Except in these two instances, islands should be generally placed opposite the salient points of the banks, or near those places where small breaks or promontories run out into the water. In such situations, they will increase the irregularity of the outline, and lend it additional spirit and animation. Should, they, on the other hand, be seated in or near the marginal curve and indentations, they will only serve to clog up these recesses; and while their own figures are lost in these little bays where they are hidden, by lessening the already existing irregularities, they will render the whole outline tame and spiritless.*
On one or two of these small islands, little rustic habitations, if it coincide with the taste of the proprietor, may be made for different aquatic birds or waterfowl, which will much enliven the scene by their fine plumage. Among these the swan is pre-eminent, for its beauty and gracefulness. Abroad, they are the almost constant accompaniments of water in the ground of country residences; and it cannot be denied that, floating about in the limpid wave, with their snow-white plumage and superbly curved necks, they are extremely elegant objects.
After having arranged the banks, reared up the islands, and completely formed the bed of the proposed lake, the improver will next proceed, at the proper period, to finish his labors by clothing the newly formed ground, in various parts, with vegetation. This may be done immediately, if it be desirable; or if the season be not favorable, it may be deferred until the banks, and all the newly formed earth, have had time to settle and assume their final forms, after the dam has been closed, and the whole basin filled to its intended height.
* If one will consider for a moment the geologic forces by which islands are naturally formed, he will see that the suggestions given by Mr. Downing conform to the works of nature, and that they therefore assist toward a realization of the natural style. - F. A. W.
Planting the margins of pieces of water, if they should be of much extent, must evidently proceed upon the same leading principle that we have already laid down for ornamental plantations in other situations. That is, there must be trees of different heights and sizes, and underwood and shrubs of lower growth, disposed sometimes singly, at others in masses, groups, and thickets: in all of which forms, connection must be preserved, and the whole must be made to blend well together, while the different sizes and contours will prevent any sameness and confusion. On the retreating dry banks, the taller and more sturdy deciduous and evergreen trees, as the oak, ash, etc., may be planted, and nearer by, the different willows, the elm, the alder, and other trees that love a moister situation, will thrive well. It is indispensably necessary, in order to produce breadth of effect and strong rich contrasts, that underwood * should be employed to clothe many parts of the banks. Without it, the stems of trees will appear loose and straggling, and the screen will be so imperfect as to allow a free passage for the vision in every direction.
For this purpose, we have in all our woods, swamps, and along our brooks, an abundance of hazels, hawthorns, alders, spice woods, winter berries, azaleas, spireas, and a hundred other fine low shrubs, growing wild, which are by nature extremely well fitted for such sites, and will produce immediate effect on being transplanted. These may be intermingled, here and there, with the swamp button-bush which bears handsome white globular heads of blossoms, and the swamp magnolia, which is highly beautiful and fragrant. On cool north banks, among shelves of proper soil upheld by projecting ledges of rock, our native kalmias and rhododendrons, the common and mountain laurels, may be made to flourish. The Virginia creeper, and other beautiful wild vines, may be planted at the roots of some of the trees to clamber up their stems, and the wild clematis so placed that its luxuriant festoons shall hang gracefully from the projecting boughs of some of the overarching trees. Along the lower banks and closer margins, the growth of smaller plants will be encouraged, and various kinds of wild ferns may be so planted as partially to conceal, overrun, and hide the rocks and stumps of trees, while trailing plants, as the periwinkle and moneywort, will still further increase the intricacy and richness of such portions.
In this way, the borders of the lake will resemble the finest portions of the banks of picturesque and beautiful natural dells and pieces of water, and the effect of the whole when time has given it the benefit of its softening touches, if it has been thus properly executed, will not be much inferior to those matchless bits of fine landscape. A more striking and artistical effect will be produced by substituting for native trees and shrubs, common on the banks of streams and lakes in the country, only rare foreign shrubs, vines, and aquatic plants of hardy growth, suitable for such situations.* While these are arranged in the same manner as the former, from their comparative novelty, especially in such sites, they will at once convey the idea of refined and elegant art. If any person will take the trouble to compare a piece of water so formed, when complete, with the square or circular sheets or ponds now in vogue among us, he must indeed be little gifted with an appreciation of the beautiful, if he do not at once perceive the surpassing merit of the natural style.
In the old method, the banks, level, or rising on all sides, without any or but few surrounding trees, carefully gravelled along the edge of the water, or what is still worse, walled up, slope away in a tame, dull, uninteresting grass field. In the natural method, the outline is varied, sometimes receding from the eye, at others stealing out, and inviting the gaze - the banks here slope off gently with a gravelly beach, and there rise abruptly in different heights, abounding with hollows, projections, and eminences, showing various colored rocks and soils, intermingled with a luxuriant vegetation of all sizes and forms, corresponding to the different situations. Instead of allowing the sun to pour down in one blaze of light, without any objects to soften it with their shade, the thick overhanging groups and masses of trees cast, here and there, deep cool shadows. Stealing through the leaves and branches, the sun-beams quiver and play upon the surface of the flood, and are reflected back in dancing light, while their full glow upon the broader and more open portions of the lake is relieved, and brought into harmony by the cooler and softer tints mirrored in the water from the surrounding hues and tints of banks, rocks, and vegetation.
* In modern American vernacular the old English term "underwood" would usually be translated "shrubs." - F. A. W.
* This preference for rare exotics frequently evinced by Mr. Downing was highly characteristic of him, his time and his disciples. It is a curious fact that within 50 years his lineal descendants in the landscape gardening cult should have excommunicated all foreign species and required every plant to bring a certificate of American origin. But this is only one of the interesting deviations in the popular theory of the natural style, showing that the idea has always been more or less conventionalized. - F. A. W.