Book Reviews, Landscape History

Book Review: Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest by Gina Crandell

April 6, 2013

cover-newElegantly written and designed, Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest, by landscape architect Gina Crandell, is the first book to explore the use of trees as architectural elements in the creation of landscapes, fostering a new perspective on the complex issues that arise when living materials are used to replicate built form.

Trees used to form architectural spaces are both of the garden and forest, shaped by intent yet subject to the inevitable forces of nature.  The “impossibility of completion and the certainty of change that differentiates landscape architecture from architecture” provides a foundation for Crandell’s carefully researched analysis of how, over long periods of time, the integrity of landscapes designed with tree gardens at their core, is maintained.

Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest contains fifteen case studies beginning with the Wooded Circle of Lucca, Italy, dating from 1544, and concluding with the 9/11 Memorial Garden in New York City.  The historical breadth of projects included in the book illustrates how trees, used as architectural elements, have evolved from military installations with civic implications to symbolic elements that reverentially reconnect man to the natural world, evoking memory, loss and regeneration.

Versailles 3

19th Century View of Versailles

The case studies, which form the core of the book, present landscapes from the United States, Europe and Asia and while they include several historic examples, notably Versailles and Central Park, focus mainly on contemporary projects.  The selected landscapes offer diverse design solutions for unique sites employing tree gardens at various scales and budgets. Whether defined as a bosque, allée, hedgerow, quincunx, plantation, regenerating forest or orchard each site presented uses trees to create environments that are ambitious, thoughtfully conceived, carefully executed and maintenance intensive.


Nearly 200 Linden Trees are planted in a quincunx pattern on the Christian Science Plaza in Boston designed by Sasaki Associates in 1963.

A list of the species, concise history of the site, overview of the design intent, and an analysis of existing conditions and management and maintenance issues is provided for each of the fifteen case studies as well as richly illustrated plans, historic images and extensive, contemporary photographs.

Crandell does not share the methodology through which individual projects were selected for inclusion in the book and does not provide insight into how and if the selected projects relate to each other historically.  Every project is presented on its own merit and as a portfolio the studies collectively illustrate “a variety of ways tree structures, ranging from tens to thousands of trees, can form expressive spaces that heighten our understanding of nature.”

One of the most compelling challenges illuminated in Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest is familiar to anyone who nurtures a garden; that is, the complex reality of designing with materials that change over time.  Working with trees magnifies the problem as it takes great skill  to create new landscapes that evoke their desired structural form upon completion and once grown to maturity maintain a project’s design intent.

This process is thoughtfully detailed in the concluding chapter on the 9/11 Memorial Forest at the site of the World Trade Center.  Collaboratively designed by Michael Arad and PWP Landscape Architecture, the Memorial Forest exists today as a result of an arduous process of negotiation and advocacy by the designers to secure as much as possible of the six-foot layer of subsurface necessary for more than 400 Swamp White Oaks to flourish on the site.

The image below is from PWP Landscape Architecture where additional information about the 9/11 Memorial can be found:


The trees, chosen for disease resistance, strength and longevity, were carefully selected for their expressive visual characteristics and acquired from multiple nurseries where they were nurtured to the large caliper five-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half inch size desired for planting.  To counterbalance the possibility of loss, the planting plan includes both natural groupings and formal allées that accentuate the approach to the fountains.  A single Bradford Pear tree that survived the attack has been replanted on the plaza.

Crandell concludes with a chapter, “The Orchard, the Nursery and the Forest” which poses the question, “how might it be possible to expand the focused engagement and sculptural experience of tree gardens to vast landscapes without also investing vast resources?” As urban environments strive to enhance green infrastructure and offset the impacts of climate change it is a question that merits further inquiry.


Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest is a thoughtful book that will appeal to anyone with a passion for horticulture and design providing a unique perspective on the “world’s largest living architectural structures” and their use as landscape elements throughout time.

Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest is published by Princeton Architectural Press, NY (2013).

This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, April, 2013.

Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco – All Rights Reserved

You Might Also Like

No Comments

  • Reply louise boutin February 17, 2014 at 8:07 am

    sounds wonderful ! The french published a very comprehensive book on this topic, it is difficult to get as it is out of print, but i used it years ago at UBC in Vancouver. written by the arbourist and forestry detailed every tree placement and arrangement imaginable. good luck with yours.

  • Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: