November 10, 2010

Jens Jensen’s Genius

2010 celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of visionary Prairie School landscape architect and pioneer conservationist Jens Jensen. His vision was to bring back the prairies of Illinois and preserve their native beauty, as illustrated in the Prairie River in Humboldt Park, one of parks he created for Chicago's West Park system.

His designs, like the fern house found at Chicago's Garfield Park's Conservatory, brings to life his commitment to the soil and civilization, as he said,"To shut out nature from man's whole life is so shut out the inspiration of noble and humanitarian things."

He wanted to provide an oasis of green where people could escape from a city swallowed in the late 19th century's industrialized chaos, and revitalize their spirit. This waterfall in Chicago's Columbus Park is an example of Jensen's belief that the sound of water trickling over stone had healing powers for the human soul.

His peaceful and contemplative Prairie style landscapes drew attention and he was commissioned to design private garden estates across the North Shore of Illinois up to Wisconsin, from likes of the Armours, Rosenwalds, Florsheims and Fords. His council circles, like this one preserved from the former Rosenwald estate, was inspired by native American culture. To Jensen, the circles symbolized the unity of humanity and nature.


Other examples of Jensen's brilliance include the Shakespeare Garden at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

And the Rosewood Bridge in Highland Park, IL.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune offered these ideas for the home that "pay homage to the legacy of Jens Jensen,"

  1. Plant your garden with an eye for the next generation. Plant an oak tree that your grandchildren will enjoy as adults.  Make space now in the garden that engages the children so they develop interest in nature at an early age.
  2. Go native by incorporating native plants and regional material wisely.
  3. Make changing seasonal light a priority in your design. Notice the capriciousness of light, how it illuminates for short, mysterious periods. For example: Place ornamental grasses on an east-west axis so light comes through in the morning or evening. Be conscious of trees before they leaf out and consider how that will affect the plant.
  4. Maintain at least part of your garden. Jensen strongly felt there was a civilizing result from connecting with your garden and doing the maintenance. There is a healthy, spiritual aspect to tending to a plot of earth.
  5. Include a communal gathering place in your garden. When Jensen created the West Side parks, he knew that most people had no green space of their own. Stick a bench in there. Plant a treasure hunt for kids. And invite guests to share in your sacred place.

For more information on Jens Jensen visit:

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4 Responses to “Jens Jensen’s Genius”

  1. Bill Says:
    November 10th, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Timeless, soothing and inspirational design.

  2. Sheri Says:
    November 10th, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Gorgeous photos and great tips for gardening. How I wish I had one to plant!

  3. Doreen Says:
    November 11th, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks. Gorgeous photos of gorgeous design. Plant a flower in a pot to enjoy inside…it’s a start;)

  4. Doreen Says:
    November 11th, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    I totally agree. Jens was quite ahead of his time…or maybe he was just in time to balance out the industrial revolution. Either way his work is an inspiration.