Those, therefore, who wish to start with the advantage of a good patrimony from nature will prefer to examine what mother Earth has to offer them in her choicest nooks before they determine on taking hold of some meagre scene where the woodman's axe and the ploughman's furrow have long ago obliterated all the original beauty of the landscape. If a place cannot be found well wooded, perhaps a fringe of wood or a background of forest foliage can be taken advantage of. These will give shelter and serve as a groundwork to help on the effects of the ornamental planter. We have seen a cottage or a villa site dignified and rendered attractive forever by the possession of even three or four fine trees of the original growth judiciously preserved and taken as the nucleus of a whole series of belts and minor plantations.
There is another most striking advantage in the possession of considerable wooded surface, properly located, in a country residence. This is the seclusion and privacy of the walks and drives, which such bits of woodland afford. Walks, in open lawn, or even amid belts of shrubbery, are never felt to have that seclusion and comparative solitude which belong to the wilder aspect of woodland scenes. And no contrast is more agreeable than that from the open sunny brightness of the lawn and pleasure grounds, to the retirement and quiet of a woodland walk.
Again it is no small matter of consideration to many persons settling in the country, the production of picturesque effect, the working out of a realm of beauty of their own, without any serious inroads into their incomes. One's private walks and parterres, unluckily, cannot be had at the cost of one's daily bread and butter — though the Beautiful overtops the useful, as stars outshine farthing candles. But the difference of cost between keeping up a long series of walks, in a place mainly composed of flower-garden, shrubbery, and pleasure grounds, compared with another, where there are merely lawns and sylvan scenery, is like that between maintaining a chancery suit, or keeping on pleasant terms with your best friend or favorite country neighbor. Open walks must be scrupulously neat, and broad sunshine and rich soil make weeds grow faster than a new city in the best "western diggins," and your gardener has no sooner put the series of walks in perfect order than he looks over his shoulder and beholds the enemy is there to be conquered over again. On the other hand woodland walks are swept and repaired in the spring, and like some of those gifted individuals, "born neat," they require no more attention than the rainbow to remain fresh and bright till the autumn leaves begin to drop again.
Our citizen reader, therefore, who wishes to enjoy his country seat as an elegant sylvan retreat with the greatest amount of beauty and enjoyment and the smallest care and expenditure will choose a place naturally well wooded, or where open glades and bits of lawn alternate with masses or groups, and, it may be, with extensive tracts of well-grown wood. A house once erected on such a site, the whole can very easily be turned into a charming labyrinth of beautiful and secluded drives and walks. And as our improver cultivates his eye and his taste, nature will certainly give him fresh hints; she will tell him how by opening a glade here, and piercing a thicket there, by making underwood occasionally give place to soft turf, so as to show fine trunks to the greatest advantage, and thereby bringing into more complete contrast some wilder and more picturesque dell, all the natural charms of a place may be heightened into a beauty far more impressive and significant than they originally possessed.
Why man's perception of the Beautiful seems clouded over in most uncultivated natures and is only brought out by a certain process of refining and mental culture, as the lapidary brings out, by polishing, all the rich play of colors in a stone that one passes by as a common pebble, we leave to the metaphysicians to explain. Certain it is that we see occasionally lamentable proofs of the fact in the treatment of nature's best features, by her untutored children. More than one instance do we call to mind of settlers in districts of country where there are masses and great woods of trees that the druids would have worshipped for their grandeur sweeping them all down mercilessly with their axes, and then planting with the supremest satisfaction, a straight line of paltry saplings before their doors! It is like exchanging a neighborhood of proud and benevolent yeomanry, honest and free as the soil they spring from, for a file of sentinels or gens d'armes, that watch over one's outgoings and incomings, like a chief of police! *
Most happily for our country and its beautiful rural scenery this spirit of destruction, under the rapid development of taste that is taking place among us, is very fast disappearing. "Woodman, spare that tree," is the choral sentiment that should be instilled and taught at the agricultural schools, and re-echoed by all the agricultural and horticultural societies in the land. If we have neither old castles nor old associations, we have at least, here and there, old trees that can teach us lessons of antiquity not less instructive and poetical than the ruins of a past age.
Our first hint, therefore, to persons about choosing a site for a country place is, in all possible cases, to look for a situation where there is some natural wood. With this for the warp — strong, rich, and permanent — you may embroider upon it all the gold threads of fruit and floral embellishment with an effect equally rapid and successful. Everything done upon such a groundwork will tell at once; and since there is no end to the delightful task of perfecting a country place, so long as there are thirty thousand species of plants known, and at least thirty millions of varied combinations of landscape scenery possible, we think there is little fear that the possessor of a country place will not find sufficient interest for the employment of his time, mind, and purse, if he really loves the subject, even though he find himself in possession of a fee-simple of a pretty number of acres of fine wood.
* This fine passage reveals the nobility of the character of Andrew Jackson Downing most clearly and graciously. — F A. W.