“…a warm atmosphere, descending sun, and sublime shadows from fleecy clouds transiently darkening in succession, sunny surface, cool woodside, flocks and herds, and foliage…” ––Fredeick Law Olmsted “Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England.” 1852
It’s been 190 years since I was born. In that time, people have returned to my parks and public gardens in more than 5000 communities across the North American continent. Whether designed and constructed personally by me or overseen by members of my family, these green spaces encourage people to savour God’s creation and appreciate a communality of spirit. I want to give the common man in this New World the same opportunity to experience creation as any king in his private preserve from the Old World. Everyman should have the right to the perfect world view as installed at Versailles for Louis XIV.
I spent most of my youth dabbling in a variety of professions and trades: surveyor, merchant, apprentice seaman, newspaper correspondent, author, construction foreman, hospital superintendant, mining engineer and public works organizer. Not one of them prepared me for what became the single greatest and defining project of my career: New York’s Central Park.
With Calvert Vaux, I took on the political powers of the city of New York and created a space that defined URBAN GREEN for my own and subsequent generations. All city greening projects designed since then have used Central Park as a touchstone:
“The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.”
All of God’s creation carries a shard of His divine spark. Each of God’s animals and vegetables are some reflection of his fire. Each must be preserved, conserved and protected if the whole is to succeed. As creatures in the vastness of His wisdom and creativity, we mere human beings only deserve that which we can fully use and conserve for the future benefit of our species. All other demands we place on God’s nature threaten the light in the world and the future of our species. We must never be profligate. We must never waste. We must never use our earthly powers to select and destroy.
People who have visited my public spaces have seen what is left of my designs. They have acknowledged what they know or are told about my rambles or my architecture or my use of this plant or that stone. The flow of water over my lawns, the gentle grading of hillsides creating staggering vistas, the connection of the details of texture, form, line and color all conspire to craft landscapes along God’s ideal. People coming to one of my parks do not have to wonder whether it is still vital. Bringing the mind to nature is still important.
And that’s when I smile. I still believe, after all of these years, that it’s vital. It’s crucially important to our survival. We need to remember and know that Horticulture (with a capitol “H”) provides us with nourishment for body and soul. Horticulture promises the future. Horticulture confirms our future. That is why Frederick Law Olmsted Lives. His spirit remains triumphant.
The Slave that I keep “within my hand’s reach” is Kirk R. Brown. He exists to expand my outreach and report on my experiences, travels, and extemporanea to an expectant public. His experience is tied to my own in that we both live to serve a knowing and omnipotent divine being. Creation is to be enjoyed, shielded, preserved, and sustained. AND the general public (most enthusiastically all of our collective audience!) is to be treated similarly. His particulars follow on the chance that anyone is interested in biographical data not associated with me:
With Frederick’s approval, I will submit a resume written to inform the reader of a background in horticulture in the green industry and my experience as a writer, dramatist and public speaker.
Kirk on assignment for Frederick Law Olmsted in Rome.
A recipient of the Pennsylvania Nursery and Landscape Association ”Green Achiever” Award for advancing horticulture in Pennsylvania, Kirk R. Brown serves as business manager of award-winning Joanne Kostecky Garden Design, Inc. in Allentown PA.
His book, “Landscape Contractor” is distributed to high school guidance programs throughout the US and Canada.
Kirk is the treasurer and executive committee member for Garden Writers Association. He has served on their National Symposium Committee for the Brandywine Valley as well as being chairman of their Membership Committee. As a national director, he has organized meetings and tours at the National Arboretum, National Botanic Garden, American Society of Landscape Architects, Phipps Conservatory, Rutgers University Arboretum, Longwood, Chanticleer, Conard/Pyle, Morris Arboretum, Nemours, Mt. Cuba, Hagley Museum, Haverford and Jenkins Arboretums.
He has been chairman of the Penn State/PLNA winter education conference committee where he planned and hired speakers to fill 55 sessions in a five-track, three-day conference. He has served on the marketing committee for the American Nursery and Landscape Association.
He has served as a judge of major exhibits for the Philadelphia Flower Show. He has also judged exhibits for the Penn Allied Nursery Trade Show and the Allentown Flower Show.
Gardens that he has designed and installed have been presented with “Outstanding Design Awards” by PLNA and the Perennial Plant Association. They have also been recognized with a Pennsylvania Green Award by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the Pennsylvania Green Commission.
His lecturing has received outstanding accolades from audiences of his peers. He has done keynote addresses for The American Nursery and Landscape Association Management Clinic, The Perennial Plant Association, The Association of Public Gardens of America, Garden Writers Association, The Florida Landscape and Nursery Growers Association, Pennsylvania Nursery and Landscape Association, Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association, Ohio Short Course at CENTS, Genesee Landscape and Nursery Association, Eastern States Landscape Conference (Halifax, Nova Scotia), Central Atlantic Region of the Federated Garden Clubs of America, Pennsylvania Garden Club Federation—Eastern District, Temple University—Ambler Campus, Philadelphia Flower Show, and The Smithsonian Institution. He has spoken to numerous garden clubs, high school guidance programs, regional nursery associations, churches, and service clubs on a variety of horticultural and business topics (current available lectures are available.)
Articles by him and/or over his byline have appeared in the following: Homestyle and Gardening (A Family Circle Magazine), American Nurseryman, Green Scene, From the Ground Up, Pleasure of Gardening (ANLA), New Ideas (ANLA), How to Work with the Media (ANLA), Quill and Trowel (GWA), The Morning Call, Parkland Press, Emmaus Press, Builder/Architect: Eastern Pennsylvania Edition, and Featured Views (The newsletter he produces for Garden Design)
Sense and Sustainability__Sustainability is a hot topic for our world. It is an “Inconvenient Truth” that this planet is in big trouble. What are the steps that we can take to minimize the risks and maximize our world’s life expectancy? The people and associations interested in living “green” should be leaders in the world-wide need to solve the environmental dilemma. This discussion will focus on the ways and means to achieve those goals ultimately save the planet.
Kirk R. Brown in his own garden
Sustainability and the American Dream__Can the path to sustainability be accelerated? Can our view of the natural world be reframed? Can society be restarted on a path to ecological responsibility? And can we afford the price tag? A few thoughts with many challenges for an audience in the horticultural industry that wants to meet its own needs for the present without compromising the ability of future generations to succeed.
John Bartram, The King’s Gardener__John Bartram welcomes you with the horticultural history of America as it began in Philadelphia and Penn’s Woods. His story starts at the very beginning of the international world of plant discovery and identification. His humor, his passion and his achievements will entertain, inspire and awe as he shares his hope for the future of the earth. (This session is designed to be a costumed, stand-alone opening keynote on the subject of sustainability and green earth awareness.) “What Hal Holbrook is to Mark Twain so is Kirk Brown to John Bartram!”
Hot Pots: Secrets of Successful Container Gardening__Small lots, large decks, inside gardening, and annuals, annuals, annuals! How easy it is to garden in small spaces with a wealth of new plant material and architectural details. Container gardening is the latest frontier for the avid plant collector! More plants per square inch and more color per month in a seasonal retrospective of best and the brightest!
Olmsted: Environmental Visionary__ A dramatic presentation on the life of the father of Landscape Architecture who created cities out of the American wilderness and began a conservation movement still challenging the world today. Frederick Law Olmsted comes alive in this first person presentation on the issues that will save the planet!
Frederick Law Olmsted in an allee of his company’s design at the Indianapolis Museum of Art
Small Garden Smarts__Designing small gardens, whether in a courtyard or a 40 acre estate, can maximize the impact while minimizing the budget. With the perfect combination of plants, hardscape elements and outdoor lighting for the client’s after-hours enjoyment, small gardens can deliver ultimate client satisfaction. From courtyard through pocket retreats to verandas and containers, this lecture is lavishly illustrated with dozens of design solutions for those hard-to-treat areas
No Watering Required: Water-Wise Garden Design__All the latest tips and techniques to bring your residential landscape into the Green Millenium. The Three “R’s” (reduce, reuse, recycle) make for sensible garden designing in combination with practicable water management. The lecture covers a breadth of current-event landscape design topics: Rain Gardens, Rain Barrels, Storm Water Bioretention, Green Roofs, Dry Stream Beds, Latest Plant Introductions—Natives and Species Hybrids, and new to design and install Water Features.
Landscape Design Primer__Through the use of actual transformations, landscape designs will be examined for the value they can add to a property—both financial and esthetic. Before and after pictures will illustrate exactly how a property can be improved through the elements and principles of design. Learn how to define a property’s hidden assets through creative landscape design approaches.
Cornerstones of the Garden__Everything you need to know about designing with the right plants in the right places for the right reasons. This is a back-to-basics, no-nonsense approach to the elements and principles of design. The talk is illustrated with photos of gardens from one of the country’s most award-winning landscape design/build companies. This hour lecture can be expanded into a half or full day concentration in how to get the details right in landscape design.
No Watering Required: Artsy Stuff in the Garden__Since the Greeks put marble fauns in the landscape, people have been accessorizing their gardens with non green “stuff” that adds to the appeal of living outdoors. Walk through your garden with thoughts developed in this—sometimes humorous—look at artistic exterior creations. From watering cans through containers to stained glass, crafts, stone, metal, and truck tires with supplies from the basement to the attic this presentation will excite you with the possibilities waiting to happen for your next season out in the back forty!
Kirk R. Brown in an appearance as himself
Who Ya Gonna Call: Landscape Design Resources__The landscape professional has an arsenal of tools with which to work. From professional credentials and industry recognition to knowing what to buy from whom, this talk delivers names and addresses of a vast array of support organizations and trade providers for the dedicated professional or the passionate amateur.
History of Landscape Gardening in America: 1560 to 2011__
Preservation of Historic Landscape Sites and Structures
Other hour-long topics Mr. Brown has delivered and been officially recognized by the National Federated Garden Clubs in their accredited Design Course:
Development of Landscape Design in Early America
Development of Landscape Design in America: 1840 to 1940
Design on the Land; Regional Expression
Landscape Design Resources
Landscape Design Elements and Principles
Preservation of Historic Sites and Structures
From people who have an insatiable urge to write about experiences, these quotes refer to John Bartram’s appearances:
“It was great to meet the man who brings John Bartram alive. Thank you for coming to Athens, GA. You were great! A teacher’s skill to be sure. My best in life and the garden.”
Michael Dirr, Department of Horticulture, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
“Kirk’s portrayal of America’s first world-class plantsman is a masterful blend — passionate, humorous, moving, educational but never pedantic. Meticulous research and an obvious affection for the subject enables him to fully inhabit the role, not just the costume. John Bartram took a skeptical audience first by surprise and then by storm.”
John Friel, Green Leaf Perennials/Yoder Brothers
Program Chair Perennial Plant Association
“Kirk Brown doesn’t just portray John Bartram— he IS John Bartram. His performance is remarkable, believable and most enjoyable. Bravo!”
Robert LaGasse, Executive Director, Garden Writers Association
“If only history were taught with such significant information, tying specific incidents with the general atmosphere of the times, many students would pay much more attention! The story of John Bartram as portrayed by Kirk Brown was easy to understand and was delivered with an ‘on the edge of your seat’ performance!”
“I’ve known Kirk Brown for many years as members of the Garden Writers Association. When Kirk is in costume as John Bartram, he IS John Bartram to the point that I forget he’s Kirk! Any audience from ages 9 to 90 will not only be captivated and entertained but will feel a part of our past as they walk back in time with John Bartram. What a wonderful way to learn history! I highly recommend Kirk Brown as a wonderful human being and as the historic gardener, John Bartram.”
Brent and Becky Heath, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs
“Kirk Brown did not imitate John Bartram, he actually became him. His gallery of pictures and quotes and his performance added up to an electrifying and edifying performance. Anyone who has an interest in history or horticulture will be spellbound by this presentation.”
Stephanie Cohen Author/lecturer
“John Bartram came back to life with a captivating lecture presented by his alter ego, Kirk Brown. The chain of history has a new link added with this lively presentation of Bartram’s botanical discoveries, complete with fascinating stories of his life and times.
“Knowing that Bartram was of relatively modest means, Collinson urged him to dress appropriately for important meetings, so as not to reflect badly on Collinson. Clearly, Kirk Brown took this under advisement when choosing his apparel for Philadelphia Botanical History, presented by John Bartram, presented to the PPA. It was very well received and given enthusiastic applause.“
Judy Glattstein, Author/lecturer
“John Bartram may have passed away in the year of 1777, but I feel as if I know him. Some of his wisdom has been imparted to me. The greatest compliment I can give for this transcendent moment is that Kirk left me with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye.”
Jimmy Turner, Director, Horticultural Research Dallas Arboretum
“On behalf of the Friends of the Monmouth Museum I can’t thank you enough for coming to Bingham Hall and giving us such a wonderful presentation. Perhaps presentation is not the most accurate word, for we all felt as if we had been thrown back in time as we followed John Bartram over his lifetime. It was ‘time traveling!’ It was such a lovely day and quite a success for The Friends. I feel it was one of the best programs that we have put together, and a great way to end our fund raising season.”
Monica Ragolia, Chair, Friends of The Monmouth Museum
“I’ve seen Kirk do John Bartram on several occasions now, and each time, just when you think he couldn’t be more believable, it gets better. Most recently at Gardenwriters Symposium in Raleigh NC, Kirk did a performance and received a standing ovation. Of course we were already standing but seriously the applause seemed to never end. The Power Point Presentation that accompanies his performance is continually tweaked and is of a broadcast quality, something that you would expect from a production company at The Discovery Channel or The History Channel. If you have the opportunity to see this performance, do it, you will be impressed.”
Barry Glick, Sunshine Farms and Gardens, Plant Collector Extraordinaire
“As a professional speaker myself, I have very high standards when it comes to public presentations. I want a talk to be concise, informative, humorous, well illustrated, perfectly paced, accessible to the entire audience, and whole-hearted. Kirk Brown’s John Bartram presentations are all of these and more. Kirk understands how to tailor a talk so that it’s meaningful to the group that he’s speaking to, yet he does this seamlessly and without pretense. He is amusing and quick to respond to his audience, always remaining in character. Audiences come away from one of Kirk’s John Bartram presentations with a better knowledge of horticulture and American history, and with inspirations and ideas that they can apply to their own lives and work.”
C.L. Fornari, Speaker, Writer, Consultant, GardenLady.com
“You got the highest marks of any of our speakers in the evaluation questionnaire from the attendants. We all had a wonderful time.”
Pat Dygulski, Monmouth Museum
“I am so glad that John enjoyed himself. He certainly charmed and delighted the 70 guests that attended yesterday’s event. It was the first time in my many years of coordinating special events that I did not get one complaint!!! They are looking forward to visiting John’s garden. Thanks again.”
Mary R. Suszkowski, Special Projects Coordinator, Monmouth Museum
“And John was the best of guests! Everyone loved your story, and for me, I was completely in the 18th century, for a while there I forgot where I was. Thank you.”
Kathy Pojawa, Monmouth Museum
“If you ever have the opportunity to see Kirk Brown’s portrayal of John Bartram, grab it! The costume, the dramatics, the history, and the humor: it was a perfect kick-off for the conference. It was interesting to learn how Bartram arranged his expeditions (some fairly close to home, and others as far off as Florida – possibly to escape his family of 9 children?), and find out about the kinds of plants that his supporters back in England were interested in (magnolias and pines, especially). Here’s a great article about Kirk channeling John Bartram: Bringing a Legendary Gardener Back to Life”
Nancy Ondra, Gardening Gone Wild
“I would like to formally thank you for bringing John Bartram to life for us during your presentation on February 3. It was an amazing presentation that had everyone in the audience enthralled. It was fabulous to travel back in time and to have history literally come to life! John is extremely fortunate to have someone so utterly devoted to telling his story, snake and all. I know you broadened the knowledge of many of my coworkers and absolutely delighted the woman working on Franklinia at the National Arboretum!”
Janet Draper, Smithsonian Institution