Make No Little Plans

(Johnsen Landscapes & Pools)

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood
and probably will themselves not be realized.

Make big plans; aim high in hope and work,
remembering that a noble, logical diagram, once recorded, will not die.”

Daniel Burnham

Wise Words! 

Daniel Burnam of Chicago was one of the masters of vision in the 19th century U.S. along with Stanford White, Frederick Law Olmsted and others.

We are the beneficiaries of these designers' grand plans.

But even for us mere mortals, plans - 'logical diagrams' - help to make our ideas concrete and available to others....

(Jan Johnsen)

I was going to name this post, 'The Value of a Landscape Plan' but then no one would care to read it (smile).

So here are some photos of some of my landscapes. All elements shown here were the result of detailed plans - they addressed grades, dimensions, drainage, materials and all plant choices were carefully considered.

(Jan Johnsen)

Why do I write this admonition about making a plan?

Because, in my part of the world, we are now all besotted with an upcoming glorious Spring and that bestows a particular malady known as Spring Fever. There we go, buying, digging, pruning, fencing, chopping.....

with fervor and not much else.

(Jan Johnsen)

This post is dedicated to all my students in my Columbia University Design Studio classes 

Good Luck! and Make no Little Plans....

(Jan Johnsen)


  1. Jan, it was so sad to end class last night. I will miss you. Thank you for everything.

  2. Well, yes--you are a landscape architect. And your clients can afford your lovely designs--and the considerable labor to actualize them.

    My own work in garden history focused on the more modest gardens, such as those of Anna B. Warner and those who wrote what I have termed "garden autobiographies" about their own gardens and their lives in them. Some were gardens on a grand scale, of course, such as Beverley Nichols or Helen Morgenthau Fox; a great recent example of a more ordinary effort is Amy Stewart's garden in California.

    I would comment that the gardens, though little in size, expand with the gardeners' devotion to their plots. For me this is personal as I inhabit a property of five acres with woods, modest midwestern farmhouse, and
    little garden areas all over the place, which I have created over 40 years. An affluent neighbor and demon gardener commented (with some surprise) on how interesting my gardens were. (For the first few years she knew me, my husband was terminally ill and we had way too much rain so she didn't see me at my best). I pointed out that she created a landscape; my place has gardens. Ten truckloads of compost, large trees, tons of gravel, a large dug pond--her place is lovely. But I have a large clematis montana rubra blooming on the side of my husband's studio; a stand of prunus padus that makes a cave of bloom every April; cornus kousa, malus sargenti, a mysterious eunonymous (meaning I forgot the name), a Washington thorn--all grown from $1.25 cuttings as was the bird cherry.

    I am not criticizing your advice to your design students, of course. But intensive, devoted gardening is not small. In an address I gave at the first Winterthur Garden History event back in the late 70s, I commented a bit on my Aunt Marguerite's garden of vegetables and dahlias, with paths of wood planks, grown in a narrow backyard behind a small and shabby row house in Schenectady. The landscape historian who was responding to the papers (an eminence grise whose name I cannot recall, unfortunately), expressed surprise but interest in my aunt's inclusion in garden history.

    Your blog, if I may say so, reveals a more cultured, literary, and intimate horticultural view than I might expect from my own observations of landscape designers. Thus I felt like talking to you about this.

  3. How wonderful!!!! my heartfelt response is "you go, girl!" ...and stay away from those 'eminence grises' ..they only give you heartburn.
    I am all with a person whose first garden was a bunch of flower pots filled with coleus on a rickety fire escape on State Street, Brooklyn (before it was gentrified) I jump for joy at the thought of dahlias among shabby row houses...
    And yes, I am emplyed by the well heeled..I am the 'trickle down' theory incarnate....but it does help pay for my son's tuition - even though I must work 6 days a week ( and 2 nights a week as well) but the joy of working with nature's amazing creations and sharing that joy with everyone out there is what keeps my head on straight.
    So please know that, to me, its is all a lovely pursuit. The most popular leisure time acitivity in the United States. And Aunt Tilly's garden is probably much more magnificent than that historian's ever was....


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