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.
I wish to offer a few words upon the immediate surroundings of this class of old farm-houses. Let it be borne in mind, that these remarks are not intend- ed to refer to the laying out of new places - though, of course, they are in a measure applicable to all - but wholly to a residence which has been long established, and one where numerous defects have accumulated in the course of years. A few of these can be abolished, some partially remedied, but some must remain.
It is impossible to make a picture which will embody the features of all; but there is so much uniformity in many respects among this class of buildings, that one may be pictured which will give the principle characteristics of the largest share of them. The house, with a front door into a hall between two rooms, stands within a very short distance from the highway. The barns, if not standing in front across the way, are upon one side at a little distance; and the vegetable garden is close upon the other side. There is thus a small narrow strip of yard against one or two sides of the house, adjoining the prin- cipal rooms. And what a scene does this little yard present! O, you earnest, denouncing, pathetic pleader for the setting out of trees; you who write several stirring articles in every number of the various agricultural and horticultural journals, which periodically reach the table of that tender-minded farmer! His naturally sensitive conscience has become diseased and morbid; so has your preaching upon this subject wrought upon him.
So constantly has he been dealt with, in season and out of season, to set out trees, that he has come to fear that he will be thought a savage and an outlaw, worthy of no consideration from his fellow-men; and he thus devotes considerable time annually to the placing of trees around his house. Where are they set out 1 Not in the garden, for good reasons. Vegetables would not grow in such a shade; but the farmer has failed to learn that human beings will not be healthy under the circumstances. The out-buildings occupy the ground on every other side; so all the trees are transplanted into that narrow strip of yard. How long would it take to fill that little space with all the trees that it should hold? And yet this man yearly devotes a season to the work there! The result is far from gratifying. The trees are so crowded and jammed together, that all sunshine, to say nothing of a reasonable share of reflected light, is excluded from the interior of the house. The yard is a damp, mouldy, unwholesome, unsightly place.
There is no turf, for it is impossible for grass to grow in such a place.
In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, in the country, the advice should be to use the axe instead of the spade, to improve a place. Cut down nine- tenths of the tree and shrub growths, and admit the sunshine to the house through broad open- ings. Let the turf - the sweet and green grass, thick and fresh, sweep clean up to the foundation stones, A Utile shrubbery should be admitted, and a few vines to clamber over the house; but nothing in sufficient quantity to prevent a clean, wholesome growth.
In improving a place like this, the principal thing to be obtained is room - more room. Around almost any old farm-house, this is sadly wanting. Where every thing has been so long established, it is difficult to break through the old fixtures. The ground occupied by the vegetable garden seems generally the only available space. Too prominent a place is commonly given to this department. It is not that it should be hid because it is useful instead of ornamental. On the contrary, many of the most useful objects around a farm-house are an added attraction if in plain sight. They give character to a place. Barns, hay-stacks, wagon-houses, etc, should not be placed as if there was any attempt at concealment. They should not come into the view, however, obviously; not as if cattle and sheep were of more importance than the farmer and his family, but still suck objects should be in sight as representing his honorable vocation. Good taste-one that has been cultivated - will decide as to the exact degree of prominence to be given to the outbuildings of a farm establishment; and while sufficiently re-moved to make them subordinate in character, they will be near enough for convenience.
With regard to the vegetable garden, I think its usual position too prominent, having the most conspicuous place on the premises. It is generally dose to the street and the house. Its appearance is pleasant, and even pretty, early in the spring, when the beds are newly laid out; but through the middle and latter part of the season, it is positively unsightly, so close by. It looks seedy; the cabbage, beets, onions, beans, etc., lose all their juvenile freshness, and become forlorn and wretched; to say nothing of the weeds that will grow so fast during haying, and other busy seasons when they can not be* well looked after.
In fact, the kitchen garden should be banished to more retired quarters; and I would further suggest, to a place where more of the work it requires can be done by horse power, and spare a portion of the human power wanted in so many other ways. It is a great labor to cultivate a quarter of an acre wholly by hand, and in a country where this is so costly an item, every means should be taken to lessen it.
[It is quite manifest that Mr. Benton has been about in the country with his eyes open. It is quite true that there are many, very many, just such places as he describes, and we hope these articles will fall into the hands of some of the owners. There are others, again, where the admonition to plant trees will apply with full force. We like shade, and breadth, and massiveness in their proper place; but we abominate all systems of planting which result in shutting out from the mansion the blessed light of heaven. They are demoralizing and misan-thropical. Let sunlight into the house, and you let joy and gladness into the heart.
Make your shady corners and cosy little nooks, but let the sunlight play around them. - Ed].