The scenery has improved in the century since Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver founded the first landscape architecture firm owned and operated by women in the Pacific Northwest.
Home gardeners who rely on the region’s expansive nursery offerings, landscape professionals who continue to find inspiration in Lord and Schryver’s timeless designs and even tourists who appreciate billboard-free highways have these women to thank.
They were “progressive and concerned about the public aesthetic,” said Bobbie Dolp of Salem, who helped preserve Gaiety Hollow, Lord and Schryver’s former Salem home, garden and studio, which is open to the public. Another estate they enhanced, Deepwood, is now a Salem city park.
In all, the partners designed more than 200 public and private landscapes and gardens between 1929 and 1969. They introduced many rose cultivars and once-uncommon shrubs such as English boxwood to the region, and they persuaded local growers to propagate other plants that have become garden mainstays.
But Lord and Schryver did so much more.
The women started their landscape architecture business, a profession dominated by men, the first year of the Great Depression. And they succeeded.
Over their 40-year careers, they hosted a radio gardening show, wrote newspaper articles and lectured across Oregon and Washington, providing horticulture advice that endures today. During World War II, Schryver taught advanced landscape design at Oregon State University.
They created welcoming parks, school yards and institutional campuses, and tamed wilderness such as the Breitenbush Hot Springs resort surrounded by the Willamette National Forest, said Valencia Libby, author of the new book, “The Northwest Gardens of Lord & Schryver” ($29.95, Oregon State University Press).
They planned residential landscapes, from mansions to modest homes, and they served on state planning commissions, city parks advisory groups and tree committees. Billboards blighting Oregon roads in the 1930s led to their volunteer advocacy work on the Oregon Roadside Council.
Lord and Schryver “raised the standard of landscape design in the Northwest,” said Libby. “They created simpler layouts with the toughest of plants for limited city budgets. Their concern for the public landscape, the landscape everyone has the ability to enjoy, became their greatest gift to the Northwest.”
Visitors to Gaiety Hollow, operated by the Lord & Schryver Conservancy, can imagine the partners’ prolific lives.
The professionally trained landscape architects, who knew site engineering, drafting and botany, refashioned classic European styles to achieve a look of informal formality on former farmland. They popularized the idea of strolling through a series of garden “rooms.” And they researched plant materials and often tested new introductions in their own garden.
Both women graduated from Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture for Women in Massachusetts, one of the first colleges in the world to open the profession to women (now part of the Rhode Island School of Design).
Their paths to college did not overlap. Lord was born into a prominent Salem family; her father, William Paine Lord, was Oregon’s ninth governor and state Supreme Court judge; her mother, Juliet Montague Lord, established Oregon’s first garden club. Elizabeth Lord attended the landscape college starting in 1926 when she was in her late 30s and after her parents had died.
Schryver‘s childhood was more humble. Her father, George Schryver, ran a restaurant at the Kingston, New York railroad station and her family lived in an apartment over the restaurant.
Although 14 years younger, Schryver graduated from Lowthorpe in 1923 and had worked five years for New York landscape architect Ellen Shipman before taking a sabbatical and joining the college’s European Travel Course tour in 1927.
Schryver was 26 when she met Lord, 39, on the tour. Two years later, they set up their business in Lord’s hometown of Salem.
They continued to circled the world together and study horticulture up close to become plantswomen. Their tremendous knowledge and efforts led to new design techniques and trends.
“They did exactly what they should do to have the career they wanted,” said Ann Amato, a propagator at Cistus Nursery on Sauvie Island and Secret Garden Growers in Canby. “They got an education and travel in the 1920s, which required guts and money. They showed they were brave and adventurous.
“It was big, bold, modern and smart,” continued Amato, who writes the blog Amateur Bot-Ann-ist, “for these two women to stake a claim here.”
Elizabeth Lord said in 1973 of her lifelong personal and professional partnership with Schryver, “We joined forces, desiring to try out a new venture of real garden designing and planting, domestic and park planting.”
Each project was unique, but the landscape was always an extension of the structure it surrounded. The women, who worked without hiring an employee, preferred to collaborate with an architect to maximize landscape space, optimize natural light and frame trees and views.
Garden rooms, which open directly off a dwelling, were “beautiful spaces, elegantly proportioned to the dimensions of the building and subtly planted,” stated author Libby. “Schryver would extend lines from the edges of the building to determine the perfect location and size of outdoor spaces.”
Lord excelled at plant combinations, Libby added.
The distinctive garden rooms were connected with circulation pathways and directional hedges. A reflecting pool, statue or other permanent decorative element was installed as a focal point.
Their two-story Colonial Revival-style residence and studio were constructed on a lot that was the former garden adjacent to the Lord family’s mansion. Here, the partners created garden rooms that were engaging, practical or contemplative, from a grassy space with flagstone steppingstones where laundry was hung to dry to a complex parterre flower garden.
As plantswomen, Lord and Schryver cultivated relationships with regional nurseries to select plants with seasonal interest and a relationship to the overall grounds.
The West Allee at their residence showcases lilacs, rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and hydrangeas. A pergola, with a bench to relax and enjoy the view, is covered in clematis in spring, roses in summer and grapes in fall.
They called their home Gaiety Hollow since it rests on the base of Gaiety Hill. The property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, lies within the Gaiety Hill/Bush’s Pasture Park Historic District.
Wallace Kay Huntington, the late landscape architecture of the respected Huntington & Kiest firm in Portland, was a Lord and Schryver protégé and friend.
In speaking of Gaiety Hollow, Huntington said, “Anyone who conceives of a formal garden as static has only to study the calculated interplay of spatial relationships in this tour de force of garden design.”
He admired the effective “geometry of the compartmented schemes” and the quality of the fencing, arbor and other elements.
Lord died at age 88 in 1976 and Schryver remained in their home until she died at age 83 in 1984.
The firm’s professional papers are archived at the University of Oregon.
Historian Laurie Matthews wrote in the Historic American Landscapes Survey that Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver pushed the boundaries of landscape architecture beyond design theory. But that may not have been their goal.
”They were simply,” stated Matthews, “designing sophisticated and highly crafted residential and public landscapes in the Pacific Northwest.”
Most of Lord and Schryver’s projects were in Seattle, Tacoma, Portland and Salem, but they also worked in Corvallis, Eugene, Klamath Falls and Pendleton as well as Walla Walla, Washington.
Two significant Lord and Schryver’s designs open to the public are their former home, Gaiety Hollow, and Deepwood Museum and Gardens. Both are in Salem and are maintained by volunteers of the Lord & Schryver Conservancy and the Deepwood Gardeners.
Gaiety Hollow: The nonprofit Lord & Schryver Conservancy organizes garden events and docent-led Garden Tours at Gaiety Hollow, 545 Mission St., approximately one mile southwest of the Oregon State Capitol building.
The Lord & Schryver Conservancy Neighborhood Garden Tour is scheduled for June 4-5 in the Salem-Fairmount area. Four of the 12 gardens on the tour were designed by Lord and Schryver. For more information, call 971-600-6987, email [email protected] or visit lordschryver.org.
Deepwood Museum and Gardens: Lord and Schryver started their decade-long collaboration with Deepwood property owner and hobby gardener Alice Brown in 1929. Today, the five-acre, Salem city park at 1116 Mission St. SE, two blocks east of Gaiety Hollow, retains its original gardens with a metal “birdcage” gazebo, hexagonal teahouse and iron scrollwork.
The park, with Formal Gardens and Grounds & Nature Area, is open sunrise to sunset daily and is free to enter. Check the Event Calendar for special event closures and the reopening of the museum home tour. For more information, call 503-363-1825 or visit deepwoodmuseum.org.
Learn more: Valencia Libby, author of “The Northwest Gardens of Lord & Schryver,” published by Oregon State University Press, will speak live on Zoom during a Garden Conservancy virtual program from 11 a.m.-noon Thursday, Feb. 10 ($15 general admission; $5 Garden Conservancy members).
The title “landscape architect” was first publicly used by Frederick Law Olmsted, who co-designed New York City’s Central Park in 1857. The second Olmsted generation of landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and his stepbrother John Charles Olmsted, promoted the City Beautiful movement from their firm based in Brookline, Massachusetts.
John Olmsted also crossed the country to design the fairgrounds for Portland’s 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Expedition and created the master plan for the city’s public park system.
But before he did, John Olmsted was one of 10 men who founded the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1899. They were joined by one woman, Beatrix Farrand, who designed the original White House Rose Garden.
Lord and Schryver were founding members of the Oregon chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Today, women represent 35% of the more than 15,000 members of the American Society of Landscape Architects. President Eugenia Martin, a landscape architect in Ohio, and others on her team have initiatives to increase diversity, equity and inclusion.
— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072