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Landscape Gardening

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


Where human intellect is supposed to have graded the hillocks and cultivated the lawns, neither of these can appropriately present too great an appearance of ruggedness or unculture. Lakes that are acknowledged to be the results of contrivance should not seem swamps, nor should streams that are made to flow into them seem sluggish. Trees that have been transplanted should not appear illy selected as to sizes, nor illy arranged as to groups or rows. Walks that every one knows to have been planned, however adroitly they may be adjusted to the conformations of the land, should never violate the mathematical laws controlling the formation of curves; nor should flowers that have been placed in beds be disposed otherwise as to sizes and colors than in a manner suited to produce effects that are aesthetic.

On the other hand, the artist, while striving to avoid the tendency just mentioned, can scarcely be too cautious in his endeavor to guard against infidelity to such effects as may be supposed to have developed naturally. It is possible to grade the land so that the outlines and positions of mounds, lawns, and lakes shall seem too much the pro-ducts of design. The trees may be too nearly of a size, and arranged with too great regularity. If in addition, as in some French gardens, they be clipped in order to seem uniform, or be made to imitate tents, spires, or what-not that a man may fancy, or if they be ranged like fence-poles about walks suggesting nothing but a square and compasses, or stuck into the edges of flower-beds, wherein all the colors are as carefully matched as in the mats of a French parlor, then, while artifice has had its perfect work, nature may seem to have been so painfully distorted and misrepresented that the result has been the death of her.—The Representative Significance of Form, XXIV.

Applying these ideas to landscape-gardening, it is simply a fact recognized by all, that any given plot may be so graded and laid out that hills and valleys, lawns and lakes, avenues and flower-beds, shall appear to be the results of nature as much as of artifice. In the degree in which such is the case, landscape-gardens may be said to suggest effects in time. And yet if, in connection with these, there be no evidences that the results perceived were contrived and constructed through an exercise of ingenuity and skill; if, in other words, there be no evidences of a human mind which, accepting certain natural features of landscape as developed in time, has given unity to the whole in space, and this as a result of thinking,—then manifestly the landscape will not appear artistic.—Idem.


What but a subtle tendency to imitate the effects of drawing or of painting could lead to the mathematical straightness or stiffness apparent often in the arrangements of walks and plants, and of outlines in artificial ponds, and even of forms and colors in flower-beds? Or what but a con-founding of this art with sculpture or architecture could result in that which so offends good taste in many gardens, —the crowding together of plaster statues, waterless fountains, riverless bridges, and arbors whereon the sun never shines, clipped out and bent out of trees that would have seemed beautiful if only left in their natural condition? No wonder that they appear artificial !—Idem, XXVII.


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