HOW to popularize that taste for rural beauty which gives to every beloved home in the country its greatest outward charm and to the country itself its highest attraction is a question which must often occur to many of our readers. A traveller never journeys through England without lavishing all the epithets of admiration on the rural beauty of that gardenesque country; and his praises are as justly due to the wayside cottages of the humble laborers (whose pecuniary condition of life is far below that of our numerous small householders) as to the great palaces and villas. Perhaps the loveliest and most fascinating of the cottage homes, of which Mrs. Hemans has so touchingly sung, are the clergymen's dwellings in that country; dwellings, for the most part, of very moderate size, and no greater cost than are common in all the most thriving and populous parts of the Union, but which, owing to the love of horticulture and the taste for something above the merely useful which characterizes their owners as a class, are for the most part radiant with the bloom and embellishment of the loveliest flowers and shrubs.
The contrast with the comparatively naked and neglected country dwellings that are the average rural tenements of our country at large is very striking. Undoubtedly this is in part owing to the fact that it takes a longer time, as Lord Bacon said a century ago, "to garden finely than to build stately." But the newness of our civilization is not sufficient apology. If so we should be spared the exhibition of gay carpets, fine mirrors and furniture in the "front parlor," of many a mechanic's, working-man's, and farmer's comfortable dwelling, where the "bare and bald" have pretty nearly supreme control in the "front yard".
* Original date of July, 1852.
What we lack perhaps more than all is not the capacity to perceive and enjoy the beauty of ornamental trees and shrubs — the rural embellishment alike of the cottage and the villa — but we are deficient in the knowledge and the opportunity of knowing how beautiful human habitations are made by a little taste, time, and means, expended in this way.
Abroad it is clearly seen that the taste has descended from the palace of the noble and the public parks and gardens of the nation to the hut of the simple peasant; but here, while our institutions have wisely prevented the perpetuation of accumulated estates that would speedily find their expression in all the luxury of rural taste, we have not yet risen to that general diffusion of culture and competence which may one day give to the many what in the old world belongs mainly to the favored few. In some localities, where that point has in some measure been arrived at already the result that we anticipate has, in a good degree, already been attained. And there are probably more pretty rural homes within ten miles of Boston owned by those who live in them and have made them, than ever sprang up in so short a space of time in any part of the world. The taste once formed there, it has become contagious, and is diffusing itself among all conditions of men and gradually elevating and making beautiful the whole neighborhood of that populous city.
In the country at large, however, even now, there cannot be said to be anything like a general taste for gardening or for embellishing the houses of the people. We are too much occupied with making a great deal to have reached that point when a man or a people thinks it wiser to understand how to enjoy a little well, than to exhaust both mind and body in getting an indefinite more.* And there are also many who would gladly do something to give a sentiment to their houses, but are ignorant both of the materials and the way to set about it. Accordingly they plant odorous ailanthuses and filthy poplars to the neglect of graceful and salubrious maples.
*This penetrating criticism of American life still rests heavily at our door. The fact yet gives deep concern to all those who love America and would prefer to see more spiritual ideals making headway. — F. A. W.
The influence of commercial gardens on the neighborhood where they are situated is one of the best proofs of the growth of taste. They show that our people have no obtuse-ness of faculty as to what is beautiful, but only lack information and example to embellish with the heartiest good will. Take Rochester, N. Y., for instance, which, at the present moment, has perhaps the largest and most active nurseries in the Union. We are confident that the aggregate planting of fruits and ornamental trees within fifty miles of Rochester during the last ten years has been twice as much as has taken place in the same time in any three of the southern states. Philadelphia has long been famous for her exotic gardens, and now even the little yard plats of the city dwellings, are filled with roses, jasmines, lagestrcemias and the like. Such facts as these plainly prove to us that only give our people a knowledge of the beauty of fine trees and plants and the method of cultivating them, and there is no sluggishness or inaptitude on the subject in the public mind.
In looking about for the readiest method of diffusing a knowledge of beautiful trees and plants, and thereby bettering our homes and our country several means suggest themselves which are worthy of attention.
The first of these is, by what private individuals may do.
There is scarcely a single fine private garden in the country which does not possess plants that are perhaps more or less coveted, or would at least be greatly prized by neighbors who do not possess, and perhaps cannot easily procure them. Many owners of such places cheerfully give away to their neighbors any spare plants that they may possess; but the majority decline, for the most part, to give away plants at all, because the indiscriminate practice subjects them to numerous and troublesome demands upon both the time and generosity of even the most liberally disposed. But every gentleman who employs a gardener could well afford to allow that gardener to spend a couple of days in a season in propagating some one or two really valuable trees, shrubs, or plants, that would be a decided acquisition to the gardens of his neighborhood. One or two specimens of such tree or plant thus raised in abundance might be distributed freely during the planting season, or during a given week of the same, to all who would engage to plant and take care of them in their own grounds, and thus this tree or plant would soon become widely distributed about the whole adjacent country. Another season still another desirable tree, or plant might be taken in hand and when ready for home planting might be scattered broadcast among those who desire to possess it, and so the labor of love might go on as convenience dictated till the greater part of the gardens, however small, within a considerable circumference would contain at least several of the most valuable, useful, and ornamental trees and shrubs for the climate.