Wirtz, Jacques

▪ 2002

      Even after a 50-year career in which he had designed more than 100 gardens, Belgian landscape architect Jacques Wirtz was far from considering retirement; in fact, he seemed to be hitting his stride in 2001. A decade earlier Wirtz's work was not well known outside Belgium, but during the 1990s he took on more high-profile projects, including gardens at the Louvre in Paris, the headquarters of the Bank of Luxembourg, and gardens for celebrities, notably one for actress Catherine Deneuve. His work became internationally known, and he was hailed as one of the most talented and influential landscape designers in Europe. During the year Wirtz continued to work in England on one of his larger projects, a $20-million commission by the duchess of Northumberland to redesign the 5-ha (12-ac) walled garden at Alnwick Castle, a spectacular undertaking that would feature waterfalls and Wirtz's famous (and often duplicated) mass plantings of geometric-shaped hedges of beech, box, hornbeam, and yew. Some of his hedges were carefully sculpted and pruned for years in order to achieve the desired effect.

      Wirtz was born in 1924 in Antwerp; his family moved to the environs outside the city when he was 12, and he was influenced by the natural beauty of the countryside. He studied landscape architecture at a horticultural college in Vilvoorde before starting his own business growing and selling flowers and maintaining local gardens. In 1950 Wirtz designed his first complete garden; the majority of his creations were for private residences. His style was inspired by gardens of his childhood as well as those seen on visits to other European countries and Japan. He came to be known for designs that served to complement rather than conceal the natural surroundings, and he favoured flowering plants, grasses, clipped trees and hedges, and water, rather than the harsh man-made materials that adorned many other modern gardens.

      His career received a boost in the 1970s when he won a competition to design the garden for Belgium's pavilion at the International Exhibition in Osaka, Japan. During this time he also designed the campus of the University of Antwerp, a plan that featured an ivy ground cover and an abundance of flowering trees. Wirtz gained wider recognition in the early '90s when he won a contest to redesign the Carrousel Garden, which connected the Louvre with the 25-ha (63-ac) Tuileries Gardens, redesigned in 1664 by celebrated French landscape architect André Le Nôtre. At the end of the year, Wirtz and his two sons, who shared in his business, had a number of projects in the works, including a garden at Canary Wharf in London, a small Jewish cemetery in Switzerland, and gardens around a law court in Italy, all scheduled for completion by 2003 or 2004. He was also poised to begin his first work in the U.S., designing private gardens in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Florida.

Sandra Langeneckert

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Universalium. 2010.

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