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28 Jan

Remembering Luther Ely Smith Park – Arch Grounds – St. Louis Missouri

Design by Mary Francois Deweese - Landscape Architect, Acorn Landscapes. Initial planting day volunteers from The East Central District Garden Clubs of Missouri, May 2003

Design by Mary Francois Deweese – Landscape Architect, Acorn Landscapes. Initial planting day volunteers from The East Central District Garden Clubs of Missouri, May 2003

Last week I found out that Luther Ely Smith Park was removed in preparation for the new Arch-grounds redevelopment project in downtown St. Louis. I’ve known for some time that this garden was to be destroyed to make way for the new pedestrian connection to the Arch, but knowing that it is actually now just a part of history has motivated me to publish this account of when it was designed and installed. This project was awarded an ALSA design award, and will always be a project that I am very proud of. I hope you visited it during its time, I know there are many pictures that include the garden, including wedding shoots and family vacation photos. What follows is the original submission I used for the ASLA award, along with several photos from 2003 and 2004.

Ely Luther Smith Square National Parks Garden
Located in front of the Old Courthouse on 4th Street, adjacent to the Gateway Arch.
Installed Spring 2003

Garden Design by Mary Francois Deweese - Landscape Architect, Acorn Landscapes. View from the Observation Deck of the Arch August 2003

Garden Design by Mary Francois Deweese – Landscape Architect, Acorn Landscapes. View from the Observation Deck of the Arch August 2003

Overall Project Summary – This project is located on National Park Service
Grounds as part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and consisted of a planting and border design for 5 existing planting beds. The intention of this project was to create a relatively low maintenance garden with low continuing costs (perennials vs. annuals), while creating a highly dramatic and colorful urban garden to act as a centerpiece greenspace complimenting the importance of the Gateway Arch and historic St. Louis Riverfront.

Luther Ely Smith Garden Design by Mary Francois Deweese - Landscape Architect, Acorn Landscapes. View from the Observation Deck of the Arch Spring 2004

Luther Ely Smith Garden Design by Mary Francois Deweese – Landscape Architect, Acorn Landscapes. View from the Observation Deck of the Arch Spring 2004

Special Factors and Significance – This is a highly visible and prominent garden area adjacent to the Gateway Arch, which is seen by almost 4 million visitors to our city each year, and is very significant to the visual appeal and perception of the City by visitors and residents alike. In the past, the St. Louis City Government partially funded the popular yearly planting of Tulips and Cannas in the garden, but, do to budget constraints, they were no longer able to participate in funding or maintenance of the garden. The responsibility then fell solely to the National Park Service. With budgets tight, the National Park Service was interested in finding a solution that was both cost-effective, and beautiful. The park service had an initial budget to buy plant materials, which they received in part from a special grant titled “The 2003 National Parks Volunteerism Enhancement Program” sponsored by Allegra and the National Parks Foundation. The answer to the rest of the garden’s expenses was to involve the community in a volunteer effort to minimize cost. The park was designed, planted, and is maintained by volunteers from Acorn Landscapes, The East Central District of the Garden Clubs of Missouri and the National Park Service. Another special factor was the desire to use mainly perennials in order to reduce the ongoing yearly cost of the garden. The challenge was to make a perennial garden as colorful and eye-catching as the more costly annuals had been in the past.

Luther Ely Smith Garden - Mary Francois Deweese Landscape Architect, St. Louis, Missouri. View of the garden towards the Old Courthouse, September 2003

Luther Ely Smith Garden – Mary Francois Deweese Landscape Architect, St. Louis, Missouri. View of the garden towards the Old Courthouse, September 2003


Role of the Landscape Architect – As a member of one of the volunteer organizations, Mary Francois Deweese was asked to volunteer as both the Landscape Architect and co-leader of the volunteer effort. Over 40 individual volunteers have participated in the project to date. The LA not only designed the project, but also participated in the coordination of the volunteers and supervised the initial planting and installation of the beds, in addition to taking part in numerous maintenance efforts as well.

Historic view of the garden designed by Mary Francois Deweese - Acorn Landscape Architecture - View towards the St. Louis Arch, September 2003

Historic view of the garden designed by Mary Francois Deweese – Acorn Landscape Architecture – View towards the St. Louis Arch, September 2003

Project Concept – The LA’s concept for the design was to apply a bold modern approach to historical French gardens, which would respect the heritage of the site (originally a sunken French garden constructed in the 1920′s), while incorporating the modern geometry of the Arch and a contemporary plant selection with a creative flair. With this approach, the garden itself becomes a piece of contemporary living art. The geometry of the Gateway Arch is reflected in the beds as asymmetrical intersecting arched bed edges, creating patterns on the ground that can be seen from the surrounding buildings and from the observation deck of the Arch as well. From the street level, the gardens assert a vivid color scheme, largely reliant on foliage, for three-season vegetative appeal.

View from atop the Adam's Mark Hotel, May 2003 - Design of Luther Ely Smith National Park Garden by Mary Deweese - Landscape Architect, Acorn Landscapes. Winner of an Award of Merit ASLA St. Louis Chapter.

View from atop the Adam’s Mark Hotel, May 2003 – Design of Luther Ely Smith National Park Garden by Mary Deweese – Landscape Architect, Acorn Landscapes. Winner of an Award of Merit ASLA St. Louis Chapter.

The garden is themed in vibrant monochromatic beds of yellow, red and blue/purple. During the winter, the bed edges themselves hold visual interest. In addition, linear beds along 4th street were planted with ever blooming roses to add both aroma and bright color. The plant materials were chosen to completely fill each border layout to out-compete weeds and lower the maintenance chores. The borders were designed to be poured-in-place concrete, which will keep the plant materials from spreading into adjacent areas. At this time, the borders are concrete stepping stones, and the proposed second phase was to install the permanent concrete will commence when funds permit.

So, back to today…I’ll miss seeing this garden and feeling the connection to this park that I had when the garden was there.  I have fond memories of going down there on Saturday mornings with my garden club friends and weeding and caring for that garden.  We not only grew plants in that garden, we grew friendships.  Sometimes, when we make room for progress, we lose a little of what we once had.  Farewell Luther Ely Smith Garden!

13 May

Part III Ebenezer Howard – A Working Man w/ Dreams

I don’t intend for this blog post to cite all of Ebenezer Howards ideas for a utopian society, there are plenty of authors with a lot more credentials than I who have written extensively about Howard, but I do want to describe the building of the first garden city and how similar Howards’ experience of trying to build a dream in the real world is to my (and others) experiences trying to build a dream in the real world.

Howard had this great plan, a plan he had spend many many unpaid hours creating because he really thought that he had ideas that would be of untold value to the world. So there is our first similarity…I have known a few very dedicated designers, myself included, that have dedicated huge amounts of uncompensated time towards projects that are meant to be “gifts” to humanity…or at the very least, improvements that would help move us in the right directions, socially and environmentally. So at this point in reading Howard’s story, I feel an understanding of the man that I didn’t have when I was younger because I have been, and have close colleagues who have been, in this situation…high hopes, intense dedication, and no meaningful client or financing. Sound familiar?

After years of painstakingly putting his soul into his plans he had to go out and find the people who could actually finance the building of the first Garden City. Time to make this plan a reality!!!!!

Howard was a man who was not very well connected, but did believe he had a lead on an organization that would certainly be interested, if not downright thrilled, with the idea of backing his project….the organized Victorian Radicals, or the “Cooperative” Movement as they were also known. They would certainly be interested, Howard thought, because he was, after all, designing a City to fit all their ideals. (I’m not going to go into their ideals, let’s just say, the cooperative movement and Howards’ plans could not have been more suited to each other)

Surely they would jump at the chance to get on board…and they didn’t even have to pay him for all the pre design concept work (yes, another designer giving up his intellectual property for free…but that’s for another blog post)…he had already done that part.

But guess what…although the people at the head of their organization were convinced by Howards Plans and formally behind him, they could not get the support of the rest of the cooperative movement because the individual chapters of the movement didn’t want to focus on one unified project. They all had their own little projects, chapter by chapter, that they were working on. Now remember, these are people who fundamentally are espousing the importance of COOPERATION!! It makes me think that they were asking themselves “who is this Ebenezer guy think he is anyway? He’s just some guy who has some plans and ideas, we don’t need him, we are doing our own thing. ” Which is not very cooperative of them is it? But, very typical from my experience. It does seem that “cooperation” is an idea that everyone agrees on abstractly, but then the reality so often is more like…sure, cooperation sounds great, as long as everyone cooperates to help me do exactly what I want to do…am I right?

Looking back it makes you want to say…hey…this “Ebenezer guy” is going to be written about for centuries for his ground breaking ideas…don’t you wish you would have gotten on board? But it also reminds me of the fragmented idealists of today, who all have their eyes on their own sub interest, their own backyard, their own small project. It just seems to be human nature, and I’ve struggled with the ramifications of both the pro’s and con’s of this arrangement. It is disheartening though that in 100 years, cooperation still hasn’t found a way to cooperate a large improvement in the foundations of society. When the times get tough I find that the idea of every man for himself is still an overriding force, which of course, goes to the most basic of our essential motivations…fear.

So anyway, I digress…on back to Howard. It was a huge disappointment I imagine, that he now had to solely rely on the investments of the business sector, which, with no balance of support from the cooperative movement, inevitably ended up steering the design away from his ideas of a balance of cooperation and the free market, and towards an end where the financial gains of the few outweigh the needs of the many…the exact situation the Garden City was supposed to correct (and that many of us are still trying to correct).

But what choice did Ebenezer have? He could give up, or he could try to go forward with the project so that the basic ideas of the Garden City could get some mainstream exposure, and he believed that would cause a huge surge of support form the masses. Maybe, he probably thought, maybe the next one, the 2nd garden city will be more attractive to the cooperative movement because he would have by then, he hoped, an example City that, although not a perfect representation of his ideal plan, would have enough of the essence as to create momentum and a progressively better and better Garden City in the real world.

Again, at this point, I have to say, this sounds totally familiar. I can hear my own voice telling a client… realistically, if you can’t do absolutely everything you want to in this fantastic plan, if you at least get it built with one major advance, and if the project is a success financially with that one great environmental benefit, then the next developer that comes along will look at your project as a positive example of what can be done and maybe build on that with something similar because of all the great publicity your project will get, and with something even one step closer to your ideals. If you try to undertake everything in your plan, and you don’t succeed financially, other developers will look at your project and use it as an example of what not to do and will be put off of trying ANY new environmental design integration. One successful step at a time is necessary to help the movement forward, I have been known to say.

How did Howards first Garden City get started then? He did end up having to depend financially mostly on a few wealthy businessmen who dominated the actual construction of the city towards the interests of their own and other business interests. So after getting financial backing, the next thing to do was to hire an architectural firm.

Hope this 3 part series got you interested in Ebenezer Howard and sparks your interest to learn more about his story.

06 May

Part II – Ebenezer Howard – Still an Inspiration

See part I of this series for a little more background about Ebenezer Howard, the inventor of the Garden City circa 1900.

So if you aren’t familiar with Howard, (and I am by no means an expert) he was a man who looked around him and saw a great disparity between the people who had much power and money, (the corporate and business moguls), and the rest of the working class (the 99%), at the turn of the previous century. He wanted to help solve both the social and urban decay crisis of his time.

Now remember, this was a man who was middle aged, and did not have a formal education in architecture, planning or any related field. This little piece of information sank into my brain with a much larger impact than it had at 22 as well, because, well, I’m on the cusp of the dreaded ‘middle age’ myself, and the thought that a total reinvention of who you are, your field, and your posterity is both intriguing and inspiring.

At some point in the future there will need to be a clarifier on exactly which turn of the century we are talking about, the year 1900 or the year 2000, because that sounds a lot like the concerns many of my colleagues have now. We are still trying to solve the same basic problems of social inequality, affordable housing, urban decay, and general positive societal fulfillment over one hundred years later!

He did not support concentrated power in the hands of a few by governmental intervention, but also did not support a union movement. He DID support a strong community of people who were mutually benefitted by strong relationships between commerce and the individual, by interwoven supply and demand dynamics, and strong social cooperation ethics.

People who held similar beliefs in his time and place were categorized as “the radical movement of Victorian England”. Hmmm, it might as well be called something very similar in today’s world. The term radical always has confused me when applied to those who want to help find a solution to poverty and suffering, whether by architectural design or cooperation. Is it really “radical” to want to see people get along and respect each other’s humanity?

So it seems that Howard wanted to balance the need for individual freedoms and the need for rules and order in a quest for the perfect conditions to foster a society in which all people had a satisfactory life…something that we as a collective society struggle with even today.

Again, I don’t know why I was surprised at the similarities between then and now, but for some reason I really was…more than a hundred years later and we are still trying to balance the need for freedom with the need for regulation.

Part III coming soon….

02 Apr

Part I – Ebenezer Howard and the Garden City 1898

Part I Thoughts on Ebenezer Howard – the inventor of the Garden City 1890′s and how nothing has changed for dreamers in over 100 years.

Recently I’ve been re-familiarizing myself with some of the Landscape Architecture and City Planning pioneers. At this point in my life and career I have a new respect and understanding of the designers in our history books. They are much more real to me now as actual relatable people just like you and I, which is both liberating and slightly disillusioning. Let me explain what I mean.

Ebenezer Howard was the inventor of the Iconic “Garden City” in 1898. Every Landscape Architecture and City Planning student has been exposed to his ideas as a matter of course. I remember hearing this name, Ebenezer…even his name sounded like something from a time so long ago as to render it irrelevant. When you are 22 years old the understanding of time is very skewed…for some reason the year 1900 seemed farther away when I was 22 than it does now. It is funny how that works isn’t it? Yet, his name was in a history book, so this man is famous, a preeminently successful human being…right? Well that is how the 22 year old me related to him…the older me now sees a man who struggled, worked hard, and didn’t get everything right the first time, or have anything work out simple and easy. I’m sure there were plenty of times when he probably questioned what he was doing, or felt discouraged or impatient, nervous or unsure, tired and stressed, just like you and me. He was a regular guy.

This time around, when I was re-reading about his “Garden City” ideas, I have to admit that I was startled by how real this person has become to me, because I now KNOW him. I don’t mean I know the actual Ebenezer Howard, I mean I know people exactly like him, thinking very similar things to him, struggling against the financial hurdles of funding projects that todays designers believe will help improve society.

I started seeing many similarities between this man and his world, from over 100 year ago, and the people and world I know today. Ebenezer Howard, far from being some abstract historical character, might as well be “enter colleagues name here”. Hey! I KNOW THIS GUY! I’VE WORKED WITH THIS GUY! It is quite a revelation and has really changed my perspective on both the past and the future. This new perspective has inspired me to write this multi part blog post so that I can share with you my observations about the way old problems are todays problems, how designers now are the same as designers 100 years ago, and that if you feel disheartened or discouraged about your own projects, remembering Howard and his journey to becoming the “inventor of the Garden City” will give you hope, inspiration and a connection to both the past, and the future.

14 Mar

Why I’m not specifying Knock Out Roses anymore

I am no longer specifying knock out roses for commercial landscapes…or I should say, I am severely limiting their use. Yes, they are beautiful, but they have become so popular that their very popularity is putting them at risk. Over use in urban and suburban landscapes are putting not only the knockout roses at risk, but all other rose varieties at the same time.

I’m talking about rose rosette virus. I have noticed that the knockout roses in many commercial settings are hosts to the dreaded and incurable rose rosette virus. This disease first came to my attention back in about 2004 when a new municipal bed that had been planted with over 40 knockout roses had to be dug up and replanted. After that I kept my eye out for roses with rosette virus in commercial settings.

I started noticing them in A LOT of places, the McDonalds landscape near me, the supermarket parking lot, in the parking lot near my bank, at the entrances to subdivisions. Whenever possible I would notify the business and property managers of these businesses that it would be the responsible practice to have the infected roses removed ASAP and destroyed because the virus spreads easily through air borne mites, which endangers all the surrounding landscape roses. This means that the disease on the roses in one parking lot will spread to those in an adjacent commercial lot, and then on to the residential landscapes, etc.

Unfortunately, most commercial property managers do not seem to care or respond, even with repeated notifications of the rose virus over periods of years…yes, I said years! The roses just stay there looking sicker and sicker and more deformed, because, well, they aren’t dead…yet…and in fact, more and more roses were being planted in these very same areas. I even had a property manager tell me that they were in the process of planting hundreds more knock out roses. I suggested that maybe they should choose another species so they don’t invest so heavily in one type of plant in case the virus spread from their infected roses to their new roses, and the property manager just replied that they liked them, and the rose virus didn’t seem to kill them right away, so they were going to leave them in place, and plant more.
So, after having my own beautiful knockout rose hedge for almost 10 years, which is over 8 feet tall and gorgeous, but is also just 2 miles from this particular commercial complex, I am now scheduled to have them removed and burned…because guess what?!?!? They now have the rosette virus too.

I am also aware that even when some of these landscape maintenance crews remove the diseased roses, they are composting them instead of burning them, which compounds the problem even more, because that compost, which is usually then given to municipalities or sold to unsuspecting homeowners, is now contaminated with rose rosette virus. Most of the landscape maintenance crews I have asked about rosette virus don’t know what it is, or how to identify it, or how to properly dispose of diseased roses.
In conclusion, I believe the professional landscape designer should refrain from creating more commercial landscapes featuring knock out roses (or other shrub and landscape rose cultivars) to help curb the spread of this horrible horticultural menace, the rose rosette virus!

by Mary Francois Deweese – Landscape Architect and Founding Principle, Acorn Landscapes, St. Louis, Missouri

Knock Out Roses - Before Rose Rosette Virus

Knock Out Roses – Before Rose Rosette Virus

31 Jan

Why I’m Re-Reading My College Textbooks

Why am I reading my old Landscape Architecture college text books?

It is the beginning of a new year, and I’m delving back into a book I first read when I was in Graduate School studying to be a Landscape Architect  and Planner entitled “Readings in Planning Theory”  Edited By Scott Cambell and Susan Fainstein 1st Ed 1996.  I had this book in a pile of old books I was getting ready to throw out.

As they sat in the corner of my room, waiting to be recycled, I would periodically walk by them and have a pang of remorse that I didn’t need them anymore.  I hadn’t read them in years.  As the new year came along and I flipped my calendar over to January 2014, I decided that instead of throwing these books out, I would read them….and then throw them out…just to get my money’s worth out of them…ha!

Then a couple funny things happened.  First, I actually started reading one of the books…I kind of thought this would just be one of those things I thought I should do, but don’t actually do. I’m sure you know what I mean.

The second thing I thought was funny was that I really didn’t remember reading this particular book.  I know I did, I got A’s in all my classes, and there is much highlighted with a yellow highlighter, and I remember the main ideas, or generally remember the ideas, but there were so many interesting ideas, people, and projects that I had forgotten about.  I’m sure the information is  there deep in my subconscious, somewhere, but reading it again made it seem new, exciting, and like I had found a long lost friend.

I realized that I still absolutely love the academia of my profession, I love the ideas of planning and design.  This time when I was reading, I wanted to absorb the information in a different way than the younger me did.  Armed with many tools that were not available to me then, primarily the internet, I can connect with the authors, the projects, and other landscape architecture and planning professionals in fundamentally new ways.  It is very exciting.

So if you have books lying around from college that need to be recycled…I want to encourage you to pick one up and commit to reading it, you might find a connection to that spark that made you first want to become a professional in your field.


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