Is your yard overrun by English Ivy? If so, you should direct at least some of your ire at Edgar Allan Poe. Late in his life, the famed writer penned a series of landscape tales about what trees and plant species make a yard or a property beautiful.
Hello, I'm Ellen bear and I'm an assistant professor at the University of Washington Tacoma. And I would like to tell you a little bit about what Edgar Allen Poe has to do with English Ivy. Probably not something you would have connected Edgar Allen Poe with. We usually think of gothic castles and black cats and women and you know, buried alive and Ravens and all kinds of dark gothic things. But Po actually wrote a series of landscape tails that are focused on the American landscape and a popular phenomenon at the time called landscape gardening, which he actually knew quite a bit about and was well read in that. And this was toward the end of his life and he was really moving toward writing just landscape tails at that point. He was moving away from the gothic kind of murder mystery, psychological thriller type stuff that we know him for today.
And so I became really interested in figuring out, you know, how were people responding to what Po was writing in terms of, I'm talking about different plant species and tree species that make a yard or a property more beautiful. And he was drawing a lot on a treatise by a landscape gardener name Andrew Jackson Downing, who was basically the most famous American landscape gardener. He kind of popularized that as an art in the United States. And so po was borrowing a lot of his theories and applying it to his own to develop his idea of what made something beautiful. And it was all about making something that you could see that humans had created the landscape. That's what was going to make it beautiful. And that's what was going to empower the artist was to show they're kind of novel creation. And so both in the landscape architecture materials of the time and imposed work, there's lots of discussion of what are the best plants to do this and to show man's hand on the landscape and that this was going to be more beautiful than anything you'd seen naturally.
And so there was such an emphasis on the aesthetics of it that there wasn't a lot of consideration for the environmental impact, even though maybe not po, but definitely downing understood the environmental impact of introducing some things. For example, English Ivy. Uh, the other example I look at a lot is turf grass, right? We have pretty much everyone who has a yard has turf grass and probably much to your, you know, does may you probably have English ivy too. And the thing is, is that these were, um, brought to the United States. Um, turf grass really doesn't do well here. So that's why people have to water their lawns and uh, you know, it's just because, um, it doesn't really like our climate in the summer and so it goes dormant. And so people want that lush green lawn because that's what they've been told is beautiful and dry.
You know, Brown dead lawn is not, and so we're using resources to keep that turf grass alive. Even, you know, if we're having, you know, drought light conditions, people are still watering their lawns, all driven by the fact that we've been conditioned to think that that's what's beautiful, right? Even if, um, environmentally could have negative consequences, there's also a staggering number of chemicals and pesticides that people put on their lawns to keep them free of things that aren't beautiful. Right? And the same goes with the English Ivy. It was introduced to kind of add some character to the landscape and to make, um, make trees look more kind of rustic or historic. And it just spread like crazy. And so now it chokes out a lot of our trees in the northwest. And it's become a problem where we have, you know, forests that are getting overrun with Iv and it's, it's slowly killing the trees. And again, it was introduced because somebody thought aesthetically it would look nice. And so my project kind of looks at how literary texts influence our aesthetic tastes and choices and how those choices then have a larger environmental impact that we should, we should take into consideration when we're making choices about what to invite into our landscapes.