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Charleston Gardens and the Landscape Legacy of Loutrel Briggs

James R. Cothran

An elegantly rendered account of the central figure in the twentieth-century Charleston garden renaissance

Charleston Gardens and the Landscape Legacy of Loutrel Briggs provides a fascinating account of the life and career of renowned landscape architect Loutrel Briggs (1893–1977), the individual most directly responsible for the development of Charleston's distinctive garden style. Through insightful text and nearly 140 illustrations, accomplished landscape architect and award-winning garden historian James R. Cothran provides the most complete portrait to date of Briggs, his continuing impact on the iconic gardens of Charleston, and his legacy in the lowcountry.

A native of New York and a graduate of Cornell University, Briggs first visited Charleston in 1927 to experience firsthand the city's incomparable springtime beauty and picturesque charm. Briggs was enamored by the city and opened a seasonal office in Charleston in 1929. For the next three decades he divided his practice between New York and Charleston, finally becoming a permanent resident of Charleston in 1959.

Briggs completed an impressive array of private and public landscape projects, including Mepkin, McLeod, Mulberry, and Rice Hope plantations; Charleston's Gateway Walk; the William Gibbes house garden; and the South Carolina Memorial Garden, but he is best known for his designs of many small Charleston gardens. He is credited with designing more than one hundred private gardens in Charleston's historic district alone. In these plans Briggs drew on his remarkable sense of scale, harmony, and tradition to work wonders in limited urban spaces. Some of these gardens survive today while others have been lost to natural causes, redesign, or neglect.

Cothran's comprehensive work champions a renewed appreciation of the contributions Briggs made to Charleston's landscape tradition and serves as a timely call to action to preserve his gardens and legacy. In addition to documenting the life and works of his subject, Cothran also provides information on the use of garden easements as an effective means of preserving historic gardens, techniques aimed at the preservation of Charleston gardens but equally applicable to efforts in other locations as well.

James R. Cothran (1941–2012) was a practicing landscape architect, urban planner, and garden historian in Atlanta. He held degrees from Clemson University, the University of Georgia, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. A fellow in the American Society of Landscape Architects, Cothran was past president of the Southern Garden History Society and served on the boards of the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation, Trees Atlanta, and the Cherokee Garden Library–Center for the Study of Southern Garden History. He is the author of Gardens of Historic Charleston and Gardens and Historic Plants of the Antebellum South, which has been honored with awards from the American Society of Landscape Architects, the National Garden Clubs, the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries, the Georgia Historical Society, and other organizations.

"The remarkable artistry of Loutrel Briggs profoundly enhanced Charleston's gardens and parks and made a beautiful city even more so. His work has been captured in innumerable paintings and photographs and is carried in the minds and hearts of all who have been inspired by the spaces he created. Jim Cothran's most interesting book does justice to Briggs and his legacy and will forever enrich this city."—The Honorable Joseph P. Riley, Jr., mayor of Charleston

"Charleston Gardens and the Landscape Legacy of Loutrel Briggs is a significant contribution to southern garden history, especially Charleston garden history. Few individuals have had as profound of an impact on Charleston gardens, their renaissance, understanding, and appeal as did Loutrel Briggs. Cothran's summary, review, and documentation of Briggs' long career, design genius, and eventual legacy will no doubt help rekindle and inspire preservation efforts."—A. Jefferson Lewis III, president, Southern Garden History Society

"Charleston Gardens and the Landscape Legacy of Loutrel Briggs is about the landscape architect most responsible for the look and livability of Charleston's gardens. It is also a call to action to preserve these exquisitely calibrated spaces. Briggs' use of carefully framed views, easy flow of formal spaces, and exquisite attention to detail and planting defined gardening for a city justly proud of its past. Now these twentieth-century gems are threatened. Cothran's work is beautifully presented. This book sets the stage for a revival of interest in preserving Charleston's important legacy."—Bill Noble, director of preservation, Garden Conservancy

"Loutrel Briggs contributed to Charleston's twentieth-century garden renaissance by preserving and renewing many historic gardens and by extending Charleston's unique landscape idiom into new spaces, always with respect for the city's culture and traditions. Much of his work in public and private properties throughout the historic district survives and is cherished today. Gardeners, historians, and all who appreciate the charm of Charleston gardens will be grateful for this careful study of his legacy. What James Cothran has achieved is no less than preservation through documentation."—Katharine S. Robinson, executive director, Historic Charleston Foundation

"The garden design legacy of Loutrel Briggs is captured through James Cothran's passionate investigation and detailed exploration of Briggs' landscape style, tried and true plant selections, and visionary efforts toward historic preservation. Cothran provides fascinating details regarding Briggs' desire to focus much of his career on the Charleston landscape, which ultimately has had such a lasting impact on his adopted city."—Besty Steele, president, Garden Club of South Carolina



Book jacket for Charleston Gardens and the Landscape Legacy of Loutrel Briggs


9 x 12
232 pages
139 illustrations
ISBN 978-1-57003-891-4
hardcover, $39.95t

Speaker @ the Center talk
Winner, 2011 Certificate of Merit from the Southern
Garden History Society

Winner, Communication
Honor Award of the Georgia Chapter of the American
Society of Landscape Architects

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