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.
We now come to the arranging and preparing the ornamental grounds, adopting the style which has been termed beautiful. A most prominent feature, which may be said to belong to this style, is the lawn. The picturesque style hardly admits any lawn, or at best does not make much of it, while the geometrical style scarcely rises to the dignity of anything more than mere grass plots.
The best way to prepare a lawn, and, for that matter, any ground designed for cultivation, is to trench it deeply, disintegrating and stirring the soil very thoroughly. The object of this is not only to afford the roots of grass, trees, and shrubs opportunity to wander freely in search of nutriment, but also to allow the air and rain to penetrate easily, carrying fertility with them. Every shower brings down food for the roots of plants, factual manure. Falling upon hard, compact ground, the water flows over the surface instead of through the soil, and so carries its rich material with it instead of depositing it for the roots of plants to feed upon. The air, also, is rich in fertilizing material. In well-trenched ground the roots penetrate to a greater depth, and so are better able to sustain their tops against drought. A trenched lawn, therefore, will retain its vigorous green color through dry times which will singe with brown one not thus prepared. Trees planted in such soil will far outstrip in growth those which have not this advantage, so that it is better economy to go to the expense of thorough preparation of the ground than to pay extra prices for large trees.
Digging large holes when planting trees does not answer the purpose fully, and, indeed, is a positive disadvantage when the subsoil is tight, inasmuch as these holes act as wells for the surface water, keeping the roots too wet, and causing them to rot. Besides, the roots soon reach the hard soil at the sides of the hole, and their progress is checked. It is well to remember, that if you set out to trench the ground to a depth of two feet, you will probably really accomplish fifteen to eighteen inches; if you start for eighteen inches, you will be likely to reach twelve to fifteen. When you hear one talk of having trenched his ground to any certain depth, you are generally safe in making a quarter or third allowance, unless he happens to be a very careful man who talks, and works, too, "by the rule." A word of caution as to the manner of trenching. The general recommendation is, either to bring the subsoil to the top, or to mix it thoroughly with the upper soil. These may be the best ways in some soils, but where the subsoil is as poor as it commonly is in the Eastern States, either of these methods is likely to lead to disappointment, unless, indeed very extraordinary means are used to fertilize the barren soil thus brought into use.
If the fertile soil on top be mixed with an equal quantity of barren soil, it is evident that the product possesses, proportionately, only half as much fertility as was in the top soil before. Time and manure will undoubtedly bring the top soil again to full fertility, and when this is done, the soil has been deepened and thus greatly improved; but it will take years to accomplish this in an ordinary way. If immediate results are looked for, my own experience is, that it is greatly better to leave the subsoil at the bottom, and the top soil at the top, taking care, however, that both are well stirred up.
If willing to go to the expense of under-draining as well as trenching your lawn, so much the better; and here I have reference to land which is not naturally wet. Wet spots must be under-drained, of course. All lands, except those which have subsoils through which water readily penetrates, are benefited by under-draining.
Your land being trenched and under-drained, if you have the patience to cultivate it several years in hoed crops, manuring richly, cultivating cleanly, stirring the ground so often and so thoroughly that the weeds have no chance to show their heads, you are doing the very best thing, and may expect corresponding results. Few are content to live in a potato patch so long, however; and it is not absolutely necessary. By frequent cutting, rolling, and top-dressing, the grass can be made to drive out most weeds in a few years. Before grass seed is sown, the surface should be regulated. By this it is not meant that you should make a dead level of your lawn, or throw it up into terraces or mounds. Varieties of surface, - hills, valleys, ravines, - are valuable features, to be carefully preserved, and sometimes even created where they do not naturally exist; though altering the surface of ground by building hills and digging valleys is an arduous undertaking. One gets some idea of what a vast quantity of material it must take to make the earth when he undertakes to alter the form of a very small spot on its face. A thousand cart-loads of soil deposited on a level surface will make but a small hillock.
Yet, on the other hand, a little labor, judiciously expended, will accomplish very much toward rendering graceful the surface of a lawn which has not naturally this beauty.
Before proceeding in our subject to the laying out walks and roads, the arrangement of trees, shrubs, and other objects of interest or usefulness, it may be well to consider for a moment what we are seeking to produce. "A home in the country" is our subject and object. Now the chief external requisites of a home are comfort and convenience. Beauty is very desirable, but is secondary, after all. Fortunately, usefulness and beauty are so closely allied that the latter does not always, or even often, have to be sacrificed to the former1. One of the highest beauties in a country place is an air of ease and comfort. If inconvenient, unenjoyable in the circumstances of everyday life, a country place cannot, to my eye, be beautiful. It may make a fine picture, but must be an unattractive home. Landscape gardeners sometimes forget this, and, in their eagerness to produce artistic effects, sacrifice comfort and convenience. Convenience and beauty are the ends to be sought, and each may accommodate the other a little, but if either must give way decidedly, let it be the latter, say I. If convenience suffers, beauty will suffer with it.
Each road and walk, then, should appear to have a definite purpose, and to accomplish that purpose in a simple, direct manner. The keeping in mind this guiding principle will be a great assistance in locating walks and roads. Thus, the approach to the house should be an easy, ready way, apparently the easiest way by which a road could be made from the highway to the entrance to the house. There is a sameness, stiffness, and awkwardness about straight lines, (nature uses them very sparingly,) and therefore these are to be avoided in both walks and roads; yet it will not do to make a curve in a road for the sake of a curve. There must be some reason for it, or else your approach will not seem to accomplish its purpose in the simplest, best manner, and so will be unsatisfactory. The object of the approach to the house is to lead to the house. Some attractive object may draw it slightly from the mo6t direct line, but not too much, for all other objects must be subservient to the one main object. It is not in any measure losing sight of this main object to turn aside to overcome natural obstacles. Thus it is allowable to make a very decided curve to get around a lake; a group of trees is a sufficient excuse for deviating from a direct course.
Yet this group must appear natural, or it does not form a good excuse. It is easier to go around a hill than over it; therefore a hill forms a satisfactory reason for a curve.
Keeping in mind the guiding principle, it is evident that our walks must lead from somewhere to somewhere. Strange as it may seem, there are many walks which do not accomplish this, but seem to have been made with the mere purpose of making walks. The house being the principal "somewhere "about the place, it follows that it must be the centre from which the walks mainly diverge. They should lead to the various points of interest about the place, and from one of these points to another. Parallel walks are not in good taste, nor should one walk leave another at right! angles. Either of these arrangements is stiff and ungraceful, walks are better not less than five feet in width, and the entrance-road seventeen. These widths may seem too great for small places, but less widths are inconvenient and give a contracted appearance.
In making roads and walks, the most essential thing is to secure good drainage. If this be thoroughly done, they will bo good, whatever the material used in their construction. If you wish to proceed in the very best manner, first remove entirely the surface soil from them; then lay drains of tiles or stones in the centres of the walks and at each side of the roads, placing them deep enough to escape frost, and providing suitable outlets for the water; now fill in with stones, putting the smaller ones on top, and finish off with just enough gravel to cover the stones, and your walks are as good as I know how to make them. The surface is best arranged much in the shape of an almost flat roof, sloping to both sides. The object of making roads and walks in any other form than a perfect level is, that the water which falls upon them may be carried off quickly and effectively. If the outline from side to side is a regular curve, the centre is almost flat, while the sides have greater inclination than is necessary.
A uniform grade from the centre to each side is the best form, though difficult to preserve.
A few thoughts upon ornamental planting, the arrangement of trees, shrubs, and flowers, may come in the next number.