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.
IN former articles we have criticised the close planting of the trees etc.; in the present we propose to say something about the manner and character of the grouping. We had been led to conclude, from the promises made at the initiation of the work, that we should now behold something very different from what meets the eye of the visitor. We were told by Mr. Olmsted that we should have an American park, something unique and imposing; instead of which we find copies of what we regard the worst features of European parks, as we find them described. By an American park was meant, of course, something grand and imposing, which we might have had, and may even still have. The expression, undoubtedly, related mainly to the character and disposition of the trees; for in no other respect would it be in the least degree apposite. It was no doubt supposed, and very justly, too, that our own grand forests and woodlands, in their composition and individuality, would present a copy worthy of being reproduced on a small scale. But do we find any thing like this in the Central Park? Not in the least. There is not the smallest indication that any thing of the kind has been, or will be attempted.
On the contrary, the teachings of nature, in her grandest manifestations, have been ignored, and stiff and meaningless forms, devoid of expression, have been adopted in their stead. We regret that the actual condition of things at the Park should render such criticisms necessary, and we indulge the hope that such changes will hereafter be introduced as to disarm them.
But let us be a little more specific, in order that our objections may be better understood. In our examination of the Park, we find in all those portions approaching completion, and in others in the course of development, that one uniform plan of grouping has been adopted, and that plan consists in forming a group of one kind of tree only, the only exceptions consisting in the natural growth of the Park. We have a group of Scotch Firs, a group of Norway Spruce, a group of Hemlocks, a group of Paulownias, a group of Birch, a group of Silver Firs, a group of creeping Junipers, etc.,, reduplicated ad infinitum; yes, and even groups of Cephalotaxas, Taxus, &C., and these, from their relative positions, we should judge were expected to grow into as huge proportions as the Hemlocks; and we have no doubt they wull These groups of a kind, densely planted, are scattered here and there in such a way as to produce an effect not much unlike clumps of Vaccinium on a treeless hillside; or rather the impression is produced of numberless little plots, each with a separate ownership.
Now we do not object to an occasional group of trees of a kind; but, with this exception, we object in toto to the grouping in the Central Park, both trees ana shrubs. It is dull and monotonous, and altogether wanting in beauty and effectiveness; besides, it may be used as an argument for want of knowledge and skill on the part of the person who directs it, which we should be sorry to see; for it could be said, and probably will be said, that any ordinary gardener can group trees in this manner. In the way of composition, the highest development of Landscape Art, nothing whatever has been attempted; light and shade, the commingling and harmonizing of color, depth, breadth, massiveness, shelter, etc.,, have thus far been ignored, not, probably, so much from want of boldness and originality, as from a determination to reproduce some of the tamest features of European parks. Ruskin, in one of his most eccentric moods, attempts to show that a forest composed entirely of Scotch Fir would be a sublime sight; a huge, murky thunder cloud, surcharged with vials of wrath, and covering the whole face of the earth, would be still more so, but neither, we imagine, would be calculated to produce any very pleasurable emotions.
If our friends at the Park would have some idea of our notions of tree grouping and composition, let them take the Albany 6teamer some fine morning, note a good many things they will see by the way, leave the boat at Rhinebeck, and visit the princely estate of the Hon. William Kelly; they will find the passage and the visit exceedingly suggestive. If they wish for a fine example of undergrowth and filling in, let them visit the fine country seat (now in course of completion) of Charles Butler, Esq., at Scarsdale. If they do not know these gentlemen, they can make use of our name, which will insure them a hospitable reception and every attention they can desire. We had fbrgotten one other matter. If they would know what a "thing of beauty" a lawn can be made, let them visit the beautiful residence of H. W. Sargent, Esq., at Fishkill, where they will also see a good many other things to interest them. These three visits would be worth a dozen visits to Europe.
We are more than ever desirous that the work at the Park, as a whole, and in all its details and materials, should be in harmony with the highest development of landscape art; and we wish to aid in this to the best of our ability; hence our suggestions. We are glad to perceive, that since we wrote our first article, there has been a manifest improvement in the tree planting, so far as close planting is concerned. Let this go on still further, introduce miscellaneous grouping, study out composition, Ac, as hinted above, and we may yet have the Central Park the model we all desire. • And so we close for the present.