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 shall I lay out my grounds? Where shall I ran my walks and roads, where plant evergreens and where deciduous trees, where make groups and where not, where put my summer-house, and where my flowers and vines? Questions like these are repeatedly asked, throughout the length and breadth of our land, but they are not always satisfactorily answered. Loudon, and Downing, and others, are consulted in haste, but a hasty reading of these authors does not give the desired information. Our rural improvers are bewildered amid the mazes of "The Beautiful" and "The Picturesque," "Beauty of Expression," "Relative Beauty," "He-cognition of Art," Ac, and the books which treat of them are thrown aside in disgust. Now, there are a few general principles and rules to be observed in ornamental planting, a simple statement of which may remove difficulties from many minds. The writer of this article does not claim any superior knowledge of the subject, but ventures to offer to beginners a few plain hints suggested by his own observation and experience.
To make these remarks quite practical, let us, instead of stating principles in an abstract form, suppose the very common case of a man who wishes to build a house, and lay out grounds of small extent in the neighborhood of a town. The first thing you will wish to do, my friend, is to determine upon a proper site for your dwelling. If possible, let it be on a slight elevation above the street, let your house stand back several rods from the road, so that your parlor and bed-room may not be gazed into by every passer-by, that you may not be disturbed by the noise and dust of the highway, and that you may have room in front for a spacious lawn, in which to plant ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers, and where your children may sport in safety?
If the ground immediately around your house has any unsightly roughnesses, remove them. But think twice before you alter materially any of the natural features of your place - a wart on the cheek of beauty is one thing, and a dimple is another. Are there any wet, "springy" spots in your ground? any that you may even suspect of having a superabundance of water during the rainy months of the year ? Then drain them thoroughly. If you do not, your trees and plants will die; or, if they contrive to live, they will make only a stunted and unhealthy growth, and be a constant source of disappointment and mortification. Draining completed, then deepen your soil by trenching or subsoil plowing. You may at first think this all labor lost, bat you will not think so in a few years. Break up your ground thoroughly, and then all surplus water will pass off readily into your drains, your trees and shrubs will speedily become established, and grow luxuriantly in defiance of the fiercest droughts, and your lawn will retain throughout the summer the beautiful verdure of spring. A good lawn is one of the most desirable features of a country residence, and no pains should be spared to secure it.
Grass is among the first things to gladden us in spring; its greenness, and the fragrance of its frequent mowings are always grateful to the senses during the heats of summer; and it takes on new shades of loveliness amid the desolations of autumn. Provide, then, for a good lawn by a liberal dressing of manure, deep plowing, and by sowing a sufficient quantity of grass seed and clover.*
This preparatory or foundation-work being done, you will wish to lay out your walks and carriage road. In doing this, study convenience. Do not, however, set your street gate directly opposite your front door. A house appears generally to the best advantage when viewed obliquely. Let your foot-path and carriage-road enter the grounds a little one side of the middle of your residence, and approach it by easy curves; and, if possible, let there be some apparent reason for those curves. If you wish a private path and a road leading to the kitchen and rear of the house, let them run in straight lines through some retired part of the grounds. You will also need paths leading from your house to the kitchen garden and flower garden; perhaps also to an arbor, a water-fall, a rustic seat, a vase or other objects of interest within your premises. Your main walks should be from five to ten feet wide, varying with the dimensions of your grounds and your purse; the soil should be dug out one foot deep, and the trench filled with cobble-stones, and the whole covered with gravel. In this way alone can you be sure of a dry and firm walk at all seasons of the year, and one free, in a good measure, from weeds. Your carriage-road should be made in the same thorough manner.
Your minor paths need not be as wide, nor be made with the same care, as your main walks. For paths of this description it has been recommended simply to remove the sod or top soil, round off the surface, put on sift-ings of coal-ashes, and finish with fine gravel. But do not be lavish in the number of your walks and pleasure roads; it costs money to make them and keep them in repair. They will not take care of themselves. Consult your purse before laying out a single unnecessary path, and make only as many as you can keep in perfect order.
A few words now about planting trees. If your house is expected to have a porch or piazza, go stand on the ground it will occupy; look out, also, in imagination, from the windows of your parlor and dining-room, and see what desirable views they will command of the surrounding country, - distant hills, a sheet of water, a church-spire, or peaceful valley - then you may consider it settled that no trees should be planted which would hide or materially mar such prospects. Are there, moreover, any unsightly objects that you would wish to hide? If so, plant a dense screen of trees in such quarters. You will need also to surround your premises with a bolt of trees and shrubs for the sake of protection from cold winds and from the gaze of the public. He who has had his choicest trees and shrubs broken down or beaten out of shape, and his fruit and flowers scattered on the ground by driving storms, need not be told of the importance of shelter from the winds. Moreover, a place is wanting in a home-look, if all parts of it are open to the direct inspection of the street. Snugly nestled among trees and vines, it has an air of peaceful seclusion and comfort.