View from Glen Hill: The land through experienced eyes
Seeing land from the perspective of a landscape architect is eye-opening. I had that opportunity over the holidays at a party on Olmstead Hill Road. Two of us partygoers stood in the backyard, seeking a little respite from the happy indoor clamor. We were looking out into a dark night illuminated only partially by low moonlight. The trees arching overhead were clearly visible though, as were house lights far down what appeared to be a very steep hill.
While we didn’t know each other, we soon fell into conversation. At first it consisted of the usual pleasantries, but then our discussion became more serious. In the process, I got a glimpse into the fascinating life of a man born in Jamaica who had come here never expecting to be a landscape architect.
He had fallen into this work quite literally by preventing an older woman from falling out of an apple tree. As he passed by, he saw the woman perched in the tree in what looked to him to be very precarious circumstances for a person of her age, trying to wield some pruning shears. He went over and called up to her, inviting her to come down while he took her place. She reluctantly agreed. And so he helped her get down and then climbed into the tree himself, with no real idea of how to trim it.
However, he set about cutting as he thought was best, and she affirmed his choices of how and where to cut. When he had accomplished the work to her satisfaction, he came down from the tree. She thanked him and told him he had a real gift — had he studied landscaping? He replied that he had not. She asked if he would do more for her, and he agreed. From this initial encounter grew a mutual appreciation that blossomed into her funding his study of landscape architecture. In the process, he came to a deep appreciation of the land, how to nurture its strengths and bring out its full beauty.
As he described these grounds where we stood and on which he had obviously worked with loving care, he explained the broader landscaping concepts and also fascinating details like the reason for the choice of a particular shrub for a specific location. I came away with a much better understanding of how rich landscape choices can be and how much thought and knowledge needs to go into them. I spoke later and separately with the homeowner and heard what a remarkable gift this man has for bringing out the best in the natural beauty of the land and how hard he himself works alongside his crew.
I reflected on that as I’ve seen our own town’s recent developments in land use. Wilton Heights at 300 Danbury Road and the 183 Ridgefield Road land preservation both have recently passed a major hurdle in receiving Inland Wetlands Commission support, and 300 Danbury Road’s redesign has also just received a thumbs-up from our town’s Village District Design Consultant Committee. Each of these parcels provides a heartening view of wise land use. One illustrates preservation through private funds publicly raised and applied to set aside land for public recreational use and enjoyment, preserving in perpetuity the rustic character of part of our town. The other demonstrates how commercial development in character with our town but moving in new directions can proceed in exciting ways. On the latter, a lot of new landscaping work is part of the picture, and that is to be commended.
Each reflects choices that our town is now being called upon regularly to make: how to blend preservation of the best of the past with the needs of the future for growth but in a measured and well-thought-out way. Wilton’s Plan-of-Conservation-and-Development process is aimed at helping us move thoughtfully in that direction, including through the solicitation of comments in multiple ways, such as by the detailed telephone survey last month of a statistically valid sample (404) of Wilton residents the fascinating results of which are available on-line at the POCD website (examples: 43.1% identified our education system as “the leading reason” for living here, and 92.4% “reported their own quality of life living in Wilton as very good or good”) and are being discussed at a Joint Working Group meeting today.
I expect that the result of these planning decisions will be excellent, although controversial elements are to be expected (and understandable) as we make carefully considered progress forward on difficult subjects.