Book review: Gail Ward Olmsted, Landscape of a Marriage

Landscape of a Marriage

By Gail Ward Olmsted

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. 

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This is one of those books which does what I love – take somebody fairly well-known, historically, and telling their tale through the eyes of a person close to them, but who hasn’t been as famous as the ‘core figure’. I may not know the history of the man who brought America Central Park, but he is a well-known character in America’s history, which cannot really be said about his wife, Mary.

In this story then, we see it all from Mary’s perspective. Fred is her second husband, and the brother of her first, who passed away before the story begins. She seeks out Fred for support, but instead, finds a loving and passionate marriage, but not one without its problems. Marriage to a workaholic who is in high demand puts pressure on Mary to both keep their household working smoothly, and try to support her regularly-exhausted husband emotionally. All this whilst being a mother too! But Mary is made of strong stuff, which we see a lot in this story, as she and the children travel across the country with Fred.

This isn’t a period I’ve read much of, and I’ll be honest, I rarely think about how public parks came into existence, but this was a fascinating insight into America set against some momentous events, including the ending of the Civil War, and the country finding its feet as technology develops at speed.

Throughout it all, Mary remains a strong, if partially reserved character, giving us a view of events from the upper middle class perspective. Their position isn’t always financially secure, but they both work hard to keep themselves going, and that strength is clear in her story.

Definitely recommended to those interested in the period.

About Gail

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

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