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1960s Landscapes in the Help

Nearly a year ago, now, I got a request through the blog for more information about the early 1960s landscape, about which little (so far!) has been written. It was for a film, for the exterior setting of a ranch house in the American South in which lived a couple with one young child and one on the way and who were aspiring to social status. This was the house:

The foundation plantings are right but they would have been new and raw in 1960; small and tentative, as aspirational as the couple in the house. One of the most telling features of the landscape is actually the pole light; its white cap is just visible in the above photo near the front door.  Lighting not just the house but the yard was definitely a luxury, and became a tell-tale sign of class in the 1950s. Watch for it in the movie; the set designers appropriately show the light emphasized with garish annuals around its base.

I also recommended some newly planted rose bushes surrounded by box...Jacqueline Kennedy had renovated and replanted the White House Rose Garden in the early 1960s  and her influence on American women was pervasive.  You can see the rose garden in the first part of the Kennedy home movie below.   But that recommendation didn't make it into the movie. 

(for a look at the White House gardens over time, see the lovely series of historical photographs of the Rose Garden (the West garden) and the East Garden at the White House museum.) 

So I sent this advice, and promptly forgot about it. But the movie has just been released…it was The Help, about the struggles of the black women who worked in the households of well-to-do whites in Jim Crow Mississippi.

I watched it today in a movie theatre in the most prosperous square miles of Nashville Tennessee, right across the parking lot from the offices of the Junior League. When you see the movie you’ll understand what that means. The mid-day crowd of ladies-who-lunch was of a social type peculiar to the American South; of a piece with the women depicted in the film except with sleek bobs instead of 1960s bouffants. The strands of pearls were still in evidence, and the yard lights still glow over their front sidewalks. But on this day their laughter was at times too loud to have come from a comfortable place.

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College Gardener said...

I saw The Help with my parents on Sunday and we all thought it was a great film, so it was really cool to read that you contributed to it in this way. My parents recently bought and renovated a Mid-Century Modern home in Michigan and are very enamoured of the styles and design of that period so we were actually paying close attention to both the interiors and the landscaping in the film. At the same time - and perhaps this relates somewhat to your impression of the ladies-who-lunch in the modern-day South watching the movie - it was weird to realize what moral failure and even flat-out evil may have played out amongst once favorite period furniture and antiques. Unfortunately there were and still are way too many Hillies in the world...

MulchMaid said...

Having just read The Help, I was fascinated to hear about your connection to the film. Our 1956 ranch is not landscaped now at all as it would have been in its first decade, but although I enjoy finding mid-century furnishings, I confess my plant-lusting nature wouldn't permit such garden fidelity to the period. Your most interesting point, to me, is that all the plantings would have been new and young. I suppose that's the critical difference between depicting, and actually living and gardening over time in a place.

Thanks for this timely post!

Brent said...

You must feel rewarded to have have some influence on the movie set. Congratulations.

I'm planning to see the movie this weekend, so I'll keep an eye out for the gardening elements that you mentioned.

Thomas Mickey said...

Just saw the movie and loved it. The interior designs were so real, but the landscapes also speak to that time as well. I remember the foundation plantings at my Uncle's house in the suburbs. He had money and could afford that landscape. That was what it meant to me.

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