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Gardens for a Beautiful America, 1895-1935


Sam Watters
Preface by C. Ford Peatross
11 X 9.25 inches, 376 pp.
Clothbound, dust jacket $79
300 illustrations, including 250 plates and 3 gatefolds
ISBN: 978-0-926494-15-2
APRIL 2012

click on the cover to preview the book

Gardens for a Beautiful America, 1895-1935 presents for the first time 250 colored photographs of urban and suburban gardens taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston photographer of presidents, celebrity authors, tastemakers, and estates of the County House Era. 

At the opening of the 20th century, as artist and progressive, Johnston was front and center in the movement to beautify America. Gilded Age industrialism had brought at new prosperity to life coast to coast, but at the price of once pristine forests, rivers, and blue skies, wrecked by continental railroad building and factory pollution in growing cities.

As guardians of home and community, wealthy women rallied clubs and societies to green America through design and horticulture. To show all gardeners, rich and poor, what a garden should be, they turned to Frances Benjamin Johnston.

Gardens for a Beautiful America, 1895-1935, written by Sam Watters and published in collaboration with the Library of Congress, presents 250 of Johnson's colored lantern slides, not seen since the 1940s. They picture New York town house yards, Long Island villas, California hillside terraces and plantations of the South identified by Watters over years of research and travel.

Johnston produced each slide for illustrated lectures she presented to gardening women. Today, these hand-painted, miniatures on glass still resonate with her crusading message: garden the nation back to America the Beautiful, one elm, one rose, one fountain and one boxwood terrace at a time.


"Skillfully narrated...The research and identifiction of these slides by Watters, uncataloged when he first saw them five years ago, are exhaustively presented and annotated and will be a rich fund for later historians."--John Dixon Hunt, Landscape Architecture Magazine

"Far more than pretty pictures (Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. deemed Ms. Johnston's photographs the finest existing on the subject of American gardens), the carefully composed painterly images of these elegant, often opulent gardens were meant to educate the masses."--
 Anne Raver,The New York Times

"For Johnston's admirers, the images represent a true artist at work, one who would manipulate her pictures at every stage in pursuit of the perfect evocation of a given garden." --Adrian Higgins, The Washington Post

"Pioneering American photojournalist Frances Benjamin Jonston never planted a garden of her own until she was in her 80s, but she masterfully recorded hundreds of others on hand-painted glass lantern slides used for her horticultural lectures... Author Sam Watters has meticulously identified the landscapes, which range from humble backyards to noble estates." --Architectural Digest

"Rarely does a book appear that feels like a revelation. The Acanthus Press' recent Gardens for a Beautiful America, by Sam Watters, is just such book, however... Today, anyone interested in the history of gardens owes Mr. Watters a huge debt of gratitude as he painstakingly identified the slides and presents 250 of them in this ravishing book, giving us miniature portraits of gardens in both America and Europe." --Jane Garmey,

"From the very first glimpse, the pictures are spellbinding. The subjects are stunning: Handsome buildings flanked by gorgeous flowers and trees. The composition of each view is balanced. The colors are ethereal, with a palette mirroring that of the dreamiest Impressionist artist, inviting the observer to enter a fairytale world of wealth and beauty. The overall artistic quality of the pictures blurs the line between photography and art, and there is timelesness that cannot be denied. This is the world of beautiful America, a place captured by Frances Benjamin Johnston and frozen in time." --New England Antiques Journal

Winner of the 2012 Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Annual Literature Award in the general book category. "The council was impressed by this gorgeous and informative book.” --Gretchen Wade, Harvard Botany Libraries


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