Requiem for a Garden
When sprawl encroached, this landscape architect tried to save what he could of his private oasis. He was fighting a losing battle.
By Glenn Morris
In 1955, Richard C."Dick" Bell, FASLA, began fashioning
a personal campus on 11 acres west of Raleigh, North Carolina, dedicated
to establishing the profession of landscape architecture in that
state. The Water Garden, as it would be called, became significant
for its conception, its execution, and its narrative. In a broad
sense, the Water Garden had two themes: the environment crafted
to be an inspirational place to live and work and the influence
of that place on the young professionals who came of age here. The
two threads are tightly woven because in the formative years of
his practice, Bell looked to architect Frank Lloyd Wright for a
conceptual model of what he wanted from this rich piece of Piedmont
"I set out to create a home and office like Taliesin,"
he said, referring to the Wisconsin studio/commune where Wright
hosted apprentices dedicated to his ideals. Bell intended to fashion
a studio setting to showcase his own ideal to"work with nature,
not against it." Perhaps this is Bell"s wistful, romanticized
recall of his motives—feeding a family was another—but
it doesn"t change the fact that the Water Garden would become
both a testament to landscape architecture and Bell"s lifetime
Ironically, for the past several years, Bell has lived with a dilemma:
The value of the Water Garden as a special place of landscape architecture
lagged behind the Water Garden"s value as a property with
highway frontage. Its story ended poignantly in late 2005 when,
after trying to preserve the Water Garden intact for several years,
Bell accepted the sale of the property and the dismantling of his
lifetime work. As of this writing, the Water Garden is doomed. Its
11 acres will be cleared for development as a subsidized retirement
community. Speaking shortly after completing the plans for the sale,
Bell seemed surprisingly sanguine about the change."If it"s
got to go for something," he said,"I"m glad it"s
going to something for people to enjoy."
But Bell never intended it to turn out quite this way.
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