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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

February 2006 Issue

What To Retain, What To Emulate, What To Toss
How to rehabilitate a classic Charleston garden withoutbdestroying its essence? One landscape architect shares her approach.

By Suzanne McDaniel VanDeMark

What To Retain, What To Emulate, What To Toss Courtesy Sheila Wertimer, Wertimer & Associates

Walking through what appears to be an old garden gate at the 23 Meeting Street residence in historic downtown Charleston, South Carolina, is like walking into an oasis. Whether the day is a mild April one or the hottest that Charles-ton can produce, this garden feels like a subtropical glade protected by seemingly antique garden walls. The sounds of the swaying leaves of black bamboo lining the south wall, the steady gurgle from several water features, and two croaking pond frogs all muffle the noises from the tourist-thronged streets.

Loutrel Briggs, one of Charleston’s most famous landscape architects, originally designed the garden. A New York practitioner who first visited Charleston in 1927 and set up an office there two years later, Briggs was not only prolific in his own design work but also committed to documenting and preserving Charleston’s historic gardens and surrounding plantations. He designed the garden at 23 Meeting Street for Mr. and Mrs. James Hagood in 1969, relatively late in his career.

Briggs used his knowledge of local garden history to create a formal space that had the look and feel of a much older garden. The beauty of the resulting design was such that one commentator compared it to “a veiled woman whose eyes alone can be seen and felt.”

But Briggs’s design didn’t prove very user friendly. Pruned boxwoods masked the only water feature and blocked the view from one garden room to another, but other vegetation failed to block the view that allowed next-door neighbors to peek from their windows into the garden. And its rigid formality made users feel uncomfortable.

    

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