Architect shows natural talent for landscaping

September 23, 2000

Architect shows natural talent for landscaping


John J. Brennan has a breakfast table with a view.

In 1995 the semi-retired architect designed and built an abstract, Oriental-style garden in an empty space outside the large kitchen window in his Hagerstown home. The garden reached full bloom this summer.

Anybody can design a garden, Brennan said, but is an architect's approach to landscape design different than the average gardener's?

"It's totally different. Absolutely different," said Brennan, who is in his 70s.

Brennan created an elaborate landscape plan complete with sketches of the pebbled paths and arrangement of plants. He also made full-sized drawings of the wooden bridge and lanterns he built for the garden.

He built a rock platform for the large owl his wife, Vicki, bought at an antiques mall.

It took almost five months and a lot of hard work by the Brennans and their daughter, Erin, to complete the garden.


The effort was worthwhile, said the couple, who enjoy the view every day from their breakfast table.

"We get up every morning and look out over it. That's the beauty of it," Brennan said.

He and his wife watch squirrels scurry among the garden's shrubs and flowers. They see bunnies bounce by, and spy hummingbirds flitting around the feeder that Brennan hung in the garden in memory of a good friend who passed away.

"We love it," said Vicki Brennan, who looks forward to the enchanted lily's springtime blossoms.

In the summer months, annuals such as vincas, marigolds and impatiens bloom in brilliant purples, pinks and oranges. Evergreens, including several varieties of juniper, spruce, barberry and holly, grace the garden all year.

Under the tutelage of their daughter, the Brennans placed about 900 plants in the garden and around their home this spring, John Brennan said.

"We fought a battle with snails," he said. "We lost out there, but we won in the garden."

The garden requires regular maintenance, but no further additions are planned, Brennan said.

"I decided to leave it alone," he said. "You've got to know when to quit - that's part of design."

The Hagerstown garden isn't Brennan's first landscaping effort. He took landscape architectural classes at the University of Cincinnati, and paid for his last year of school by designing landscapes, he said.

The student landscape architect's first job was a 20-acre estate.

Brennan for years owned his own architecture firm and has designed everything from apartment buildings to police academies, in eight states.

He planned the original Perkins Pancake House in Cincinnati, several other restaurants, homes, a florist shop, industrial buildings, country clubs and shopping centers. Just about the only building Brennan hasn't designed is a public school, he said.

"I didn't play politics," he said.

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