A Q&A with Author Judith Tankard

/ Interviews

renowned author and landscape historian Judith Tankard will speak at the BMA on April 25. Tickets available at artsbma.org.

The BMA and the Red Mountain Garden Club will welcome renowned author and landscape historian Judith Tankard to Birmingham on April 25 as she offers a visual journey through one of the most iconic eras in garden design. Her talk will highlight the important principles of design in the early 1900s and explore the role these gardens played in the visual arts, including examples from the BMA’s own collection. In anticipation of her visit, we spoke with Tankard about her favorite gardens in the United States, what inspired her impressive career in conservation, and her advice for amateur gardeners.

What sparked your interest in conservation and landscape history?

Judith Tankard: In the 1990s when I was writing a book on the landscape architect Ellen Shipman, I was chagrined to learn that so few of her 600 commissions survived in any recognizable form, let alone were restored. The publication of my book on Shipman in 1996 spurred a revival of interest in her work and when I came to write a revised edition of the book in 2018, I could happily report that several dozen of her gardens had been identified and restored. I became aware of preservation issues through The Cultural Landscape Foundation and other preservation organizations.

You taught at the Landscape Institute of Harvard University for more than 20 years. What’s the first lesson you offer your students at the start of each course?

JT: In my years of teaching garden history at the Landscape Institute of Harvard, I urged my students to be inquisitive and do their own research, rather than repeating what others had said. I found this to be true when I was asked to write a book on the renowned landscape architect Beatrix Farrand. In my preliminary research I kept reading the same things about her which inspired me to dig deeper and unearth the true story of her life and career and dispute some of the ofttold tales about her. What design characteristics are quintessential to gardens inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement? JT: Arts and Crafts gardens were renowned for their intimate relationship to the house, use of local building materials, and appropriate ornament. These gardens were not as complex or ornate as classical gardens and were meant to be an integral part of the home—an outdoor room.

In what ways has the Arts and Crafts movement influenced contemporary gardens?

JT: The guiding principles of gardens of the Arts and Crafts era (1890s-1910s) are applicable to today’s smaller gardens. Many of today’s renowned designers have learned much from Arts and Crafts gardens: the essential relationship of house and garden, choice of appropriate ornament and built features, and sophisticated plantings based on color, texture, and scale.

Do you have any tips for enthusiastic gardeners who are just getting started?

JT: Learn from the masters of garden design, both historic and contemporary, by reading books and visiting gardens.

If you had to choose, which public garden in the United States is your favorite?

JT: It would be hard to choose just one public garden, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Boston Public Garden (just steps from my home in Boston). Other choices would be Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the High Line in New York, and Piet Oudolf’s Lurie Garden in Chicago.


Garden Artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement with Judith Tankard
April 25 · 2019 // $45
5pm · Reception // 6pm · Lecture & Book Signing

Prior to Judith Tankard’s lecture, complimentary drinks will be served outdoors in the Red Mountain Garden Club Memorial Garden. A book signing will follow the lecture, and books will be available for purchase from the Museum Shop before and after the program.

All proceeds benefit the Red Mountain Garden Club Memorial Garden at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Tickets are limited, so please contact Kelli Everett, keverett@artsbma.org or 205.254.8088, or purchase online here soon.