This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V18", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
From time to time, during the last one or two years, allusions have been made in the horticultural magazines to the employment of civil engineers in the laying out of our public parka and other ornamental grounds. It has been claimed that this work should be done by gardeners, and by gardeners only.
Now I have not the least doubt that a good gardener, because he is a good gardener, is better qualified to plant a tree and make it grow, than a civil engineer, because he is a civil engineer; neither would I hesitate for one moment to aver that a clever gardener is also better qualified to make a good lawn, arrange a parterre of flowers, prune trees and shrubs - some engineers whom I know would make sad work of this - and to do a hundred things among the almost numberless operations which a landscape gardener is called upon to perform.
But on the other hand are there not some things for the engineer to do ? Some things which he, from the very nature of his training, is better fitted to perform than any gardener as a gardener can possibly be? Does the education and training of a gardener - I am speaking? now of good gardeners - better prepare him to locate and construct a drive, form a terrace, build a wall, arrange a system of drainage, than a well educated and experienced engineer ? Why, my dear Mr. Editor, I have known a gardener, than whom there was none superior in his line of work, to try persistently to make water run up hill, at the expense of both the money and patience of his employer. I have known others to utter wise prophecies - wise in their own eyes - concerning the alleged instability of certain work done under the supervising care of a competent engineer ; work which stands to-day, after a good many years of trial, proving how very unwise those prophecies were. As I write, I have in mind a place not many miles away, which was possessed of great capabilities, and which might have been made one of the most beautiful seats this side of England; but which, if not utterly spoiled, was at least shorn of a large share of its natural beauty, and its great capabilities were frittered away by the "lay out" of one who was thoroughly competent in all the work of a gardener, from the management of the orchid house, down to the operations of the potato patch.
And again, I have known men who were thoroughly conversant, both in theory and practice, with all the abstruse problems of railroad building, who were never so happy as when an obstinate skew arch called for their best powers, who were competent to plan and build the East River Bridge, and they would have built it too, before this, if they could have had their way about it; but who were no more fitted to design a plan of ornamental grounds than - well, than some of the gardeners I have known. And to their credit be it said, none knew this as well as they did.
Hence, I claim that it does not follow that because a man is a clever gardener he must of necessity be a competent Landscape Gardener, any more than because he is a skillful civil engineer. Sometimes, in my journeyings, I have had the suspicion thrust upon me by the wording of signs, and cards, and circulars, that some of these men, of both classes, perhaps, in their honest and laudable ambition to become landscape gardeners, were actually ashamed of the term gardener. They had themselves printed and called landscape architects, landscape engineers, rural architects, artists in grounds, etc., etc.; anything but landscape gardeners.
And here, by way of parenthesis. Let us stick to that good old name, landscape gardener, worn and honored and elevated by Repton, Loudon, Kemp, Downing, Daniels, Bauman, Copeland, and some living men who are not ashamed of it. But to return. Suppose we combine the two professions. Putting aside all jealousies, suppose we try the experiment of training, for the future adornment of our common country, a race of men who shall be both well educated, and well trained gardeners and engineers ; to say nothing now of other more artistic qualifications. Is there anything inconsistent in this idea? Cannot one man be both ? It seems as thoughtless to say " No " to these queries as it would be to assert that an architect is not a skillful architect, because he knows all about carpentry, and painting, and stone cutting, and plastering, and masonry; or, to insist that, because a merchant is well versed in the law of contracts, therefore, he cannot be a prosperous merchant. One of the most successful clergymen I ever knew was educated as a lawyer, and he used to say that what little success he might have had in the management of the affairs of his parish, and his friends know that it was anything but little, was due, in a large measure, to his legal training.
Of course it is not practicable that all clergymen should first be bred as lawyers; and yet, if it were so, perhaps it would be no detriment; The thought I would emphasize by these illustrations is this : A landscape gardener cannot be too well educated. There is no danger of his knowing too much. Let him be chemist, botanist, farmer, gardener architect, engineer, artist, it will not impair his usefulness. He will have need of all he knows, and with it all, he will find himself wanting; or if he does not, others will.
Landscape gardening with us Americans is in its infancy. It is where architecture was twenty or thirty years ago. Not only the artist, but those who employ him, ought to be educated up to a: higher level. The relation of lawyer to client, physician to patient, clergyman to parishioner is well understood and obeyed. The engineer and | the architect have their recognized place, and even the land-surveyor, whose processes and methods can be learned in a year, can assert his right to control his work, and be heeded; but the position of the landscape gardener is wherever the caprice or whim of the hour may place him. His employers often have their own notions about the laying out of grounds, and it is right that they should have them, as they would have of what is lawful, or healthful, or righteous; and the wise landscape gardener will note and incorporate them into his own designs whenever he can do so in justice to his client and himself. But, "shall I not do what I will with mine own," is too often the exponent of the treatment both he and his work is destined to receive. All who have ever practiced the profession have suffered in this way.
Repton wrote, "Of many hundred plans, digested with care, thought, and attention, few were ever so carried into execution, that I could be pleased with my own works." Loudon complains of the nurseryman and jobbing gardener pretending to improve the plan of the landscape gardener, "and having, by dint of perseverance and talking got the ear of his employer, the latter is prevailed on, for quiet's sake, to yield to the proposed alterations, and to admit trees and shrubs in such quantities as, in some cases, entirely to destroy the effect which the landscape gardener intended to produce."
But this opens too wide a field for the close of an article. Suffice it now to say, that the only way through the consequent embarrassments and discouragements, which at times weigh so heavily upon those men who have dedicated their lives to the work of adorning the homes of our beautiful land, seems to be such thorough education and training, as shall enable them to command such respect and confidence from those who would avail themselves of their professional aid, as will secure to their advice and plans that deference which is now paid to the opinions of men who are in what are called the "learned professions." This process must, of necessity, be slow. "Taste, as it is called, is so universal that every one sets up as a connoisseur." In England this confidence is better established, but it has taken nearly a hundred years to secure it. Let us hope that our next Centennial will find that our calling has taken its place where it belongs, among those "learned professions."
[We commend this excellent article to the attention of our readers. After all, the same trouble occurs in all professions; there are plenty of architects, lawyers, doctors, and what not that are mere botches in their professions,- and yet "get along" very often better than the most deserving. In our profession the only remedy is to educate people as to what good gardening is, - and then educate landscape gardeners to supply the cultivated taste. Even then the educated and talented landscape gardener must have business tact to make his abilities known, and able to " keep that knowledge before the people." - Ed. G. M.]