Named Manitoga by Wright after the Algonquin word for “place of great spirit,” his property consisted of a modernist house and studio set amid miles of landscape elements he coaxed out of existing vegetation. Altogether, Manitoga was the product of his lifelong commitment to the integration of art and nature. “He wanted to live in harmony with nature rather than dominate it or erase it. This is common practice now, but in the 1940s and ’50s it was rather radical,” says Carol Franklin, a principal of Philadelphia landscape design firm Andropogon Associates and a frequent visitor to Manitoga from the ’50s through the ’70s as Wright’s cousin and friend.
While the loss of many of Wright’s artful passages may seem tragic, Franklin points out that Wright embraced the dynamism and surprises of nature. “Russel knew nature was never finished,” she says. “One of the last great events of his life was a hurricane that downed tremendous trees. He rerouted paths and brought attention to the fallen pines. He loved it — scraping away without bulldozing.” One has to wonder what he, as both an artist and ecologist, would have done about the landscape now. To Franklin, it’s clear: “He would have accepted it, and used his imagination to turn the hemlock disaster into a theatrical event.”
Scientists have been working on restoration since the 1930s, and in the last several years, American chestnut specialist Sandy Anagnostakis has been breeding blight-resistant trees by crossing the American species with its Chinese cousin, which carries a resistant gene.
Some 200 of those blight-resistant seedlings were planted on 2.5 acres at Belding in 2009, and while mortality is eventually expected to reach 50 percent due to die-off from natural competition, Seymour said the vast majority of the trees are thriving.
Eventually, the native trees will reach maturity and begin cross-pollinating with the newly planted blight-resistant strain, creating seedlings genetically similar to trees native to the site that also carry genes resistant to blight.
While their creations might seem out of place here, they match the ideals of Thoreau, said Alexander Gorlin, an architect whose book with the photographer Geoffrey Gross, “Tomorrow’s Houses: New England Modernism,” came out this year.
Mr. Gorlin said the plain, functional style of modernism, meant to blend into the landscape, echoed Thoreau’s desire to live simply and in harmony with nature. Gropius, he added, was inspired by another early New England thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Is either contemporary or traditional architecture inherently more suitable for rural landscape?
A full moon rising over Osgood Pond near Paul Smiths, N.Y. More Photos »
Mr. Jenkins, who is the author of the book “Climate Change in the Adirondacks: The Path to Sustainability,” spends much of his time on the water and in the woods, documenting the ecosystem with a notebook and a camera. He thus brings an unusual perspective to the scene. Where a casual observer might behold diversity and continuity, he projects decades into the future and finds absence and loss.
The Garden Conservancy opens the gates of America‘s finest private gardens by inviting the public to visit. The Conservancy’s Open Days Program encourages appreciation of “gardens as living works of art.”