Master of Natural Design

If nature appreciation is one of your loves, you may dig the richness of this documentary. Jens Jensen The Living Green plants appreciation for one Danish man’s efforts in constructing outdoor masterpiece spaces. His ideas were revolutionary for his time, especially setting aside land for the enjoyment of lower and middle class, rather than allowing industry claim stake. What Frank Lloyd Wright did for architecture, Jens Jensen did for landscape architecture. Wright melded a building with its surrounding landscape while Jensen nourished native species, alluring individuals into outdoor discovery.

While viewing this insightful memoir, I learned the Indiana Dunes have more orchids than Hawaii! The ecosystem developed along Lake Michigan’s southern climate contains some species at their southernmost, some at their northernmost, certain species at their easternmost, and others at their westernmost. It makes sense the Dunes are actively involved in saving the diverse beauties.

Henry Ford heard word of Jensen’s skill harmonizing souls by shaping vistas; he enlisted Jensen to environmentally develop the Fords’ Fair Lane farmland estate in Dearborn, MI. The grounds and gardens may be visited at no charge.

Springfield, IL, recruited Jensen in honoring President Lincoln. Jens traveled a bone-jarring journey from the northern tip of Door County, WI, to central Illinois’s seat of government. Also able to be visited for free, this living memorial (Lincoln Memorial Garden) has interconnected trails winding through restored woodlands, wetlands, and prairies. If you go, be sure to hunt for “a dozen footbridges, a pond, and eight stone council rings, most with views of the lake.”

Much of Jens’ work was done in Chicago, then at it’s furthest, most western edge. Humboldt, Garfield, and Columbus Parks brought a country feel to the city, allowing street-locked dwellers a local escape. Garfield Park sports one of the nation’s largest conservatories containing “landscape art under glass.” Admission is also free (donation suggested) to walk through thousands of plant species. Jensen envisioned what a tropical, ancient scene would have sprouted based on geological charts, fashioning lush flora in a tropical atmosphere. Twelve acres of summer gardens are also available for meandering.

The culmination of Jensen’s career included a final Danish folk school pursuit. The Clearing in Ellison Bay, WI, offers a variety of experiential education classes, walls replaced by trees, the ceiling a canopy of foliage. If you go, be sure to visit Door Bluff County Park, one of the places his vision for preservation succeeded in conserving. For a teaser regarding the documentary, read this quick article written for Door County’s newspaper the Peninsula Pulse.

Now, as in the early and mid-1900’s, Jens commented, “We all need the living green or we’ll shrivel up inside.”  His aim to “make the modern city livable” is reflected in the insertion of multiple parks and preserves in my current county. The green spaces accomplish his hope that while I am suburban bound, I may still have wooded getaways.

“Everyone is entitled to a home where the sun, the stars, open fields, giant trees, and smiling flowers are free to teach an undisturbed lesson of life.” -Jens Jensen


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