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American Society of Landscape Architects


April 2004 Issue

Genius Loci in Transition
The master plan for a former Shenandoah Valley farm respects the texture of a historic region.
By James Urban, FASLA

Genius Loci in Transition Image Copyright Nelson Byrd Woltz

There is a characteristic quality to the landscape in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia: rolling hills, patches of forest on the edges of slightly irregular fields and pasture, fences of wood or wire, the occasional stone wall, and miles of hedgerows defining properties and pastures. More recently, spires of cedar mark fields that are no longer in production, harbingers of a place in transition. Houses eventually replace the cedars, hedgerows are cut and fences removed, and the scale of the open space tightens with the subdivision of the land.

Sixty miles from Washington, D.C., just over the first range of the Blue Ridge mountains, is Blandy Experimental Farm, the State Arboretum of Virginia. An agricultural research station and public garden, Blandy Farm has become caught in the advancing web of Washington-area sprawl. Still-rural Clark County, where Blandy Farm is located, has a population of only 10, 000 but is scheduled to build more than 2,000 new houses within three miles of the farm. Once a quiet place devoted to research, Blandy Farm has now taken on the new roles of public education and recreation for new residents increasingly needing open land—ironically, the same need that drew them out of the city to begin with.

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