A taste for rural improvements of every description is advancing silently, but with great rapidity in this country. While yet in the far west the pioneer constructs his rude hut of logs for a dwelling, and sweeps away with his axe the lofty forest trees that encumber the ground, in the older portions of the Union, bordering the Atlantic, we are surrounded by all the luxuries and refinements that belong to an old and long cultivated country. Within the last ten years, especially, the evidences of the growing wealth and prosperity of our citizens have become apparent in the great increase of elegant cottage and villa residences on the banks of our noble rivers, along our rich valleys, and wherever nature seems to invite us by her rich and varied charms.
In all the expenditure of means in these improvements, amounting in the aggregate to an immense sum, professional talent is seldom employed in Architecture or Landscape Gardening, but almost every man fancies himself an amateur, and endeavors to plan and arrange his own residence. With but little practical knowledge, and few correct principles for his guidance, it is not surprising that we witness much incongruity and great waste of time and money. Even those who are familiar with foreign works on the subject in question labor under many obstacles in practice, which grow out of the difference in our soil and climate, or our social and political position.
These views have so often presented themselves to me of late, and have been so frequently urged by persons desiring advice, that I have ventured to prepare the present volume, in the hope of supplying, in some degree, the desideratum so milch felt at present. While we have treatises, in abundance, on the various departments of the arts and sciences, there has not appeared even a single essay on the elegant art of Landscape Gardening. Hundreds of individuals who wish to ornament their grounds and embellish their places, are at a loss how to proceed, from the want of some leading principles, with the knowledge of which they would find it comparatively easy to produce delightful and satisfactory results.
In the following pages I have attempted to trace out such principles, and to suggest practicable methods of embellishing our rural residences, on a scale commensurate to the views and means of our proprietors. While I have availed myself of the works of European authors, and especially those of Britain, where Landscape Gardening was first raised to the rank of a fine art, I have also endeavored to adapt my suggestions especially to this country and to the peculiar wants of its inhabitants.
As a people descended from the English stock, we inherit much of the ardent love of rural life and its pursuits which belongs to that nation; but our peculiar position, in a new world that required a population full of enterprise and energy to subdue and improve its vast territory, has, until lately, left but little time to cultivate a taste for rural embellishment. But in the older states, as wealth has accumulated, the country becomes populous, and society more fixed in its character, a return to those simple and fascinating enjoyments to be found in country life and rural pursuits is witnessed on every side. And to this innate feeling, out of which grows a strong attachment to natal soil, we must look for a counterpoise to the great tendency towards constant change, and the restless spirit of emigration, which form part of our national character; and which, though to a certain extent highly necessary to our national prosperity, are, on the other hand, opposed to social and domestic happiness. "In the midst of the continual movement which agitates a democratic community," says the most philosophical writer who has yet discussed our institutions, "the tie which unites one generation to another is relaxed or broken; every man readily loses the trace of the ideas of his forefathers, or takes no care about them".
The love of country is inseparably connected with the love of home. Whatever, therefore, leads man to assemble the comforts and elegancies of life around his habitation, tends to increase local attachments, and render domestic life more delightful; thus not only augmenting his own enjoyment, but strengthening his patriotism, and making him a better citizen. And there is no employment or recreation which affords the mind greater or more permanent satisfaction, than that of cultivating the earth and adorning our own property. "God Almighty first planted a garden; and, indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures," says Lord Bacon. And as the first man was shut out from the garden, in the cultivation of which no alloy was mixed with his happiness, the desire to return to it seems to be implanted by nature, more or less strongly, in every heart.
In Landscape Gardening the country gentleman of leisure finds a resource of the most agreeable nature. While there is no more rational pleasure than that derived from its practice by him, who "Plucks life's roses in his quiet fields," the enjoyment drawn from it (unlike many other amusements) is unembittered by the after recollection of pain or injury inflicted on others, or the loss of moral rectitude. In rendering his home more beautiful, he not only contributes to the happiness of his own family, but improves the taste, and adds loveliness to the country at large. There is, perhaps, something exclusive in the taste for some of the fine arts. A collection of pictures, for example, is comparatively shut up from the world, in the private gallery. But the sylvan and floral collections, - the groves and gardens, which surround the country residence of the man of taste, - are confined by no barriers narrower than the blue heaven above and around them. The taste and the treasures, gradually, but certainly, creep beyond the nominal boundaries of the estate, and re-appear in the pot of flowers in the window, or the luxuriant, blossoming vines which clamber over the porch of the humblest cottage by the way side.
In the present volume I have sought, by rendering familiar to the reader most of the beautiful sylvan materials of the art, and by describing their peculiar effects in Landscape Gardening, to encourage a taste among general readers. And I have also endeavored to place before the amateur such directions and guiding principles as, it is hoped, will assist him materially in laying out his grounds and arranging the general scenery of his residence.
The lively interest of late manifested in Rural Architecture, and its close connection with Landscape Gardening, have induced me to devote a portion of this work to the consideration of buildings in rural scenery.
I take pleasure in acknowledging my obligations and returning thanks to my valued correspondent, J. C. Loudon, Esq., F. L. S., etc., of London, the most distinguished gardening author of the age, for the illustrations and description of the English Suburban Cottage in the Appendix; to the several gentlemen in this country who have kindly furnished me with plans or drawings of their residences; and to A. J. Davis, Esq., of New York, and J. Notman, Esq., of Philadelphia, architects, for architectural drawings and descriptions.