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.
HOW country places ought to be laid out, or whether it is best for men to do their own work, or employ artistio advice to guide their efforts, seems at first rather aside from the questions which suggest themselves to the mind when we think of the uses and values of subtropicals; but it is not because unless we agree upon some standard of fitness and effect, it is not to be expected that real merit of any kind of planting can be understood; and if men are to be influenced in their use of trees or plants by ignorant guides, they can hardly hope to rise to any supreme excellence. The gardeners who make most country places are especially fitted to propagate and develope Subtropical plants; their education has generally been got in greenhouses and conservatories, and they would like always to induce their employers to build glass houses for their use, as from them they would be able to send out flowers and plants in abundance; but what to do with them after they are grown, they know very imperfectly, except so far as they may follow in the traditions of their teachers. Here is just where they are blind guides, for hitherto ail the best decorative plants have been believed useless for summer, and only desirable for winter culture, and as inmates of greenhouses and conservatories.
I have briefly shown how a stock may be got up, and how they may be made to live through the cold weather. How to use them in the summer will depend on the size and character of the grounds to be ornamented, and their situation. If one lives in the country, surrounded by many acres, with wide landscape views, pleasant drives - owning, as it were, all the surrounding country - he needs but little local decoration to give variety, for certainly the family pleasure will come more from riding, walking, boating and vigorous pur-suits, than from the plants which ornament the lawn and flower garden. In such places we should seek to produce strong effects and bold contrasts, and use hardy rather than tender plants. At the same time to eschew all but the hardy plants, to despise the color and fragrance of flowers, to confine our planting to the trees and shrubs, which will live neglected; to make the home grounds as blank of interest as any piece of grass land moderately diversified with trees and shrubs can be, is a waste of opportunity, and cuts off part of the pleasure which the country may properly afford.
There should be as much culture, color, fragrance, beautiful and picturesque form, as will make the house a marked contrast to the surrounding country, and thus keep up a healthy activity of mind, and give one, when at home, something to think about, look at and enjoy. Starting from the house, the display of flowers, flowering shrubs, rustic ornaments, shaven grass, should lead the eye insensibly to the rough pasture, the rocky and wooded hills, the broken and ferny banks of streams, and as we move from the cultivated to the wilder parts of a place, or to the adjoining country, such varied forms of vegetation might be introduced as would constantly stimulate the interest in the home demesne. Where we propose to introduce uncommon or picturesque plants in the wilder parts of the grounds, we should, nearer the house, have some of the purely subtropical forms, which would not only contrast with the flowers, grass and shrubs, but which would give tone to the eye, and prepare it to welcome the hardy, coarser perennials, which hare been selected to create effects at a distance.
To define exactly where and how to use the plants whose foliage is remarkable for form or color, would require a great deal of time, and the necessity of putting many assumed cases or conditions, which could rarely be applied in detail to any man's wants. These plants, like trees and shrubs, give the best effect when used exactly right; but how to use them so as to secure their full benefit, requires a skill on the part of the planter only to be got from practice, and one wishing to use them should make a collection and try them singly, and in combinations, until he feels as sure of their peculiar effect as of roses, rhododendrons, or of any kind of shrub or tree. A group of cannas, of one or several colors of leaf or flowers, is beautiful in a circular bed in the lawn, or rising out of a group of mixed shrubbery, relieved by evergreens or blended with dahlias, hollyhocks, or other tall perennials. Galadium esoulentum is better as a fringe to a bed of cannas, or on the outside of any group, because their large leaves are set at such an angle to the stem that they turn down and seem like shields protecting the interior of the group. Pampas grass and many of the other grasses are most pleasing in single tufts in the curve of a walk, or at some point where paths meet.
These grasses are more fully developed by a back ground of dark, tall, growing plants. Coarse leaved plants, like the Castor-oil bean Ricinus, should be either in the centre of a group, or so combined with tall perennials and shrubs, that the rather stiff and awkward stems and leaf stalks shall be concealed; and yet the color of the stem and foot stalk are in some species the principal merit.
The Solanums and Wiegandias offer a great variety of large leaves and stately plants. As their lower leaves are large, they should stand alone, or at the outside and points of groups. The colored leaved Caladiums are more tender than the Escu-lentum, and are rare and at present too costly for general use, which would test their endurance of sun and wind. Until the stock is large we should use them singly in places where they would be sheltered from the wind and from the direct rays of the sun, although full light would be important for their development. A nearly allied family, the Marantas, are very rich in color, and they have hitherto been too scarce to give them a full trial, and should be tested like the colored Caladiums. Many of the Yuccas are hardy and beautiful both in leaf and blossom. The Yucca filamentosa has a short blossoming period, but is always picturesque for its leaves, and may be used to emphasize any point of a group or a mass of rocks, or rock work, and is fine as a single, lawn, or garden plant.
Other Yuccas, such as the Gloriosa filamentosa, Variegata recurva, Recurva pendula, etc., are tender in the latitude of Boston, but will endure the wind and sun, and like Yucca filamentosa, should be used at particular points where it is desirable to get strong contrasts of form.
The Tree Ferns are tender but very beautiful and uncommon, so that they must be used sparingly; but alone, or combined with our hardy ferns, are the best ornamental foliage plants. I would urge the amateur to familiarize himself with our native ferns first, and use them freely, and then combine the tender kinds with them. The number of species of native ferns is small considering the great number of individuals, but they vary a great deal in size, shape and habit. From Woodsia ilvensis, a small fern two to six inches high, which seams the ledges with its green fronds, and is easily transplanted, to Struthiopteris germanica, the Ostrich fern, which, six feet high, is a long reach in size; and the contrast in form between the Ostrich fern and the Maiden Hair is as great as between any of the ferns of the conservatory. As all plants thrive best when in their natural circumstances and habitation, we should make plantations of ferns in shaded and moist places, and generally where they will be sheltered from high winds. The Evergreen ferns especially are rarely found in the open country; they require some protection and plenty of moisture.
When the beauties of the fern fronds are fully recognized, many persons will be found to make them a specialty, and though deficient in blossoms, the delicacy of their fronds, and the great variety they offer in size and shape, the rich green and bronze of their foliage, and their persistence when once planted, will make them permanent favorites. The contrast between the fern frond and all other kinds of foliage, gives them a value equal to any other family of plants, and makes their want of flower of little consequence. Ferns that are grown in tubs and pots for conservatory and house decoration, may be grouped in the summer about the corners of rustic or garden buildings, near the porches of the house, the doors of the greenhouse, etc., or may be set singly near a flower bed.