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.
What a pleasant subject! How many associations cluster around " a home in the country." Is there such a thing as a home in the city? Doubtless; but it is a very different and much less lovable thing than the other. The city home is nothing but a house, commonly squeezed in and flattened out between two others, and often dark and dismal; extending only up toward the sky, and down into the depths of the earth, making life a continual getting up and down stairs. Of the country home, the house, more cheerful and convenient in itself, is yet but a small part. The dear old trees, the oft-visited spring of unequalled water, or the familiar brook, the barn, the garden, the orchard, the woods, the birds and flowers; all these, and many more, are a part of a home in the country - things that take hold of the affections as no mere house, be it small or large, can do.
But it is not my purpose now to dwell upon the delights of a home in the country, or to enlarge upon its advantages, even to the business man, most of whose time must be spent in the city; though I could give arguments in its favor as plenty as white daises, and as invincible too, everyone being (the arguments, not the daisies, mind you !), like each new grape or strawberry advertised by the nurserymen, better than all the rest. What I shall attempt to do, is to make some suggestions in regard to making, and, incidentally, taking care of such a home. A most extensive subject, which may well (as it does) fill ponderous volumes; so I may not aim at anything like completeness, but only to touch here and there a point briefly, yet practically, I hope.
First, then, as to the amount of land needed. This, of course, depends on circumstances; one acre may be made into a beautiful home, or any number of acres may be used if one has the means and inclination. A common mistake is in getting too much, however. A small place in high condition, thoroughly well taken care of, so that everything thrives, will give much more satisfaction than a large place half done. There is another consideration which I am bound to present here, and I do it with a sigh at the thought that in this world things desirable (including wives) are so generally expensive. My consideration is, that country places cost money - money to make them, and money to take care of them. It is well, therefore, not to go on too large a scale. One to three acres in ornamental grounds; the same for a garden and fruit; three or four acres in pasture, if convenient, and as many as you please in natural forest, would just meet my idea of the desirable quantity. Even of these, the pasture and forest may be dispensed with, and the ornamental grounds much reduced, and still enough remain for a very satisfactory place, especially for one in active business.
The retired gentleman of fortune may wisely go on a much larger scale, if his tastes lead him in that direction, adding a farm of good proportions; but to one whose time must be chiefly occupied with other matters, farming will prove an expensive amusement, and generally a source of trouble rather than satisfaction.
The location should be a dry one. It will not do to depend upon drainage, because one can drain only his own land, whereas he must breathe the atmosphere which comes from lands all about him. A spot open to the southerly, and sheltered from the northerly winds is best, and a pleasant near prospect is of more importance than an extensive one. The eye wearies of the latter, from its vagueness and sameness; the former changes with every season. As to quality of land, one must take what one can get, but it is a moderate calculation, that land which is " in good heart,'1 which has been generously manured and well "kept up," is worth one hundred dollars per acre more than that which has been "skinned" by being robbed of its produce without compensation. The latter will cost at least the sum named to get it into good condition, unless there be time to wait many years to accomplish it by less expensive means. This is a point not often considered in selecting a site, though it should be, for besides money, time is necessary to bring worn-out land into good condition.
Woodland, on which hard wood trees of good size are growing, is always strong land, and probably the party who wishes to sell it to yon, will call your attention to the fact that the wood on it will bring a considerable amount "standing." This is undoubtedly true, but it may be quite as true (though he may forget to mention the fact) that it will cost you a larger amount to get the stumps out, and the land into tillable condition,' after the wood is cut off. If there happen to be a natural forest on those grounds which you wish to use as ornamental, and if this forest happen to have been well thinned out in "the days of its youth," so that the trees have bad room to develop themselves, this is almost invaluable, for you have already to your hand a very important thing which money will not procure, except with the tardy help of old Time. It used to be a saying of our grandfathers, who didn't understand some things as well as we do, that "he who plants pears, plants for his heirs." With more truth may it be said, that he who undertakes landscape gardening on ground which has not already large trees, gardens for a future generation.
We know now how to get pears of our own raising in two or three years; but Dame Nature, who generally takes longest time to produce her noblest works, will not furnish us stately hickories or majestic oaks, coax and stimulate her as we will, in less than many years. Good trees, then, which stand not so closely together but that they have had opportunity to branch out near the ground, are invaluable upon a site for a country seat. Common wood lots, however, without a branch within thirty, forty, fifty feet of the ground, looking like a collection of mammoth brooms turned wrong end up, are good for nothing for our purposes, excepting to remain precisely as they are. Such trees have ceased to be individuals, and are only members of a community, and of a working community at that, whose chief business is to furnish lumber and fire-wood. Nothing can be done with them on a small lawn. As a back-ground to the house, such a wood will serve an excellent purpose, with the aid of some planting. Moreover, a tract of such wild woods to roam in, and gather wild flowers in spring, and nuts in autumn - to afford sheltered ground for exercise in winter, forms one of the most enjoyable features of a place.
It will not do to make a lawn of, though.
An inclination to the south or south-east is an advantage for most purposes of cultivation; an inclination to the north or north-west, a disadvantage. A gentle undulation of surface, and a graceful ravine, especially if it be the pathway of a bubbling brook, are features for which, if on the ground which you intend to make your lawn, you can afford to pay liberally. The most desirable soil is a sandy loam. Clay soils are strong, but not easily or pleasantly worked. Sandy soils will give you good peaches and pine trees, and not much else, and are, moreover, great spendthrifts of the manure you bestow upon them.
What the house should be I shall not pretend to discuss, for this is a large subject in itself. One point may be noted, however. After you have made a liberal calculation of the largest amount you think it can possibly cost to build such a house as you have planned, add fifty per cent., and you will probably get at something like the real cost.
The house stands, of course, in the ornamental grounds, having the lawn, generally, more or less in front. The kitchen garden takes its appropriate place in the rear. I by no means hold that it should be entirely concealed from the house, especially in places of moderate pretensions. On the contrary, its presence should be at least clearly indicated, and if neatly laid out and well kept, as should be the case, it may be, though not obtrusively, yet plainly in view. A good kitchen garden, well stocked with fruits and vegetables, is a feature so essential to the comfort and enjoyment of a country home, that its existence should be at least clearly manifest, or the place will appear lacking in substantial comfort.
We come now to the laying out the orrnamental or pleasure grounds.
The general styles in which this may be done are two, the artificial and the natural, the latter being again subdivided into two, technically termed the picturesque and the beautiful. The artificial or geometrical style, which in olden times was adopted in nearly all pleasure grounds, abounds in straight lines, and mathematical angles and curves. Everything must be uniform and exact - regulated by line and compass; and your place continually reminds you of your almost forgotten lessons in geometry. Part must answer to part; every tree, shrub, fountain, statue, seat, must be one of a pair of twins.
"Grove nods at grove, each alley has a brother, And half the platform just reflects the other".
In the progress of good taste, this style has in great measure given way to the natural style, though it is not without its merits, and is generally preferable for quite a small place on level land, as being more practicable on a small scale, and more economical in the use of land.
Of the natural styles, the picturesque is abrupt and striking, dealing in bold hills and deep ravines; ragged rocks and rushing torrents. It is hardly suited to places which have not naturally some of these features; if not within themselves, yet prominently in the surrounding landscape. The beautiful style deals in graceful, flowing lines and easy gradations. It avoids startling contrasts, and loves quiet and peace. Silvery lakes, murmuring brooks, velvet lawns, and graceful trees and shrubs, are elements of its beauty. Either of the natural styles may partake of the features of the other, or the two may be in some measure merged together. The geometrical or artificial style, on the other hand, is at open war with the picturesque, and seems to wish to put even the beautiful into a strait-jacket. The natural and artificial styles cannot, therefore, be harmoniously united.
The one follows nature, looks up to her as a model and teacher, and strives to understand and imitate her beauties; the other sets itself up as above nature, and attempts to recast her works in a mould of its own. Order, uniformity, symmetry, exactness, are the watchwords in the artificial style; variety in unity is the aim of the natural. The beautiful is the one now most in vogue, and is also that which is adapted to the greatest number of places. The little I shall have to say about fitting up the ornamental grounds will, therefore, have reference chiefly to this style, and this little had better be deferred to another number.