Last Saturday morning I headed north to Ridgewood, NJ to help with the annual spring clean up at the quirky and impossibly creative James Rose Center.
This modernist bastion of free thinking and improvisation is located in a community of entitled suburbanites surrounded by traditional homes and manicured yards. It is, as you would suspect, an anomaly.
Rose, mad genius that he was, experimented with so many convergent ideas here that it is impossible to convey them all through photographs in a blog…one visit would not even be enough to absorb them all.
Rose built the home/studio/garden in 1953 and lived there for almost 40 years until his death in 1991. As I understand it, the building and surrounding garden were in a constant state of experimental flux for almost all of that time.
Its still evolving history makes it a vital emblem of a changing world from a fertile and busy mind who fundamentally understood that change was constant and necessary.
Combinations of materials high and low, new and recycled, permanent and temporary are freely juxtaposed throughout the building and garden.
In Rose’s own words– “to reveal what is always there is the trick. The metamorphosis is seen minute by minute, season by season, year by year. Through this looking glass, ‘finish’ is another word for death.”
Over 60 years ago Rose wrote the closest definition I have ever found of a garden.
From his 1958 book Creative Gardens— “A garden is an experience…If it were possible to distill the essence of a garden, I think it would be the sense of being within something while still out of doors. That is the substance of it: for until you have that, you do not have a garden at all.”
To visit the James Rose Center is to experience a garden where then is now, now is then, the inside is out, the outside is in and the top is bottom and the bottom is the top. It is also an opportunity to take a glimpse into the mind of one of American landscape architecture’s most original thinkers.