The Bride’s First Garden

June 4, 2015 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

June holds the promise of good weather and beautiful blooms, making it a popular month for weddings. This month on #ThrowbackThursday we’re mad for all things matrimonial and mid-century modern in celebration of our newest traveling exhibit, Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard. Stay tuned on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and our blog as we celebrate everything from backyard weddings to DIY bouquets to a plan for a 1950’s bride on a budget and her new backyard.

Drawing of The Bride's First Garden

Drawing of the “Bride’s First Garden,” 1953. Perry Wheeler, landscape architect. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Perry Wheeler Collection.

“All young couples who move into new houses on bare, treeless lots share two things in common: the urge to give their house a setting that will distinguish it from others in the neighborhood, and a desire to plant a garden without delay. Both of these enthusiasms may eventually produce a dream garden, and the good outdoor life that goes along with it, but not without a sound plan.” —Excerpt from “The Bride’s First Garden,” House & Garden, 1953.

June is historically one of the most popular months for weddings, when summer gardens are still in full bloom. In 1953, an article in House & Garden entreated young brides-to-be to begin planning an important aspect of their new future home: a garden. The magazine enlisted landscape architect Perry Wheeler to design a garden for newlyweds that could be developed over a five-year period; or, in Wheeler’s words, “on the installment plan.” His resulting plan emphasizes easy-to-maintain plants, seasonal color, individuality, and outdoor privacy for the growing, young post-war family.

A Georgia native, Wheeler practiced landscape architecture in the Washington, D.C. area from 1948 to 1979. He is best known for his work on numerous private Georgetown gardens and redesigning the White House Rose Garden alongside Bunny Mellon during the Kennedy administration. His designs were practical, often incorporating terraces for backyard entertaining and room for a jungle gym, but also lighthearted and whimsical.
Sketch of a Suburban Garden by Perry Wheeler

Plan of the “Bride’s First Garden,” 1953. Perry Wheeler, landscape architect. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Perry Wheeler Collection.

Wheeler’s design for “The Bride’s First Garden: A Five Year Plan” catered to a young couple on a budget living in a typical, suburban home with modern architecture in a new community development. Almost two decades earlier, the Federal Housing Act of 1934 put home ownership within reach of middle-class families, and suburbs such as Levittown in Long Island were built in response to the post-war housing crisis. House and Garden was one of many magazines, along with Popular Mechanics and Better Homes & Gardens, which ran how-to articles on home improvement. Rather than utilizing the driveway as the approach to the front door, Wheeler recommended individualizing the house (which looked identical to the other houses on the street) by giving the front entrance a “welcoming aspect” with large trees and a stone walkway. The backyard terrace, pictured here in a preliminary drawing done by an assistant, is a “major must” for the second year, along with planting beds for the terrace edging and select trees for brilliant fall colors.
The plan emphasizes spaces for informal socializing and relaxation over formal elements. In his notes for the design, he suggested investing in a few pieces of antique garden furniture to go with more modern pieces, rather than purchasing a matching suite. He even incorporated a charcoal grill into the terrace design—newly introduced by Weber in 1952. The fifth year of the plan imagines that there is already a growing family in the works, and the design accordingly leaves room for a playhouse and spaces for the family to spend time together outdoors.
The Perry Wheeler Collection at the Archives of American Gardens, includes photographs, plans, business records, and newspaper and magazine clippings pertaining to Wheeler’s landscape architecture practice. More detailed information about Wheeler is available in the Archives of American Gardens’ Guide to the Collections.
-Kate Fox, curator of Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard
A version of this blog post was originally published on the Smithsonian Collections blog.

Entry filed under: Archives of American Gardens, Exhibits, Garden History. Tags: , , , .

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