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 present is a time of agricultural improvement and progress without a parallel in this country. Improved implements, improved stock, better cultivation, better fences and buildings, meet us everywhere in the country; and farmers are growing "rich," in the common acceptation of that term. We rejoice at this, and so must every man who feels a lively interest in our national welfare, because agriculture is our main stay. If it fails to prosper, we can have no prosperity. It is the produce of our farms - the fruits of farm industry - that animate trade and commerce, that build up cities and villages, construct railroads and canals, and cover our lakes and rivers and the broad seas with fleets of vessels. What a calamity - what an uni-versal panic and prostration of business would the failure of even one crop over the whole country bring upon us!
Agricultural progress and prosperity, then, are subjects that no man*, whatever may be his calling, can regard with indifference; and the agricultural classes themselves, as a body, by their intelligence, industry, energy, and manly indepdence, command universal admiration and respect. These are our honest sentiments - not the fulsome flattery of a stump speech or holiday oration. Our sympathies are, and ever have been, and will be, with the tillers of the soil. Our own life, so far, has been spent in the country, and we have earned our bread by the cultivation of the soil. We can speak of both its toils and pleasures from actual experience. We know that some regard it as a vulgar and plodding pursuit, fit only for strong, rough, and uneducated men; but the number of those who think so is diminishing rapidly. Men of taste and intelligence are now ambitious of being agriculturists; and schools and colleges for training the sons of farmers are beginning to attract attention, and will soon work a change in public sentiment in regard to the respectability and importance of the agricultural profession.
This brings us to the point on which we proposed to make a few suggestions, when we took up our pen. We wish to see the farmer's home - the farmer's life - made more attractive. Hitherto, as a general thing, the improvements which have been made are of the useful kind, having reference mainly to the supply of man's physical wants. Most of our farms must be regarded as mere manufactories of food and clothing-; very little has been done to gratify the intellect, taste, or feelings - the higher and nobler attributes of our nature. And this is one reason, beyond a doubt, why many young persons who have, by means of education, reading, and society, acquired a certain degree of refinement, become dissatisfied with agricultural life, and have sought the city. Intelligent, educated men, can not surely remain satisfied with being mere growers of grain and breeders of stock, - they must love their home; and to merit their love and attachment, that home must possess something of beauty, for the love of the beautiful is an instinct of man's nature. A large portion of the population is not enough to overcome the novelty of a new one. We see the population diminishing in the very heart of the finest agricultural district in America, where nothing is so much needed as human beings.
It is at certain seasons impossible to procure laborers enough to do the work. This state of things is unfavorable to the perfect development of the country's resources, and equally unfavorable to the attainment of a higher and happier social condition.
It is not unreasonable, we trust, to expect, and even to urge, some reform on this point. Make home attractive; - cultivate the taste, and feelings, and affections, as well as you do your fields. Why should a wealthy farmer, with his 50, 100, or 200 or 300 acres of land, content himself with a rod or two of a door-yard, and a dozen of shade trees, shaped and managed after the precise fashion of a village plot ? Why can he not, just as well, have a park and pleasure-ground of several acres around his house, broad glades of lawn, and groups of trees, separated from the cultivated portions of the farm by green hedges? This, with a well-stocked orchard and good ample kitchen-garden, would come up to our ideas of a country home; and it would be impossible for children to grow up in such a home without becoming attached to it, and having their tastes expanded, their feelings refined, or without appreciating the comforts and blessings of a country life. A rod or two of a door-yard for a farm-house! - what a mockery! There is something incongruous in the very look of it that can not fail to strike every observing person; it wants what the lamented Downing called "local truth" in architecture, which he explains in this way:
"Local truth in architecture is one which can never be neglected without greatly injuring the effect of country houses. And yet, such is the influence of fashion and false taste, and so little do the majority of citizens trouble themselves to think on this subject, that nothing is more common in some parts of the country than to see the cockneyism of three-story town houses violating the beauty and simplicity of country life. In our own neighborhood there is a brick house standing in the midst of gardens and orchard, which has a front and rear pierced with windows, but only blank wall at the sides; looking, in fact, precisely as if lifted out of a three-story row in a well-packed city street, and suddenly dropped in the midst of a green field in the country, full of wonder and contempt, like a true cockney, at the strangeness and dullness of all around it. During a drive on Long Island, last autumn, we saw with pain and mortification, the suburban villa of a wealthy citizen, a narrow, unmistakable 'six-story brick,' which seemed, in its forlornness and utter want of harmony with all about it, as if it had strayed out of town, in a fit of insanity, and had lost the power of getting back again.
"To give an expression of local truth to a country house, it should always show a tendency to spread out and extend itself on the ground, rather than to run up in the air. There is space enough in the country; and because a citizen has lived in town, where land is sold by the square foot, and where, in consequence, he has to mount four pair of stairs daily, it is surely no reason why he should compel himself to do the same thing in the country. Indeed, economy in the first cost of a house (that is to say, the lessened expense of building two stories under the same roof and over the same foundation) is the principal reason why most country houses are not still more ample, extended, and rambling on the surface, than they usually are".
The same principle holds true in regard to the arrangement of grounds about country houses. "The cockneyism of three-story town houses" is no more out of place in the country, than is the village door-yard before a farm-house.
But some careful farmer will ask us, "How can we afford to lay out parks and pleasure-grounds, and keep them in fine condition? It would cost us more than the whole labor of our farms. Only think of what an expenditure, of money and labor this hedging, and planting, and mowing this pleasure-ground would, involve. It would be all very well if we could afford it; but that we can not, and we must leave it to retired gentlemen who have made their fortunes in town, and come out into the country to spend them".
But we reply, You can carry out our plan without incurring a heavy expense. Hundreds of farmers in our own county of Monroe can make such a park as we propose, without feeling the cost Fence off, with Osage Orange or Buckthorn, at a cost of about twenty to twenty-five cents a rod, five to*ten acres of land immediately around your dwelling. Seed it down, and it will produce good crops of hay. You can get plenty of young Maples, Elms, Tulip trees, Basswoods, Ash, and other native trees, in the woods, which can be taken up and planted at leisure intervals in the fall, when farm labor is over, and early in spring, before it commences, and even during winter, in mild weather. Until the trees are well-established, it will be necessary to cultivate the soil around them. It will not be necessary to cover the whole ground with trees, but merely to scatter them here and there in groups, and singly, to give it a park-like character which will distinguish it at once from the cultivated fields. A little can be done now, and a little again, as leisure affords; and in a few years the work will show. Meantime the land is cropped profitably; for hay is always a paying crop, and an indispensable one. The ground nearest the house may be planted with some rarer trees - a portion of them evergreens.
A small portion of the ground near the house might be separated from the main body of the park by a wire fence, or moveable hurdle fence, and kept mowed; and if embellished with a few flowering shrubs, and a few beds of flowers, all the better. But these, for economy's, sake, can very well be dispensed with. When the planting is finished, and the trees fairly established, the park might be pastured with sheep, as many parks are in Europe; and thus it would always have a closely cut surface without the expense of mowing, and the sheep would be an interesting feature in its scenery. When forest trees are not within reach, we would recommend the raising of them from seed, or small plants can be purchased at the nurseries for $2 or $3 per 100, which, with a couple of years' growth in nursery rows, will be fit for final planting out. Only go about it, and the means will not be wanting.
Those who wish to have a plan sketched out for their guidance, can procure it at a trifling expense, from Messrs. Meehan & Saunders, Messrs. Copeland & Cleveland, Mr. Munn, Mr. Leuchars, Mr. Hepp, Mr. Graef, Mr. Cook, and several other gentlemen who devote themselves to the practice of landscape gardening, and whose cards will be found in our advertising pages. We wish some of these gentlemen would country; it must not remain, as now, confined to the precincts of cities and villages. But we must offer to country people practicable and inexpensive plans. We wish our agricultural societies would recognize the importance of the subject, and encourage some efforts by offering prizes. Their main object is to elevate the farming pursuit, and we know of no other way, at present, in which it can be done more effectually, in the older States, than by creating and fostering a taste for the embellishment of the homestead.