Private Garden, Highland Park, Illinois.

Director's Note:
A Personal Odyssey
by Jo Ann Nathan

The real worth of the landscaper lies in his ability
to give to humanity the blessing of natureís spiritual values
as they are interpreted in his art.

Jens Jensen, Siftings

 

Jens Jensen did much more than design and protect landscapes. He had the ability to convey through his work manís emotional and spiritual connection to the natural world. While I was restoring our Jensen-designed garden, I found his message was vividly expressed all around me. When my family moved into our house in Highland Park, I was thrilled by the prospect of working in its beautiful, but long neglected old garden. The property also had two small woods with secret spaces carved out in them and a yard behind the house with just one tree in the center of the lawn, an enormous old downy hawthorn whose branches twisted and spread out in every direction. Everything had been designed by Jens Jensen in 1930, but none of us had the slightest idea who he was. Although we had the signed blueprints, they offered no hint of what had been planted or where it had been placed. The footprint of the garden was still there, as were some flowers and stone work among the weeds and overgrowth, but it was apparent that much more knowledge about the designer would be necessary for uncovering what promised to be an enchanting garden. Thus began an 18-year journey of research and discovery, pleasure and hard work, and, ultimately, a career change.

Even before I learned about Jensenís design ethos, I could sense it. His work was so compelling, so logical, yet so artistically suited to our site that it overtook all of the senses. In fact, Jensen strongly maintained that landscapes should do just that Ė appeal to every sense. His designs were not merely to be seen; they heightened oneís awareness of the sounds of trickling water and the wind, the songs of birds, the smells of flowers and animals, and, of course, the soil itself. Anyone could feel the soft sun or the shock of rain, the textures of rock and soil, but the taste of pure pleasure that came from being in that environment was beyond all expectations. Living in a Jens Jensen designed space affected all of us. It heightened our sensibilities and taught us to appreciate perspective, the light dappling beyond the shade, the importance of views and vistas and the curved stone paths that drew us into the garden. We knew the delight of standing at the edge of a sun opening or seeing the setting sun reflected in a small pond. Jensen knew just what he was doing. He had created such magic many times for many people.

Spending time in the world of a Jensen composition is an extraordinary gift. One of the goals of the Jens Jensen Legacy Project is to acquaint you with the man and his art and the opportunities for experiencing some of his landscapes firsthand. Perhaps the major theme of his career was the effort to awaken others to the beauty of the natural world that was rapidly being lost. We will continue that effort, not so much as a nostalgic look backward, but as an inspiration for a whole new ethic of land stewardship - preserving, managing, and celebrating the beauty and health of our landscapes. Jens Jensen has been called a "nature poet" and "landscape artist." He also was and continues to be an eloquent teacher of essential truths, a mentor for future generations.