Figure 1: Master plan for Tower Grove Park in the 1870’s
Tower Grove Park was originally designed by its founder, Henry Shaw, in the 1860’s. Shaw envisioned the park as a much needed “pleasure ground” for the city, and developed the plans in the Gardenesque style of landscape design to provide a space for visitors to not only enjoy casual recreation and leisure, but also to experience and learn about the individual plants within the park – many of which were exotic species from around the world. The Gardenesque style takes inspiration from the world of horticulture as well as the Picturesque movement. It combines these two interests to create a setting that puts the designer’s intervention and the characteristics of each plant at the forefront while using elements of the Picturesque as a more of a backdrop. Some of the key features of Gardenesque landscapes include:
- They make certain that the designed landscape is not confused with nature.
- They use only exotic species (traditionally speaking).
- The focus is on each individual plant – the design is not a composition (a Picturesque tenant), but a collection of singular trees and shrubs.
- Room for growth to each plant’s natural perfect form is to be maintained in perpetuity.
- They are to be highly maintained.
- They use strong geometric patterns / abstract shapes for their circulation as well as seasonal planting beds, to highlight the fact that the space has been designed.
- They have a feel similar to an arboretum or botanical garden rather than a purely “beautiful” landscape.
- They incorporate groupings of trees/shrubs and architectural elements (Picturesque concepts) to serve as background to the primary theme.
Though over a century’s worth of change in the city, its population, and the environment have necessitated some adaptations to the park, many of Tower Grove’s original Gardenesque features are still visible today. Below are a some of the most notable examples.
Figure 2: Specimen trees allowed to mature to their natural form
One of the most distinguishing features of Tower Grove Park today is the abundance of specimen trees and shrubs, which of course was intended to be the primary identity of the park from the beginning. Shaw’s original plan called for large quantities of exotic specimen trees to be carefully sited so that their pure natural forms and characteristics could be most fully appreciated. Many of the plantings work in coordination to form spaces, while others are isolated within large swaths of lawn to be admired from all angles. Shaw also placed emphasis on framing views with his tree placement, most notably along the central axis, to create long views across the park. In this way some of the influence from the Picturesque is evident in the design.
GEOMETRIC PLANTING BEDS
Figure 3: Bold circular annual bed set in front of a picturesque background
One of the key principles of the Gardenesque style is to ensure that the designed landscape is in no way mistaken for a naturally occurring one. The use of geometric and abstract shapes serves to accomplish this goal, most notably through the use of circular planting beds filled with colorful annuals. Many geometric planting beds can still be found throughout Tower Grove Park in the most heavily visited areas. The photo above shows one such planting bed set in front of a middle ground of specimen trees and lawn, with the ruins, pond, and distant tree masses in the back. This is a classic example of the Gardenesque style and again one that particularly shows the strong influence of the Picturesque.
Figure 4: Tower Grove’s ruins offer a Picturesque backdrop to the park’s Gardenesque framework
While the Gardenesque style was primarily devoted to showcasing individual plants in an intentional manner, Gardenesque designers often recognized the value in adding certain classically “beautiful” elements into the landscape. Tower Grove Park includes many such features, including the “Ruins” and their pond, the statuesque entry gates and monuments, the numerous Victorian era pavilions, and multiple ornate foot bridges to name a few. Interestingly, over the decades as the park’s trees and shrubs have matured and begun to lose a little of their Gardenesque character, these architectural features have become a more prominent part of Tower Grove’s charm and identity.