HOW to lay out a country place? That is a question about which we and our readers might have many a long conversation, if we could be brought on familiar terms, colloquially speaking, with all parts of the Union where rural improvements are going on. As it is we shall touch on a few leading points this month which may be considered of universal application.
These cardinal points within the bounds of a country residence, are (taking health and pleasant locality for granted), convenience, comfort, or social enjoyment, and beauty; and we shall touch on them in a very rambling manner.
Innumerable are the mistakes of those novices in forming country places, who reverse the order of these three conditions, and placing beauty first (as, intellectually considered, it deserves to be), leave the useful, convenient, and comfortable pretty much to themselves, or, at least, consider them entitled only to a second place in their consideration. In the country places which they create the casual visitor may be struck with many beautiful effects; but when a trifling observation has shown him that this beauty is not the result of a harmony between the real and the ideal, — or, in other words, between the surface of things intended to be seen and the things themselves, as they minister to our daily wants, — then all the pleasure vanishes and the opposite feeling takes its place.
To begin at the very root of things, the most defective matter in laying out our country places (as we know from experience) is the want of forethought and plan regarding the location of what may be called the kitchen offices. By this, we refer, of course, to that wing or portion of a country house containing the kitchen, with its storeroom, pantry, scullery, laundry, wood-house, and whatever else, more or less, may be included under this head.*
* Original date of March, 1850.
Our correspondent, Jeffreys, has, in his usual bold manner, pointed out how defective, in all cases (where the thing is not impossible), is a country house with a kitchen below stairs; and we have but lamely apologized for the practice in some houses by the greater economy of such an arrangement. But in truth we quite agree with him that no country house is complete unless the kitchen offices are on the same level as the principal floor containing the living apartments.
At first thought our inexperienced readers may not see precisely what this has to do with laying out the grounds of a country place. But, indeed, it is the very starting point and fundamental substratum on which the whole thing rests. There can be no complete country place, however large or small, in which the greatest possible amount of privacy and seclusion is not attained within its grounds, especially within that part intended for the enjoyment of the family. Now it is very clear that there can be no seclusion where there is no separation of uses, no shelter, no portions set apart for especial purposes, both of utility and enjoyment. First of all, then, in planning a country place, the house should be so located that there shall be at least two sides; an entrance side, which belongs to the living, or best apartments of the house; and a kitchen side (or "blind side"), complete in itself, and more or less shut out from all observation from the remaining portions of the place.
This is as indispensable for the comfort of the inmates of the kitchen as those of the parlor. By shutting off completely one side of the house by belts or plantations of trees and shrubbery from the rest, you are enabled to make that part more extensive and complete in itself. The kitchen yard, the clothes-drying ground, the dairy, and all the structures which are so practically important in a country house, have abundant room and space, and the domestics can perform their appointed labors with ease and freedom, without disturbing the different aspect of any other portion of the grounds. There are few new sites where there is not naturally a "blind side" indicated; a side where there is a fringe of wood, or some natural disposition of surface, which points it out as the spot where the kitchen offices should be placed, in order to have the utmost shelter and privacy, — at the same time leaving the finer glades, openings, and views for the more refined, social and beautiful portions of the residence. Wherever these indications are wanting they must be created by artificial planting of belts and groups of trees and shrubs, — not in stiff and formal lines like fences, but in an irregular and naturally varied manner, so as to appear as if formed of a natural copse, or rather so as not to attract special attention at all.
* In the office parlance of landscape architects of 1921 these are always grouped under the one term "service," and the endeavor is made to dispose them all in one "service area." — F. A. W.
We are induced to insist upon this point the more strenuously because, along with the taste for the architecture of Pericles (may we indulge the hope that he is not permitted to behold the Greek architecture of the new world!) which came into fashion in this country fifteen or twenty years ago, came also the fashion of sweeping away everything that was not temple-like about the house. Far from recognizing that man lives a domestic life, — that he cooks, washes, bakes and churns in his country house, and, therefore, that kitchen offices (tastefully concealed if you please, but still ample) are a necessary, and therefore truthful part of his dwelling, — they went upon the principle that if man had fallen, and was no longer one of the gods, he might still live in a temple dedicated to the immortals. A clear space on all sides, pediments at each end, and perhaps a colonnade all round; this is the undomestic, uncomfortable ideal of half the better country houses in America.
Having fixed upon and arranged the blind side of the house — which, of course, will naturally be placed so as to connect itself directly with the stable and other out-buildings,— the next point of attack is the kitchen garden. This is not so easily disposed of as many imagine. All persons of good taste agree that however necessary, satisfactory, and pleasant a thing a good kitchen garden is, it is not, aesthetically, considered a beautiful thing; and it never accords well with the ornamental portions of a country place, where the latter is large enough to have a lawn, pleasure grounds, or other portions that give it an ornamental character. The fruit trees (and we include now, for the sake of conciseness, kitchen and fruit garden), the vegetables, and all that makes the utility of the kitchen garden, never harmonize with the more graceful forms of ornamental scenery. Hence the kitchen garden in a complete country place should always form a scene by itself, and should also be shut out from the lawn or ornamental grounds by plantations of trees and shrubs. A good locality as regards soil is an important point to be considered in determining its site; and it will usually adjoin the space given to the kitchen offices, or that near the stable or barns, or perhaps lie between both so that it also is kept on the blind side of the house.