This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In the highlands of the Hudson, just above West Point, in the midst of the beautiful scenery which the genius of Irving has consecrated, thirty-eight years ago Mr. Henry Winthrop Sargent bought about twenty acres of forest land, and began the construction of a country seat which to-day is doubtless more widely and favorably known than any similar place in America. Wodenethe, he called it in the language of the Saxons: that is to say, 'sylvan promontory.' It has cost him a hundred thousand dollars already. I do not know how much more money it will yet absorb, but each year improvement follows improvement. ' I have been painting a picture,' he said, as we were strolling through the grounds, ' and the finishing touches are still to be given.' Students of landscape gardening know Mr. Sargent as the editor of Downing's great work on the subject, as a contributor to periodical literature, as an importer of rare trees and shrubs, and as a propagator and improver of the same. The author of Scott's 'Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds of Small Extent,' speaks of ' our neighbor and correspondent, Mr. Sargent of Wodenethe on the Hudson, who passed a couple of years abroad, curiously gleaning all clever foreign notions that were really worth naturalizing at home,' and adds that ' Sargent's hemlock,' a tree found growing wild by Mr. Sargent on Fishkill Mountain, and cultivated by him, ' bids fair to be one of the most curious and interesting additions to our stock of gardenesque evergreens - bearing the same relation to the common hemlock that the weeping beech does to the common beech.' Another writer describes him as ' famous among amateur horticulturists for introducing new evergreens from Europe, Asia, Oregon and California,' and notices his success in domesticating, where others have failed, the deodars and cedars of Lebanon, the silver foliage of the Pinus excelsa and the bold front of the Pinus ponderosa.
Next, indeed, to his services with the pen must be ranked his many and persevering importations from every quarter of the globe; unless one should choose to lay greatest stress upon the patriotic purpose which has multiplied and circulated these specimens for the adornment of other homes. Wodenethe is a paradise of exotics. Yet these do not constitute its chief attraction. It is pre-eminently a paradise of vistas. Art has so planted and disposed the trees on the borders of the twenty acres that the visitor might believe himself in the midst of an estate comprising hundreds of square miles. The spot was selected by Mr. Sargent for its natural advantages. In front of and partly around it rolls the lordly Hudson. Behind, are the Fishkill Mountains, one of them sixteen hundred feet high. At the left, across the gleaming stretch of river, tower the rounded heights of Cornwall and West Point in the fine blue of the rare old hills. At the right is a rolling surface cultivated to the base of distant headlands. Yet all around the place are villages, factories, shanties, highways. Only you do not see them.
The trees and shrubs that belt Wodenethe are placed so as to shut off such sights; and where there are openings in the boundary line of the estate the eye looks out upon charming vistas of river, valley, glade and mountain, that seem to be parts of one magnificent country seat. No gentleman in this country has succeded as Mr. Sargent has in peaceably sequestrating the property of his neighbors. Part of the work was done simply by the use of the axe. Trees have been cut down where the views beyond them were pleasing; they have been planted where the scenery in the distance was of a sort to be hid. The illusions created thereby are sometimes amusing. In one instance his artistic chopping brought within a hundred yards of his library window a part of the river that really is three-quarters of a mile off. Mr. William Cullen Bryant used to tell how one evening, when seated at that window, he saw a boy fishing in the Hudson from a spot close by on Mr. Sargent's lawn. He expressed his surprise that the river was so near. The place from which the lad had thrown his line was on the verge of a steep declivity, at the foot of which the water seemed to flow. Not until the poet had walked there the next morning did the false show vanish.
The young fisherman had planted himself temporarily to keep up appearances.
To name the varieties of trees on Mr. Sargent's estate would be of more interest to the botanist than to the general reader. I will not enumerate the Homeric list. It represents almost all the varieties ever acclimated in this country, and it is constantly receiving accessions. You remember the words of the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table : " I have a most intense, passionate fondness for trees, but if you expect me to hold forth in the scientific way about them, to talk for instance of the Ulmus Americana, and describe the ciliated edges of its samara, and all that, you are an anserine individual." The most beautiful of the specimens are not aboriginal. I do not know whether or not the owner has yet succeeded in naturalizing the Eucalyptus, which amateurs in England are so fond of, and so un-fortuuate with. But if the species has a chance in this climate you may be sure that it will be made to nourish at Wodenethe. Weeping birches, weeping beeches, weeping ashes, weeping larches, weeping elms and weeping willows are specialties there, and so are purple-leaved trees and shrubs, and the silver and golden tinted evergreens from Japan, while oaks, elms, chestnuts, maples and other stand-bys appear in choicest varieties. The magnificent palms constitute a show by themselves.
There is scarcely a mountain, a shore or a plain in Europe that has not contributed to Wodenethe the ' threaded foliage through which the western breezes sigh.' And there is not a hungry specimen on the place.
Velvet grass and umbrageous tree alike have been well trenched, and are, in consequence, well fed. I should not be surprised to learn that the roots of some of the common clover go down four feet into the soil. The late Mr. Downing said that he had seen clover roots as deep as that. It is trenching that does the business, and Mr. Sargent has lately done as much as any writer in this country to enforce the importance of depth of soil for trees and lawns. Of course there is no setting of trees in formal rows, no alternation of the willow and the rougher-rined pine around the house, no planting of flower-beds under the drippings of the monarchs that line the broad approach to the dwelling, none of the hundred discrepancies and offences that good taste prohibits. The place is a picture, and the painter is an artist, especially in his sense of symmetry and color, and in his effects of light and shade. ' Let in through all the trees come the strange rays.'