This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
The right line style of landscape gardening has now almost, by common consent, become obsolete - it is looked upon as one of the memories of the past. Still it has been no easy matter to yield up our prejudices in its favor; grand and attractive as a display so entirely artificial may be, it sinks to a lower grade when compared with the beauties of the natural style. It is evident to all who have a knowledge of true art, that there is no higher scale of beauty known than that indicated by the teachings of nature. All forms of the imagination must yield to the exquisite beauty of natural forms, and the highest conceptions of angelic form and beauty must be content by adding wings to a beautiful woman.
The right line in the formation of terraces seems to be a lingering reminiscence of the old school, and one that does not meet with much disfavor among the practitioners of the new. We propose, however, to advance some suggestions which, to our notions, render the use of terraces in landscape adornment not only applicable, but thoroughly in keeping with the admitted excellences of the natural style.
Perhaps there is no better school for the study of natural terracing than in the alluvial bottoms or valleys of western rivers. Although on a grand scale, the hint is sufficient for one who has an eye for landscape beauty. The different stages of rapid running water following the graceful meandering lines of its direction, has worked out, in the course of ages, a series of natural terraces, the outline of which is a continued succession of graceful curves, bold projections, and beautiful indentations; the surface of each terrace is a water level from front to rear, and descending in its length with the descent of the stream, say one to two feet per mile. These prairie bottoms and terraces are handsomely grassed during the summer months, and the illustration in its natural state is as perfect as if they were constructed from a plan. Now, as a matter of taste, compare the level grade and curved outlines of a natural terrace (which we say should be adopted in the natural style of landscape gardening) with the bold, artificial straight-line system that is every where in use.
Will the broad sunlight on one compare with the exquisite light and shade that are forever changing in the other? and will the single view that takes in all the artificial terrace be equivalent to the unwearying variety that the natural terrace affords? Does not the natural terrace give greater facilities for a display of taste? Will not lawn, or flowers, or ornamental trees find a chance to produce new beauties in general effect? and will the staring plainness of the one compensate for the inviting charms of the other? We are open to conviction.
Again, as a matter of construction. The history of terrace building all up and down the Hudson is a history of failures; the labor and expenditures of weeks have slipped away in a single night - the long, straight line of earth yields all at once. That principle which in architecture introduces buttresses in walls sustaining a thrust, does not enter the head of a terrace builder; he, half-fledged and unsophisticated, has not the shadow of an idea whether his terrace will stand one night, one year, or be always permanent; it is not a matter of fact with him so much as a matter of hope - a sort of a gambling experiment, and his neighbors' failures show that the chances are against him.
Now we do not pretend to say that it is impossible to build a permanent straight-line artificial terrace any where, because in the hands of an educated civil engineer nothing is impossible; and a landscape gardener who is not well read up in all the details of civil engineering, has got the biggest half of his profession yet to learn. We state that, in the construction of terraces, the natural terrace affords a more tasteful use of the principles of construction, and a better opportunity to conceal the art that reproduces the designs of nature; the winding outline broadens the base, the salient points are the buttresses, and the thrust or pressure of the earth, instead of being down the slope, is toward nearly every point of the compass; and should a sudden flood weaken any point, there are such different conditions of security that none other would follow it.
In the formation of terraces in ground liable to slip, we recommend strongly, from a long practical experience, the use of fascines or brushwood, to be put on in alternate layers with earth; by crossing and lapping the end of the brush, this network may be extended indefinitely. The enormous strength of wood, pulled in the direction of its fibre, is not thoroughly understood. Practical experiments show it to be one fifth the strength of wrought iron; those who have endeavored to pull up strong roots have some idea of it. The durability of wood below the surface of the earth, where it is not exposed to the action of the atmosphere, has scarcely any limit, and for all practical purposes may be considered permanent. A judicious and intelligent use of brushwood in any class of earth work having steep slopes will be as effectual as if the whole were interlaced with roots.
We do not mean to convey the idea that a natural terrace is a series of scollops, or that there is any repetition in its forms; on the contrary, variety must control the design - nature does not repeat herself. It does not follow that each successive terrace should copy the same form above it, for there is no arbitrary rule or supposition in any matters of taste. Terraces about the house, or as used in connecting the house with the grounds, should be of an artificial or architectural character, being sometimes used as a medium to break any abruptness in passing from natural scenery, in which art is concealed, to a form of construction in which art must be apparent.
[On the score of beauty there can be no doubt that Mr. Woodward is right. The subject deserves to be well considered. - Ed].