Jens Jensen, Prairie Spirit, Artist, Conservationist, Ecologist, and Teacher

To try to force plants to grow in soil or climate unfitted for them and against nature’s methods will, sooner or later, spell ruin.  Besides, such a method tends to make the world commonplace and to destroy the ability to unfold an interesting and beautiful landscape out of home environments.  Life is made rich and the world beautiful by each section developing its own beauty.

Jens Jensen



I hope all of you saw the PBS TV show Thursday night about Jens Jensen.   Or did you see it at Millennium Park?   Feedback, please.  What did you think of it?


If you didn’t see it, for those who live in my area, would you be interested in seeing it presented by Northern Kane County Wild Ones at a future meeting?


A strong colorful character, Jens Jensen was the Midwest’s premier Landscape Architect, practicing  from 1905 until 1951.  He revolutionized landscape design in much the same way as Frank Lloyd Wright transformed architecture.  Both practiced in the Chicago area: Wright mainly in Oak Park  and River Forest, Jensen on the North Shore, principally in Highland Park and Glencoe.


jens jensen Highland Park

Jensen began his private practice at the turn of the century, a little later than Wright.  He advocated the use of native plant materials grouped together in naturalistic designs, in direct opposition to the practice of the Victorian era, which featured exotic, showy plants, each placed individually in the lawn.


River walk wall and BFW

Wilhelm Miller, a horticulture professor at the University of IllinoisThe “Prairie Style” of Landscape Architecture emphasized “design-conservation of native scenery, restoration of local vegetation, and repetition of the horizontal line of land or sky, which is the strongest feature of prairie scenery.”  Stratified horizontal lines  were repeated  in different materials, such as layers of stratified rock, (River Park in Geneva, IL.)

black haw and arch

horizontal branching patterns of trees and shrubs–Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium) in my garden.

flat-topped flowers

and flat-topped flowers–Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) and Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) next to my front sidewalk.

To learn more about Jens Jensen, his philosophy and his work, I urge you to read his book, Siftings.  You will also enjoy  his biography,  Jens Jensen, Maker of Natural Parks and Gardens  by Robert Grese, who teaches Landscape Architecture at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.  Bentley Historical Library at Ann Arbor houses the largest collection  of Jens Jensen’s drawings and papers in the country. The collection is comprised mainly of landscape architectural drawings for more than four hundred sixty projects, along with a small amount of manuscript material and photographs.  Robert Grese also compiled an anthology called The Native Landscape Reader that contains 4 essays by Jens Jensen.  It also contains essays by other contemporaries of Jens Jensen, such as Ossian Cole Simonds and Wilhelm Miller, and those who came later, such as May Thielgaard Watts and Aldo Leopold.


To quote Mr. Grese, “I began to see a strong interplay between design and conservation efforts.  At least some of these landscape architects intended their work to awaken people to the natural beauty of their region and inspire them to become involved in conservation activities.”

There is another book I just discovered on the the web:  Jens Jensen: Writings Inspired by Nature edited by William H. Tishler , which I just ordered.


I also have a long piece about Jens Jensen in my book Design Your Natural Midwest Garden that includes not only photographs but two backyard layouts in the Jens Jensen style designed by me.  My book can be ordered through my website.



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5 Responses to Jens Jensen, Prairie Spirit, Artist, Conservationist, Ecologist, and Teacher

  1. Jean Muntz June 22, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    All of a sudden there is much “in the air” about Jens Jensen and isn’t it wonderful!
    So great to have the reinforcement that there is a unique beauty in the mid-western landscape. Jens Jensen could see this and promote it in his design work.
    To me it is related to the profound, spiritual respect Native Americans have/had for our Grandmother Earth. Never imposing a change until considering what affect it will have seven generations hence. Sustainability as beauty and a spiritual way of living- gives me chills every time I think about it.

    • PatHill June 22, 2014 at 11:29 am #

      Me too. Isn’t it wonderful? did you know that Jens Jensen did the landscape design for The Chicago Junior School in 1934? And the design is at the library in Ann Arbor. I’m going to see if I can get a copy.

  2. Shirley Pflederer June 24, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    So important to celebrate what is growing around us. An article in the latest Wild Ones Journal,titled, “My Garden Story” is totally in this vein. I would love to see the movie.

  3. Pat June 24, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    I so enjoy your posts, Pat, and much admire your writing. Thank you so much for writing about Jens Jensen. I need a field trip to Highland Park for sure!

  4. Suzanne Massion June 25, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

    Jean is right. Seems to be much in the air about Jens Jensen right now. One of my oil painting students has been expounding about “The Clearing” in Ellison Bay up in Door County. It was founded in 1935 by Jensen as a place where city people could come and re-connect with nature. He had started acquiring the property in 1919 for use as a summer home. Today, all forms of art and craft skills are taught and artists live there during the sessions. I’d not really heard of this place before. One of the many attractions are a Jens Jensen feature, “Council Rings”. This summer 2014 is their 75 year anniversary. I’m still paging through the catalog of classes.

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