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Ann Talarek – Horticulturist At Fallingwater

By Admin | November 20, 2007

Ann Talarek is the Horticulturist at the famous Frank Lloyd Wright designed home Fallingwater, in Millcreek Pennsylvania. Literally built over a waterfall in Bear creek in the 1930’s for the then exorbitant cost of $3 million, it was the summer home of Pittsburgh’s Kaufmann family, who made their fortune in retail. In the 1960s, the family gave control of the house and property to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, who now operates and manages the house and grounds. Ann Talarek recently gave us her thoughts on the most famous private house in America.


What is your title and how long have you worked at Fallingwater?

I am the horticulture specialist and I started in June of this year.

What is your formal training in horticulture and what was your career path to your current job?

My family owned a floral and greenhouse business so I was growing and propagating plants since I was very young. I also volunteered here for several years before coming on as staff.

How big is the grounds staff and how many people work for you?

Well, technically, it’s just me but we have an excellent maintenance department that helps with big projects, grass cutting, and leaf removal. In the summer months, 2 landscape architecture interns help as well.

How much land did Fallingwater sit on when the Kaufmanns owned it?

Approximately 1500 acres.

How much land does the Conservancy own now?

Over 5000 acres that surround Fallingwater and it is called Bear Run Nature Reserve.

What is your biggest horticultural/landscape challenge?

I think the biggest challenge is to make plantings look as if they occurred naturally, not contrived. When I started, I thought deer and animal browsing would be a problem but that has not been the case. I rely heavily on rainfall because some areas are very difficult to provide supplemental water.

On the other hand, some areas are constantly damp and swampy. Nevertheless, I love the fact that every area of the property has its unique set of challenges. There is never a dull moment.

What has been your biggest horticultural/landscape failure?

Check back with me next spring. I haven’t been here long enough to see what has been a success or failure.

Where does your job rank in the hierarchy of great landscape/horticulture jobs?

Well, I feel extremely fortunate to work in a place that I love and respect so much.

I am not sure where my job would rank with similar institutions. Working here is unique because, unlike a conservatory, arboretum, or formal public garden, the landscape is kept very naturalistic as it was when the house was built in the 1930s.

What is your busiest time of year?

As a museum, we are busiest in July, August and October. As for me, I am busy from April to November. In the winter months, I will be working on education presentations and planning for the spring.

What objectives drive your landscape decisions?

My main objective is for the landscape to look unaltered and naturalistic. I also make invasive weed removal a priority. Another objective is to plant with only native plants and trees.

Do you aim for period landscapes?  

Not exactly. There is a balance between what has been done historically and what is best to support biodiversity using native plants and trees.

Have you ever had any vandalism on the property?

A few litterbugs but overall, I think, our visitors are very respectful of the house and the surrounding land.

How many people a year visit Fallingwater?

Around 135,000.

The house itself is so famous. Do you feel the grounds play second fiddle?

Not at all. Wright chose this site because it is so naturally beautiful. I like to think the grounds enhance the visitor’s overall experience of Wright’s organic architecture.

What was the Kaufmanns’ favorite part of the grounds?

I found a quote from an interview that Frank Lloyd Wright did with Hugh Downs in 1954 and this sums it up quite nicely. 

“There in a beautiful forest was a solid, high rock ledge rising beside a waterfall, and the natural thing seemed to be to cantilever the house from that rock-bank over the falling water…Then, of course, Mr. Kaufmann’s love for the beautiful site. He loved the site where the house was built and liked to listen to the waterfall.

So that was the prime motive for the design. I think you can hear the waterfall when you look at the design.At least, it is there, and he lives intimately with the things he loves.”

Has there ever been a fire or flooding from Bear Run?

There have been several forest fires over the years but never close to the house. In August 1956, there was a major flood with no structural damage but a lot of clean up.

What is your favorite time of year at Fallingwater?

Probably when everything is emerging from the dormancy of winter in early spring. However, I enjoy watching the landscape change throughout the year and each season offers something new and different to appreciate.

Copyright 2007 DailyInterview.com

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