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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