Thursday, July 29, 2021

Guest Post: Landscape of a Marriage by Gail Ward Olmsted

Please join me in welcoming Gail Ward Olmsted to Let Them Read Books! Gail is celebrating the release of her newest novel, Landscape of a Marriage, and I'm thrilled to have her here today with a guest post about the inspiration for her story, Frederick Law Olmsted and his wife, Mary.

Central Park was only the beginning...

A marriage of convenience leads to a life of passion and purpose. A shared vision transforms the American landscape forever.

New York, 1858: Mary, a young widow with three children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted, who is acting on his late brother’s deathbed plea to "not let Mary suffer”. But she craves more than a marriage of convenience and sets out to win her husband’s love. Beginning with Central Park in New York City, Mary joins Fred on his quest to create a 'beating green heart' in the center of every urban space.

Over the next 40 years, Fred is inspired to create dozens of city parks, private estates and public spaces with Mary at his side. Based upon real people and true events, this is the story of Mary’s journey and personal growth and the challenges inherent in loving a brilliant and ambitious man. 

Amazon  |  Goodreads 

Landscape of a Marriage: Frederick Law Olmsted & Mary Perkins Olmsted

By all accounts, they were an unlikely couple right from the start. They met at the home of mutual friends when Mary was just 18. Orphaned at an early age, she was raised by her grandparents and attended school in Staten Island, NY. She was an outspoken young woman who loved art and French literature. Fred was 27, a gentleman farmer who had previously spent time as a merchant seaman and a newspaper reporter, after dropping out of Yale University. He had dated plenty of women, but often confided to friends that he was likely to remain a bachelor for life. 

After meeting her for the first time, Fred was overheard remarking to a friend, “Mary is just the thing for a rainy day. Not to fall in love with, but to talk with.”  Meanwhile, Mary fell in love with Fred’s younger brother John, a recent Yale grad, and soon after, the two became engaged. 

Mary and John married in 1851 and honeymooned in Italy. Over the next five years, they had three children: John Charles, Charlotte and Owen. Never in the best of health, John was diagnosed with tuberculosis, prompting the family of five to travel throughout Europe in search of a cure.

Meanwhile, Fred had been in and out of relationships with a number of women and was briefly engaged to one of them. The engagement was broken by the young woman’s mother in a note to Fred detailing her daughter’s concerns for their future together. Fred was now more convinced than ever that marriage was not in the cards for him and he began to devote all of his time to his latest project--designing a public park out of an 800-acre plot of swampy land in Manhattan.

After burying her husband in Nice, France, Mary and her children returned to New York. Acting upon his late brother’s plea to "not let Mary suffer while you are alive," Fred found temporary housing for Mary and her children before moving them into his own house. He offered to marry her and she accepted. Her allowance from her late grandfather’s estate did not begin to cover her family’s expenses and she was out of funds and desperately lonely.

On June 13, 1859, Mary Perkins Olmsted became the wife of Frederick Law Olmsted. The ceremony was a no-frills affair, officiated by the mayor of New York City, the honorable Daniel Tiemann.

Mary had been passionately in love with her first husband, John. Although she had no illusions about her new husband’s feelings toward her, she set out to win his love. She would not be content to settle for a marriage in name only and was determined to have a second chance at a happy ever after. What began as a marriage of convenience, a "levarite" marriage designed to maintain the family name, bloomed into a loving and passionate union that lasted 44 years and produced four more children, only two of whom survived infancy.

With Mary and his family by his side, Fred was inspired to devote himself professionally to his goal of creating a "beating green heart" for the masses to enjoy in every urban space. The renowned "father of American landscape architecture" was responsible for designing dozens of public parks, private estates, state parks and college campuses throughout the United States. 

The Olmsteds moved from New York to Washington, DC, then to California for a few years before returning to New York. They eventually relocated to Brookline, MA, a suburb of Boston. Initially a sounding board for her brilliant husband’s vision, Mary began to exert her influence on his choice of projects, as well as the management and direction of the growing design firm. Two of their sons joined the family business and Olmsted and Sons prospered for decades after Fred’s death at the age of 81.

Landscape of a Marriage is the story of the unlikely love affair of two people determined to live with passion and purpose, while transforming the American landscape forever.

Amazon  |  Goodreads 

About the Author:

Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary.

For more information, please visit her on Facebook and at

1 comment:

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