Frederick Law Olmsted

By the time Frederick Law Olmsted (1802-1903) was hired to design Moraine Farm, he was a well-known landscape architect having designed New York’s Central Park, Prospect Park in Brooklyn and the grounds of the Capitol in Washington, DC. He had recently been working to lay out portions of what is now Boston’s Emerald Necklace including the Arnold Arboretum. Moraine Farm is a superb example of many of the design principles that Olmsted would employ in his later works including Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina.

Olmsted juxtaposed dense plantings on one side of the approach road with an open meadow on the other. (Photo by Shary Berg)

Olmsted alternates the openness of meadows, such as the one on the right as you enter the farm, with lush, naturalistic plantings of native shrubs and trees such as rhododendron, azaleas, hemlock and white pine to draw visitors forward along the drive. The curving drive lined with naturalistic plantings serves to both separate the working areas of the farm from the residential areas and to hide the spectacular view of Wenham Lake that is just around the corner on the other side of the house.

Olmsted pushed the terrace out toward Wenham Lake and then filled in with naturalistic plantings.

In a design concept later used at Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, Olmsted created a massive curved terrace overlooking Wenham Lake enabling him to site the house closer to the lake.  The shape of the land was significantly altered but in a naturalistic fashion.  Olmsted recognized the importance of and restorative qualities of the outdoors and designed walkways for residents to use no matter the weather. The photograph above, taken from the terrace in 1881, shows a pathway winding through naturalistic plantings.

The pathways are completely hidden from view now by the plantings.

Rhododendron and azalea have grown so large as to obscure the walking path from view of those on the terrace in the photograph above which was taken recently.

The Tea House sits at the far end of the Lawn and overlooks the perennial garden.

Olmsted added a lawn adjacent to the house for the Phillips family to use as an outdoor room.  He shielded it from the view of visitors with what he termed “an impermeable thicket” of different shrubs on one side and edged it with vertical boulders set like “dragon’s teeth” on the other.  At the far end he specified a Tea House for use during inclement weather.  Below the Tea House, the perennial garden is a lovely surprise for visitors.

The Tea Garden’s design has been altered over the years. This photo shows how it looked in 1907.

Olmsted has been hailed as one of the early environmentalists because of his efforts to improve the quality of life for everyone through his timeless designs of public and private landscapes.  Moraine Farm remains a superb illustration of his vision.


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