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Residential Landscape Traditions: Overview
The distinctive traditions of landscape design in the South developed as a response to the particulars of geography and climate, as well as to a range of social, economic, and political institutions
Working Yards and Gardens
The earliest domestic yards represent a type of vernacular landscape that remained continuous over time and place throughout Georgia well into the twentieth century. The yards primarily functioned
The gardens associated with working yards combined the functions of a medieval kitchen and a physic garden, producing an assortment of vegetables, greens, and herbs for the table, as well as medicinal plants. The same traditions of practice determined the layout of the garden, which was usually a gridded arrangement of raised rectangular planting beds with walks between and borders running the length of the perimeter fencing. When well kept and flourishing, gardens of this type were also pleasing in appearance and offered evidence of the household's industry.
A common elaboration of the vernacular yard was the "swept yard," which drew upon the same aesthetic of neatness and conspicuous care. The sand or clay surfaces of such yards were regularly swept or raked to remove grass or weeds and, in some instances, to maintain a pleasing decorative pattern on the ground.
Ornamental Gardens and Landscapes
Even in the eighteenth century wealthy Georgia landowners appreciated the potential of more ambitious, high-style forms of landscape design to enhance the value of residential properties. Their house lots in town and on rural plantations were graced with gardens in which ornamental flowers and shrubs were carefully tended, and such embellishments as parterres, gazebos, fountains, and statuary offered visual and sensory pleasure. Beyond the walls or fences of these formal gardens, the grounds of fine country houses boasted tree-lined arrival drives, spacious lawns, and wooded groves in the fashion of the English school of landscape gardening.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, progressive southern agricultural journals were encouraging those of more modest means to beautify their homesteads by adding flower beds, shrubberies,
Although suburban development in Georgia was delayed by the lingering economic consequences of the Civil War (1861-65), the drive for a more prosperous "New South" culture and the proliferation of magazines devoted to house and garden design early in the twentieth century further contributed to the dominance of national landscape models. The involvement of the preeminent American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the early planning of Atlanta's Druid Hills neighborhood signaled an acceptance throughout the region of the concept of parklike suburban communities, in which individual properties were visually unified along curving streets by contiguous sweeps of lawn and canopies of shade trees. Even as wave after wave of architectural change marked succeeding decades of the century, most residential landscape design, at least in front yards, drew upon this tradition.
In the years following World War II (1941-45), however, new technologies removed the last traces of the working landscape from backyards, while the movement eastward of California modernism influenced both landscapes and lifestyles, changing the perception of the residential landscape to that of a private oasis for entertainment, leisure, and play.
Georgia's Living Places: Historic Houses in Their Landscaped Settings (Atlanta: Historic Preservation Section, Division of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Sites, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, 1991).
Catherine M. Howett, University of Georgia
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.