Wednesday 4 August 2021

Read an #excerpt from Gail Ward Olmsted's fabulous book - Landscape of a Marriage @gwolmsted

Landscape of a Marriage 
By Gail Ward Olmsted

Publication Date: 29th July 2021
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Page Length: 314 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

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. 

Summer 1860

Fred and I were strolling through the southern section of Central Park with the children on a beautiful day in late May. After years of work by up to 3,600 laborers at a time, the park was nearly complete. In keeping with Fred’s vision, it featured rolling pastures inspired by the English countryside. Since he returned from last year’s trip to Europe, he had been obsessed with every detail and worked long hours six days a week to transform the park into the breathtaking spectacle in front of us.

In my opinion, he had outdone himself, having turned the messy, smelly acreage into a world-class destination. It was a silk purse, and a fine one at that. Attendance had grown steadily, reaching two million visitors last year. Despite being in my ninth month of pregnancy, I had insisted on accompanying my family. The sun was shining, and I’d had enough of being housebound. Fred held my arm as the children raced ahead, running along the paths, then skipping back to report what they had seen.

“We’re almost at the lake,” Charlotte called out. “Do you think there will be swans, Papa?” Fred was about to answer when Charley interrupted.

“The swans are there in the morning, silly,” he said. “At this time of day, there will be ducks, dozens of them, I imagine. Isn’t that right, Papa?” 

Fred shook his head good-naturedly. “I would think both swans and ducks will be present. And Canada geese too.”

“Owen, my pet, what do you prefer? Swans, geese or ducks?” I asked.

He looked thoughtful for a moment, then announced, “I like ducks best, just like Papa does.” He ran off to catch up with his siblings and I squeezed Fred’s arm.

“Your secret is out, my love,” I said. “You claim to have no favorites, but we all know how much you love the ducks.” Fred chuckled, shaking his head as if to deny it.

“Favorites, heh? Well then, if you know so much about me, answer this. What is my favorite type of tree?”

“Elm, of course,” I said, showing with a sweep of my arm the hundreds of elm trees that lined the path. “Ask me something more challenging, please.” Fred scrunched up his face as if deep in concentration.

“Bushes that flower or not?” he said.

“No flowers. Too distracting. And paths that curve, like the one we’re on. No straight lines for my husband. You’re an impractical man, Mr. Olmsted. You never take the easy way out.” Fred smiled.

“No, I suppose I don’t. I vowed to give this city the beating green heart that it needs to thrive and by God I will make that happen.” He pointed to the pasture ahead of us. “That area was the site of the largest pigsty I have ever seen,” he said. “And where we’re standing? A massive slaughterhouse, I kid you not.”

I felt queasy as images of pigsties and slaughterhouses filled my brain. I stopped walking and closed my eyes, trying to rid myself of those awful thoughts.

“Mary, are you all right?” Fred asked as I leaned over to catch my breath. “Come,” he said, leading me over to the nearest park bench. I sat and fanned my face with a handkerchief.

“I’m fine. Winded is all. These winding paths of yours are lovely, but quite challenging to navigate.” Fred sat beside me and held my hands in his.

“It’s wonderful being here with you. Can you imagine the next time we walk through the park we’ll be a family of six? Less than a year ago, I was living the gay life of a bachelor and here I am with a wife and family. I am a lucky man Mrs. Olmsted. You’ve made me very happy my—” 

He stopped at the sound of the children running towards us, Charley yelling at the top of his lungs. “Pub-lic drunk-en-ess is pro-hib-it-ed,” he called out in a sing-song voice. “And loi-ter-ing too.”

“I see my community outreach program is working,” Fred said with a frown. The level of attendance at the park had brought with it a new set of problems. Arrests for drunkenness, assault and loitering had skyrocketed, and they had charged Fred with developing a solution to reduce the number of crimes. They had posted a series of signs encouraging proper decorum and discouraging littering, public intoxication and other disreputable behavior.

“Now darling, the problems here at the park are hardly unique. We must educate the public on the behavior expected of them,” I said. Fred shook his head.

“And what sort is not,” he said.

The children collapsed in a heap on the grass, laughing. Fred smiled and nodded to a pair of uniformed men walking past.

“Did I tell you we’ve hired more security staff?”

“Yes, dear. Initial reports appear to bode well for the safety of all.” 

“I suppose so,” he said. “I say, why don’t you rest and I’ll accompany the children to see my favorite ducks.”

I smiled, certain that I needed to stay off my feet for a few moments before heading home.

“Thank you, that sounds wonderful.” Fred kissed me on the cheek and got to his feet.

“Come children. Let’s head to the lake.” They jumped up and ran ahead, Charley pulling his younger brother along while Charlotte skipped alongside them.

“Oh, and Fred?” I called out. Fred turned with a smile. 

“I should bring you back a lemon ice, my love?”

“That would be perfect.” I watched as my wonderful family disappeared from view, heading down the hill towards the lake. I was blessed.

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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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx