“Jens Jensen is not well-known in his native Denmark. For two reasons: Jensen is the most common name in Denmark and Jensen immigrated to America before he became a well-known landscape architect.” That was Ambassador Jari Frijs-Madsen, Consul General of Denmark in New York explaining why Jensen has been not remembered. It does not explain why most Americans have no idea who he was or anything about his legacy.
Frijs-Marsen introduced the film, Jens Jensen: The Living Green on Earth Day at the New York Botanical Garden. As part of his introduction, the Consul General told the audience, the state of the earth is not strong. Denmark cannot save the planet alone. In 2014, 39% of Denmark’s energy came from wind. This is a world record. The Danes have set 2050 as their goal to be totally free of fossil fuels.
Living Green is an evocative, flowery portrait of Jensen, an almost forgotten maker of parks in Chicago, advocate for the open green space for poor city dwellers and proponent of the native American landscape. According to the Frijs-Madsen, Jensen brought one of the core values of Denmark society to America: a respect for the native habitat.
Any number of people know the name Frank Lloyd Wright, Henry Ford, Alexander Bell, Ernst Hemingway, Bill Gates…the list goes on and on. How many people can name the landscape designer of Versailles or Central Park?
On my ride home, I imagined myself at the entrance to a subway platform in the Big Apple, any subway will do. If I ask New Yorkers on their way to work, who was the most landscape architect in the United States, who would they name? or would look at me with a blank stare?
In this world of celebrity, landscape architects/garden designers do not achieve star status. Over a million people walk The High Line every year, how many of those people could tell you, who designed the space? It’s a lucky thing that public recognition does not mean much to those of us in this profession. I find its the work and its challenges that keep me going.