This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
This island of ours is being studded with gardens and dressed grounds, especially in the neighbourhood of our large towns and centres of commerce, with a rapidity which was never dreamt of thirty years ago. Mercantile men, who were then content to live in the upper stories of their shops and warehouses, are not now satisfied to be in "cities pent, "but have removed their domestic retreats into the country, and are there surrounding themselves with sources of recreation and enjoyment much more wholesome and invigorating than are possible in a purely town life. Next to their heart, after a comfortable villa or mansion, lies a garden to dress and enjoy - a desire the mostwise and legitimate, and that was recognised and provided for on man's advent to this world. To the great majority of such possessors of a country home, a very large feu or freehold would amount to nothing less than an undesirable encumbrance and expense; still we believe it to be a general and commendable desire that their few acres should be made to look as spacious and secluded as the art of the landscape-gardener can make them.
That a comparatively small area of ground can be so laid out as to make it appear much more extensive than it really is, and that a larger space is capable of apparent contraction, are effects or rather illusions amply illustrated in the class of properties to which we are now more especially alluding; and we do not know that this is any more applicable to suburban residences than to more pretentious country-seats.
The illusion of contractedness is well illustrated in those cases where the mansion is approached and surrounded by narrow strips of roads and walks, where intricate groups of small flower-beds are closely huddled together near to those narrow ways, where the evergreen shrubs are thickly disposed in ungainly and heavy clumps, intruding into the very centre of the grounds, - where, in short, the available space is frittered away and consumed, so that the effect produced is contraction and want of room to a degree that is most undesirable. In many cases this state of matters is brought about by the desire to crowd too many features on to a space to which they are not adapted, and where there is only room for a few good ones to be effective; and the result is, that the one next to entirely does away with the effect of the other. There is, for instance, no feature of a place more pleasing than a well-kept green lawn or terrace, but far too often this is a feature next to obliterated by the undue extent of flower-beds, shrubs, rockeries, etc, leaving no open space for repose, or to convey a feeling of room and extent.
A spacious walk is always an effective feature, and gives importance to even a very moderate-sized place; while a mere pathway, on which two can scarcely walk abreast, is often laid down instead. It is necessary, for the more minute enjoyment of any demesne, to have it more or less intersected with roads and walks; and there is scarcely another feature that contributes so much importance to grounds as broad and well-laid-down walks; and wherever the landscape-gardener judiciously breaks up his space with these, we consider that a very important part of his work is accomplished; and it is less likely that errors of detail should follow, than when the work is begun in an undecided and paltry manner.
We cannot refer to a more striking example of how a small space may be made to look large, secluded, and charming, by a master of landscape-gardening, than to the grounds of the Royal Botanic Society's gardens in the Regent Park, London. Here we have what was an almost dead level piece of ordinary nursery-ground, not 20 acres in extent, and circular in shape, when it fell into the hands of Mr Mar-nock, a gentleman who has displayed more originality and brains, and less conceit and ostentation, than any contemporary horticulturist. Any one going into these gardens now by the main entrance may fancy himself in a large secluded policy 50 miles from town; and yet it is not 20 acres in all, and is surrounded on every side by town and throng. Here it will be found that all artificial boundaries are carefully hidden by banks, trees, and shrubs. A magnificent broad walk is driven up through the very centre of the grounds to nearly the whole diameter, and has for a terminating object a large and most elegant conservatory. It might have been a mansion. A fine sweep of green lawn lies right and left of this noble walk, which lawn blends into and loses itself in diversified grounds on both sides.
On the right there is mount and lake and rock, on the left a variety of gardens, distinct, and yet thrown up on to such a varied undulating surface,- as conveys the idea of seclusion and extent far beyond what is the real area. In short, we have here one of the most difficult subjects transformed into one of the most charming and elegant retreats, and this too without extravagant expenditure. In grounds thus moderate in extent it may be laid down as a principle, that the first object should be to plant out all boundary-fences, to make a bold and open centre to the grounds, such as shall always convey the idea of ease and extent. All other desired adjuncts, in the shape of quiet walks and retreats, ferneries, rockeries, and vegetable grounds and hot-houses, should be located towards the boundaries of the ground. Modern flower-beds may of course find a place in the more open part of the grounds, but never to such an extent as shall counteract as a preponderating feature greensward and gravel-walks, but simply to be the jewellery of the grounds that shall not be much missed when they are laid aside. There cannot be worse taste than that which would nibble up all the breadth of lawn into beds.
Lacquer is one thing, but grace and elegance quite another and more important matter.
Passing from smaller to larger domains, to which reference has already been made, we are sorry to observe that the grounds which immediately surround some of the more modern and splendid mansions are being what we consider sadly marred. They are set down in the midst of extensive and magnificent grounds, where effects might be produced at much less expense, which would convey the impression to the mind of the most spacious unity. Instead of this, a small area of ground is enclosed round the mansion, in some cases with high retain-ing-walls, studded with ornaments unworthy of such positions. This cannot be regarded any more favourably than the most successful way of giving to the whole enclosure, mansion and all, the air of cramped isolation, and dislocates the mansion from the whole surrounding grounds and scenery, creating the impression, when viewed from a distance, that the enclosure might be a small freehold set down in the midst of grounds where the one had no more connection with the other than that of contiguity, looking very much like a stray mansion out in search of grounds in unity with its own spacious proportions.
How much more elegantly does the whole concern look when there is no boundary of a harsh and isolating character, but when the garden ground melts into the semi-kept, and the semi-kept into the wild and natural, so conveying the impression of expanse and unity of design!
Next in point of demerit to this barricading principle of landscape-gardening may be reckoned that which tortures a piece of ground, near to a large mansion in the midst of a large estate, with contracted and paltry geometric flower-beds that a child can step across, the whole being disagreeably loaded and crowded with paltry vases and statues that are scarcely worthy of a third-class villa. Under such circumstances the mansion looks like a lad that has outgrown his last suit. A few good and massive features in such a policy are surely worth scores of paltry ones, with which it is possible to fritter away all natural beauties instead of assisting them.