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.
THERE are many opportunities for using tender and subtropical plants where the cost is of little consequence, that is, for the decoration of public grounds. Many persons thinking that trees only are suitable for public places, as they give shade, and are too high to be injured by carelessness or mischief, they would use few shrubs with the trees, and only those that are perfectly hardy. They would plant their trees and shrubs in a very formal way, preferring rows or lines to any groups or irregular combinations. They think that public grounds ought only to be used for play grounds for children, parades for firemen and soldiers, and for promenade. They would permit a music stand, or a fountain, but would prefer to have everything as simple and as little decorated as possible. They believe in this kind of treatment, because they fear that the spirit of mischief will induce the public to break or steal flowering plants, and that the cost of watching, or replacing injured shrubs or flowers, and the vexation that must follow their injury, more than offsets any pleasure they can give. The most of those who reason in this way, do not understand the beauty of variety and irregularity.
They are sufficiently cultivated to appreciate neatness, order, and geometrical harmony, and, perhaps, the beauty of contrast, but they do not feel the pleasure which comes from contrasts, and the harmonies which are the result of combining and contrasting trees, shrubs, and flowers, and they cannot be induced to consent to a trial of any methods of laying out, and planting grounds, different from those they have always seen.
Other persons, again, who enjoy thoroughly all the beauty, variety, and pictur-esqueness of any kind of landscape, and who would conseut to any irregularity or massing of plantation, which would give a good effect, are very much opposed to the introduction of flowers, or any of the subtropical plants into public grounds, whether small or large, on general principles. There is a story told of a wealthy parvenu of Boston, who had a poor brother. The rich man gave a party to his peers in wealth, and when one of them asked him during the evening for his brother, and expressed his surprise at not seeing him, the host answered: "Ah, yes, he is not here. I didn't invite him; you know we must draw a line somewhere."
Those who would prevent grouping of trees and shrubs draw their line of ornamental vegetable decoration at perennials and tender plants. They admit that the fears of their conservatories are misplaced, that there is no danger that the public will injure or steal anything, but lest the space may be crowded, the ball and parade grounds be circumscribed, or a larger gardening and police force be necessary, they wonld omit in public places, all but trees and hardy shrubs, and introduce the latter sparingly. I disagree with them entirely. Publio grounds are for the public, and they should appeal to all sides of the mind, and offer opportunities for amusement to those who love flowers, and are too poor, or busy to cultivate them, as much as to boys, firemen, soldiers, and promenaders. If a village or city can afford but one public common, or square, and that too small for anything but a ball or parade ground, I think it should have the preference, and not risk the beauty of flowers with soldiers and cricket balls. Bat any city or town which has but one such piece of ground ought, as soon as possible, have another, either large enough for all the purposes for which such grounds are useful, specially devoted to floriculture.
Some thoughtful persons believe that the* French example has injured even the English practice. Paris, re-made, is full of squares and small parks, which are devoted very much more to floral and shrubby display than to the other public uses, and boys and girls can demurely trundle their hoops, or play at marbles, and well-dressed men and women may stroll leisurely about. In such grounds the boisterous games of children are impossible, and there is no good place for parades of troops, firemen, and other public bodies who are driven into the streets or suburbs. Some of the great English parks in London, where, for years, oaks, beeches and elms have stood on wide lawns, dotted over beautiful meadows, or shading pretty streams and sheets of water, have been affected by the French example, are said to have given too much of their open lawns and meadows to subtropical plants, which require a host of gardeners and a corresponding cost, without a proportionate return in beauty or pleasure. If this is true, it is a pity; but we need not follow a bad example.
Let us take as an illustration a square of four or six acres like so many of the squares in Philadelphia, now laid out with a circle round a central flag staff; walks radiating from the center to each corner, or else to the middle of the sides; the radiating paths connected at their extremities, within a few feet of the fence by a broad walk, which is parallel to the boundary all the way round. The sides of all these paths, planted with trees, whether good or bad varieties, is no matter, all is made rectangular, formal, uninteresting, dreary, in summer very shady, almost damp, cheerless in winter, totally devoid of any kind of variety, unless a chance snow or ice storm loads the branches with fleecy beauty for a few hours. This is, in a general way, a description of all the public grounds in America - I mean the small city and town areas. If the space under the trees, and between the walks is wide enough; if the city gardener will permit his perquisite of grass to be trodden down, boys may play on the turf, or troops parade there, but there is no more freedom in such squares than in a school-room. In such a place, shrubs and flowers would be a nuisance, and, indeed, could not live if planted, but the system is entirely wrong.
Supposing such a square to be laid out, with strict regard for all public uses, a large unshaded area by itself for a play and parade ground, several smaller spaces for lawns, the trees gathered in the corners into groups, that with shrubs may partly conceal the play grounds, and fringe the lawn, and fill the bends in the paths. In the quieter parts of the square, there might be groups of subtropical or foliage plants, which should come in between the shrubs and the lawn and flower beds. Laid out in this way, all the economical and social necessities of the square would be met, and every one find there the pleasure best suited to his tastes. We need not discuss the advantage or pleasures of flower culture, nor dwell on the humanizing effect on man in all social condition of floral or other beauty; it is admitted, and the only question is: can the pleasure of flowers and decorative plants be enjoyed by the public economically and safely? The safety from plunder and destruction is assured by the experience of European cities, and of New York and Boston. The Central Park has no particular floral treatment, but there are blossoming shrubs in profusion; and the Boston Public Garden is full of flowers, and no one has been found doing any serious damages as yet, nor will they in the future, if the public is taught to understand that whoever robs or injures the plants and shrubs, is actually doing a greater harm to himself than to any one else.
The argument of fair play is more likely to affect a promiscuous crowd than any force. There are always some sneak thieves who will despoil anything, if they can thereby fill their own pockets; but the sneaks are few, and can be soon detected and punished, and every honest person is a policeman who will be eager to preserve public property, just in proportion to its beauty.
The introduction of flowering tender plants into public grounds, will certainly make greenhouses for the winter preservation important, but the cost of greenhouses can well be borne, if we thus secure in every town a place where the winter beauty of plants can be seen and enjoyed, and thus give the people an additional means of enjoyment.