding year. Landscaping over the 14 years has been a journey of new experiences, not a one-time completed project.

The journey of natural/native landscaping is strikingly different from the traditional, neat, orderly landscape designs which feature lawns and foundation plantings. Such static landscaping doesn’t change much. Heaven forbid that a blue violet should ever appear in a green lawn. Volunteer trees are not allowed. Foundation shrub plantings are usually not given enough space to grow and are “shaped” yearly to assure a certain form and size.

Green Gables

The view in the back yard now changes with the seasons. This is late summer with Echinacea blooming in the foreground.

The simple, picture-perfect traditional landscape design may be attractive, but once that scene has been experienced, there is nothing to look forward to. The journey of growing a natural/native landscape, on the other hand, provides a lifetime of interest and changing experiences. There are changes with the seasons. The landscape is permitted to mature, and seems to reinvent itself over the years. A natural landscape fulfills its destiny over time in its renewable journey. A traditional landscape design can fulfill its meager destiny the day of installation.

Green Gables is an example of how anyone with even a small yard (mine is 8/10 of an acre) can bring back the pleasurable experience of a non-industrial, non-urban, American landscape – the kind that attracts tourists and vacationers trying to get away from urbanism, and trying to get in touch with nature. There is a name for such properties: “My cabin up north” or “my vacation home.” Green Gables is my year-round vacation home.

I feel no need for a second piece of land, which has been disturbed in order that I might build a second home, to which I must travel, while burning gasoline. All of this is good for our environment. At all levels, native/natural landscaping is “Green landscaping.” Our country needs more of this.

Creating a natural landscape can be accomplished quickly with a contractor, or it can happen over a period of years. The work can be part of a way of life, an enjoyable experience for those who like gardening. It can be a time of creating memories of times spent together on a family endeavor.

In future articles I plan to explain and show pictures of the various aspects involved in creating the landscape at Green Gables in Whitewater. I hope the journey will encourage people to plan for landscapes with nature in mind. and to help promote the movement to bring back a truly American landscape experience to our yards, cities, towns. and countryside.

My credentials for writing about this topic are primarily 29 years of professional experience in the field of landscape architecture. Childhood prefaced this with the experience of growing up in rural Minnesota, and learning to appreciate natural beauty. While studying for a degree in landscape architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was fortunate to have Darrel Morrison, a long-time Wild Ones honorary board member and well-known proponent of natural landscape design, open up this concept of landscaping for me.

Over the years I have been a planner at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, have been involved with the natural areas at Old World Wisconsin, along with designing landscapes for residential properties. I am, of course, still learning.

Richard J. Ehernberg, of the Madison (WI) Chapter, is a landscape architect.

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Updated: Jul 28, 2009.