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Monday, December 27, 2010

Jens Jensen, Pioneer of the Prairie School of Landscape Architecture

2010 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jens Jensen (1860-1951), a celebrated landscape architect who worked with many well known architects including Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. Jensen is best known for his public park designs in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. He is associated with the Prairie Style, a regional style of landscape design in the 19th and early 20th century that evoked the spirit of the prairie with its emphasis on horizontal lines and open spaces.

Columbus Park, c.1935
Courtesy Chicago Park District Special Collections
Jensen held strong beliefs about a nature-based approach to his designs (both public and private) and their ability not only to provide a refuge from the city and daily life, but also to serve as preserves for native plant species. Among the many parks Jensen designed, including Chicago’s Garfield, Douglas, Humboldt and Columbus Parks, Columbus Park is considered his most important work, designed with a prairie river edged with native wetland plants and pools that resembled swimming holes.

As Jensen made a name for himself, he was able to work in both public and private sectors and was increasingly sought out by the owners of grand estates in and around Chicago. He designed at least 350 private estates in the Midwest and beyond, as far as California. His most famous private commission was Henry Ford’s estate in Dearborn, Michigan.

Council ring designed by Jensen, Questover, Indianapolis, Indiana
Elements common to many of Jensen’s designs included prairie lagoons and rivers, stonework, council rings, flower lanes, small cascades and waterfalls, and meadows (even adapted for residential backyard designs) bordered by mid-sized trees and rich plantings. While his use of native plantings was extensive, it was met by resistance from many of his clients; Jensen remained adamant, however, and insisted on using them. He was committed to conservation and over his lifetime made great effort to gain the support of preserving dozens of important landscapes across the Midwest.

Haven Wood, Lake Forest, Illinois
The Archives of American Gardens includes garden documentation for a number of Jensen’s residential designs including Haven Wood, a large estate in Lake Forest, Illinois which no longer exists. Haven Wood included designs by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw and landscape architect Rose Standish Nichols who collaborated on a number of projects together. Jensen is credited with laying out the meadow in front of the house, the numerous trees enclosing the property and the estate’s now-lost formal garden. 

-Kelly Crawford, Museum Specialist
Archives of American Gardens
Smithsonian Gardens 


  1. Where's the former Haven Wood? McCormick? T Desmond

  2. Haven Wood is in Lake Forest, bordered by Sheridan Rd. and Ringwood Rd. It is now a subdivision, but there are still elements of the old garden existing.

  3. This Havenwood view appears to be of the garden north of the house by the Howard Shaw architectural firm (perhaps including then David Adler) and by garden designer Rose Standish Nichols. This was Edward L. Ryerson's second Havenwood estate in Lake Forest, dating from the second decade of the 20th C. Jensen's work here is well known and published in Leonard Eaton's book on Jensen and in Norman Newton's Design on the Land. Better known for Jensen are sweeping views south of the house: his large, sun-filled meadow framed by woods and his winding drive. Jensen in all worked on perhaps forty known commissions in the Lake forest area, and maybe more that were not documented by drawings. Few survive intact today (one is the Hasler estate at Green Bay Road and Vine Ave.) though large portions remain of his estates on Green Bay Road, especially in north Lake Forest (Moore, Miller) and in south Lake Bluff (W. V. Kelly). Perhaps more significant is his legacy of preservation and restoration of the native landscape, led by Open Lands organizations in the two communities. Art Miller, Archivist, Lake Forest College.