Today, visited Highland Park in Rochester, a stellar example of one of Olmsted’s most hallowed concepts, what he referred to as “passages of scenery.”
According to Olmsted’s design, different kinds of trees – deciduous vs. coniferous, elms vs. oaks –were to be planted in groups with big spaces in the middle. Think of these groupings as separate rooms with the trees serving as the walls. Olmsted also called for gaps in the plantings. Think of these gaps as doorways.
Walking through Highland Park, you feel this inexorable pull: What’s on the other side of that gap in the trees? So you walk through a “doorway” and find yourself in a new “room” surrounded by a new kind of tree – and with still more doorways leading into still other rooms. It’s like exploring a house.
My wife grew up near Highland Park and spent hours playing there. Of course, as a little girl she didn’t care a whit about fusty old Frederick Law Olmsted. Still, his design subtlety pulled her through the park scape. You don’t have to have heard of Olmsted or his “passages of scenery” concept, yet it works on you just the same – and therein lies the man’s brilliance.
Also visited Genesee Valley Park and Seneca Park, two other Olmsted designs in Rochester. Thanks to Tim O’Connell, a local historian, for a great tour and a great day.