It is the first book that addresses the progress of landscape architecture in America from the merely practical to the picturesque, outlining how Romantic European models were incorporated into and assumed by the stunning natural terrain of the Hudson Valley. And it tracks the career of horticulturalist and designer Andrew Jackson Downing, whose commentary reveals the influences and intentions of design that soon impacted the creation of all the significant public urban parks in the new country, especially Central Park in New York City (the creation of his protégé Calvert Vaux and Frederick Olmsted).
Toole elucidates how the great Hudson River, once treated primarily as an artery for commerce and transport by Dutch and British colonists, became the locus of manors and mansions for landowners who sought a particularly grand sort of respite. As Mark Castiglione, executive director of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, has remarked, “The landscape designers…took that special quality of the region and translated it into walking, strolling and sitting gardens for the major estate owners, taking their cues from the beauty of the natural landscape. The gardens were designed to celebrate the ruggedness and the beauty of the landscape, but it was a Romantic design style to capitalize on the natural style and make it as beautiful as possible.” Black Dome editor Steve Hoare explained that when the Hudson River Valley was granted National Heritage Area status, the National Park Service famously dubbed the valley “the landscape that defined America,” and that Toole’s book could have powerful ramifications in continuing efforts to preserve the valley’s landscape.
To that end, the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area initiative has organized a month-long celebration of the historic landscape gardens of the Hudson Valley – a region containing the highest concentration of this type of landscape in the world, and all of it publicly accessible. Two free guided walks by the author and others are scheduled: On Sunday, October 24 at 2 p.m., Toole will conduct a tour of the grounds of the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park; call (845) 229-9300 for information. And on Saturday, November 6 at 2 p.m., he will lead a tour of the grounds of Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in Tarrytown; call (914) 591-8763. Landscape Gardens on the Hudson, A History will be available for purchase and signing at each event. Also, Toole will give a lecture and sign books on Sunday, November 14 at 2 p.m. at the Albany Institute for History & Art at 125 Washington Avenue in Albany; call (518) 463-4478.