"Strength may wield the ponderous spade, May turn the clod and wheel the compost home; But elegance, chief grace the garden shows, And most attractive, is the fair result Of thought, the creature of a polished mind".
GROUND is undoubtedly the most unwieldy and ponderous material that comes under the care of the Landscape Gardener. It is not only difficult to remove, the operations of the leveller rarely extending below two or three feet of the surface; but the effect produced by a given quantity of labor expended upon it is generally much less than when the same has been bestowed in the formation of plantations, or the erection of buildings. The achievements of art upon ground appear so trifling, too, when we behold the apparent facility with which nature has arranged it in such a variety of forms, that the former sink into insignificance when compared with the latter.
For these reasons, the operations to be performed upon ground in this country, will generally be limited to the neighborhood of the house, or the scenery directly under the eye. Here, by judicious levelling and smoothing in some cases, or by raising gentle eminences with interposing hollows in others, much may be done at a moderate expense, to improve the beauty of the surrounding landscape.
Roads and walks are so directly connected with operations on the surface of the ground, and with the disposition of plantations, which we have already made familiar to the reader, that we shall introduce in this place a few remarks relative to their direction and formation.
The Approach is by far the most important of these routes. It is the private road, leading from the public highway directly to the house itself. It should therefore bear a proportionate breadth and size, and exhibit marks of good keeping, in accordance with the dignity of the mansion.
In the ancient style of gardening, the approach was so formed as to enter directly in front of the house, affording a full view of that portion of the edifice, and no other. A line drawn as directly as possible, and evenly bordered on each side with a tall avenue of trees, was the whole expenditure of art necessary in its formation. It is true, the simplicity of design was often more than counterbalanced by the difficulty of levelling, grading, and altering the surface, necessary to please the geometric eye; but the rules were as plain and unchangeable, as the lines were parallel and undeviating.
In the present more advanced state of Landscape Gardening, the formation of the approach has become equally a matter of artistical skill with other details of the art. The house is generally so approached, that the eye shall first meet it in an angular direction, displaying not only the beauty of the architectural facade but also one of the end elevations, thus giving a more complete idea of the size, character, or elegance of the building: and instead of leading in a direct line from the gate to the house, it curves in easy lines through certain portions of the park or lawn, until it reaches that object.
If the point where the approach is to start from the highway be not already determined past alteration, it should be so chosen as to afford a sufficient drive through the grounds before arriving at the house, to give the stranger some idea of the extent of the whole property: to allow an agreeable diversity of surface over which to lead it: and lastly in such a manner as not to interfere with the convenience of ready access to and from the mansion.
This point being decided, and the other being the mansion and adjacent buildings, it remains to lay out the road in such gradual curves as will appear easy and graceful, without verging into rapid turns or formal stiffness. Since the modern style has become partially known and adopted here, some persons appear to have supposed that nature "has a horror of straight lines," and consequently, believing that they could not possibly err, they immediately ran into the other extreme, filling their grounds with zig-zag and regularly serpentine roads, still more horrible: which can only be compared to the contortions of a wounded snake dragging its way slowly over the earth.
There are two guiding principles which have been laid down for the formation of approach roads. The first, that the curves should never be so great, or lead over surfaces so unequal, as to make it disagreeable to drive upon them; and the second, that the road should never curve without some reason, either real or apparent.
The most natural method of forming a winding approach where the ground is gently undulating, is to follow, in some degree, the depressions of surface, and to curve round the eminences. This is an excellent method, so long as it does not lead us in too circuitous a direction, nor, as we before hinted, make the road itself too uneven. When either of these happens, the easy, gradual flow of the curve in the proper direction, must be maintained by levelling or grading, to produce the proper surface.
Nothing can be more unmeaning than to see an approach, or any description of road, winding hither and thither, through an extensive level lawn, towards the house, without the least apparent reason for the curves. Happily, we are not, therefore, obliged to return to the straight line; but gradual curves may always be so arranged as to appear necessarily to wind round the groups of trees, which otherwise would stand in the way. Wherever a bend in the road is intended, a cluster or group of greater or less size and breadth proportionate to the curve, should be placed in the projection formed. These trees, as soon as they attain some size, if they are properly arranged, we may suppose to have originally stood there, and the road naturally to have curved, to avoid destroying them.