* This distinction between the Beautiful and the Picturesque was a favorite idea with Mr. Downing. Artists of the present hour pay small thought to it. To most Landscape Gardeners now it will seem to have comparatively little significance. The endeavor to define Beauty has never been very successful; and there is little practical outcome to the attempts to theorize along this line. — F. A. W.
We must not be supposed to find in nature only the Beautiful and the Picturesque. Grandeur and Sublimity are also expressions strongly marked in many of the noblest portions of natural landscape. But, except in very rare instances, they are wholly beyond the powers of the landscape gardener, at least in the comparatively limited scale of his operations in this country. All that he has to do, is to respect them where they exist in natural landscape which forms part of his work of art, and so treat the latter, as to make it accord with, or at least not violate, the higher and predominant expression of the whole.
There are, however, certain subordinate expressions which may be considered as qualities of the Beautiful, and which may originally so prevail in natural landscape, or be so elicited or created by art, as to give a distinct character to a small country residence, or portions of a large one. These are simplicity, dignity, grace, elegance, gaiety, chasteness, etc. It is not necessary that we should go into a labored explanation of these expressions. They are more or less familiar to all. A few fine trees, scattered and grouped over any surface of smooth lawn, will give a character of simple beauty; lofty trees of great age, hills covered with rich wood, an elevation commanding a wide country, stamp a site with dignity; trees of full and graceful habit or gently curving forms in the lawn, walks, and all other objects, will convey the idea of grace; as finely formed and somewhat tall trees of rare species, or a great abundance of bright climbers and gay flowering shrubs and plants, will confer characters of elegance and gaiety.*
He who would create in his pleasure-grounds these more delicate shades of expression, must become a profound student both of nature and art; he must be able, by his own original powers, to seize the subtle essence, the half disclosed idea involved in the finest parts of nature, and to reproduce and develop it in his Landscape Garden.
* A classic and contemporaneous discussion of these same ideas will be found in Andre's "L'Art des Jardins." — F. A. W.
Leaving such, however, to a broader range of study than a volume like this would afford, we may offer what, perhaps, will not be unacceptable to the novice — a more detailed sketch of the distinctive features of the Beautiful and the Picturesque, as these expressions should be embodied in Landscape Gardening.
The Beautiful in Landscape Gardening is produced by outlines whose curves are flowing and gradual, surfaces of softness, and growth of richness and luxuriance. In the shape of the ground, it is evinced by easy undulations melting gradually into each other. In the form of trees, by smooth stems, full, round, or symmetrical heads of foliage, and luxuriant branches often drooping to the ground, — which is chiefly attained by planting and grouping, to allow free development of form; and by selecting trees of suitable character, as the elm, the ash, and the like. In walks and roads, by easy flowing curves, following natural shapes of the surface, with no sharp angles or abrupt turns. In water, by the smooth lake with curved margin, embellished with, flowing outlines of trees, and full masses of flowering shrubs — or in the easy winding curves of a brook. The keeping of such a scene should be of the most polished kind, — grass mown into a softness like velvet, gravel walks scrupulously firm, dry, and clean; and the most perfect order and neatness should reign throughout. Among the trees and shrubs should be conspicuous the finest foreign sorts, distinguished by beauty of form, foliage, and blossom; and rich groups of shrubs and flowering plants should be arranged in the more dressed portions near the house. And finally, considering the house itself as a feature in the scene, it should properly belong to one of the classical modes; and the Italian, Tuscan, or Venetian forms are preferable, because these have both a polished and a domestic air, and readily admit of the graceful accompaniments of vases, urns, and other harmonious accessories. Or, if we are to have a plainer dwelling, it should be simple and symmetrical in its character, and its veranda festooned with masses of the finest climbers.
The Picturesque in Landscape Gardening aims at the production of outlines of a certain spirited irregularity, surfaces comparatively abrupt and broken, and growth of a somewhat wild and bold character. The shape of the ground sought after, has its occasional smoothness varied by sudden variations, and in parts runs into dingles, rocky groups, and broken banks. The trees should in many places be old and irregular, with rough stems and bark; and pines, larches, and other trees of striking, irregular growth, must appear in numbers sufficient to give character to the woody outlines. As, to produce the Beautiful, the trees are planted singly in open groups to allow full expansion, so for the Picturesque, the grouping takes every variety of form; almost every object should group with another; trees and shrubs are often planted closely together; and intricacy and variety — thickets — glades — and underwood — as in wild nature, are indispensable. Walks and roads are more abrupt in their windings, turning off frequently at sudden angles where the form of the ground or some inviting object directs. In water, all the wildness of romantic spots in nature is to be imitated or preserved; and the lake or stream with bold shore and rocky, wood-fringed margin, or the cascade in the secluded dell, are the characteristic forms. The keeping of such a landscape will of course be less careful than in the graceful school. Firm gravel walks near the house, and a general air of neatness in that quarter, are indispensable to the fitness of the scene in all modes, and indeed properly evince the recognition of art in all Landscape Gardening. But the lawn may be less frequently mown, the edges of the walks less carefully trimmed, where the Picturesque prevails; while in portions more removed from the house, the walks may sometimes sink into a mere footpath without gravel, and the lawn change into the forest glade or meadow. The architecture which belongs to the picturesque landscape, is the Gothic mansion, the old English or the Swiss cottage, or some other striking forms, with bold projections, deep shadows, and irregular outlines. Rustic baskets, and similar ornaments, may abound near the house, and in the more frequented parts of the place.