Fences are often among the most unsightly and offensive objects in our country seats. Some persons appear to have a passion for subdividing their grounds into a great number of fields; a process which is scarcely ever advisable even in common farms, but for which there can be no apology in elegant residences. The close proximity of fences to the house gives the whole place a confined and mean character. "The mind," says Repton, "feels a certain disgust under a sense of confinement in any situation, however beautiful." A wide-spread lawn, on the contrary, where no boundaries are conspicuous, conveys an impression of ample extent and space for enjoyment. It is frequently the case that, on that side of the house nearest the outbuildings, fences are, for convenience, brought in its close neighborhood, and here they are easily concealed by plantations; but on the other sides, open and unobstructed views should be preserved, by removing all barriers not absolutely necessary.
Nothing is more common, in the places of cockneys who become inhabitants of the country, than a display immediately around the dwelling of a spruce paling of carpentry, neatly made, and painted white or green; an abomination among the fresh fields, of which no person of taste could be guilty. To fence off a small plot around a fine house, in the midst of a lawn of fifty acres, is a perversity which we could never reconcile, with even the lowest perception of beauty.* An old stone wall covered with creepers and climbing plants, may become a picturesque barrier a thousand times superior to such a fence. But there is never one instance in a thousand where any barrier is necessary. Where it is desirable to separate the house from the level grass of the lawn, let it be done by an architectural terrace of stone, or a raised platform of gravel supported by turf, which will confer importance and dignity upon the building, instead of giving it a petty and trifling expression.
Verdant hedges are elegant substitutes for stone or wooden fences, and we are surprised that their use has not been hitherto more general. We have ourselves been making experiments for the last ten years with various hedge-plants, and have succeeded in obtaining some hedges which are now highly admired. Five or six years will, in this climate, under proper care, be sufficient to produce hedges of great beauty, capable of withstanding the attacks of every kind of cattle; barriers, too, which will outlast many generations. The common Arbor Vitse, which grows in great abundance in many districts, forms one of the most superb hedges, without the least care in trimming; † the foliage growing thickly down to the very ground, and being evergreen, the hedge remains clothed the whole year. Our common thorns form hedges of great strength and beauty. They are indeed much better adapted to this climate than the English Hawthorn, which often suffers from the unclouded radiance of our midsummer sun. In autumn, too, it loses its foliage much sooner than our native sorts, some of which assume a brilliant scarlet when the foliage is fading in autumn. In New England, the buckthorn * is preferred from its rapid and luxuriant growth; and in the middle states the osage orange is becoming a favorite for its glossy and polished foliage. The privet is a rapid growing shrub, well fitted for interior divisions.† Picturesque hedges are easily formed by intermingling a variety of flowering shrubs, sweet briers, etc., and allowing the whole to grow together in rich masses. For this purpose the Michigan rose is admirably adapted at the north, and the Cherokee rose at the south. In all cases where hedges are employed in the natural style of landscape (and not in close connection with highly artificial objects, buildings, etc.), a more agreeable effect will be produced by allowing the hedge to grow somewhat irregular in form, or varying it by planting near it other small trees and shrubs to break the outline, than by clipping it in even and formal lines. Hedges may be obtained in a single season, by planting long shoots of the osier willow, or any other tree which throws out roots easily from cuttings.
* Picket fences about farm and village dwellings were formerly considered very stylish, but are now quite out of vogue. There was a time, of course, when fences were necessary for protection from vagrant cattle, and the practice grew into custom from this necessity. — F. A. W.
† It is much better when trimmed annually in June. — F. A. W.
A simple and pleasing barrier, in good keeping with cottage residences, may be formed of rustic work, as it is termed.‡ For this purpose, stout rods of any of our native forest trees are chosen (cedar being preferable) with the bark on, six to ten feet in length; these are sharpened and driven into the ground in the form of a lattice, or wrought into any figures of trellis that the fancy may suggest. When covered with luxuriant vines and climbing plants, such a barrier is often admirable for its richness and variety.
* The Buckthorn is perhaps the best plant where a thick screen is very speedily desired. It is not liable to the attack of insects; grows very thickly at the bottom, at once; and will make an efficient screen sooner than almost any other plant. — A. J. D.
† The osage orange has been much used for utility hedges in the middle states, but is objectionable for lawn use on account of its thorns. The privet (various species) has become the favorite ornamental hedge plant, though many other species are now planted. A few of these are hemlock, spruce, barberry, spirea, lilac, syringa, hydrangea. — F. A. W.
‡ This fancy for "rustic work" was very strong in Mr. Downing's time, but the fashion has now completely changed, and for the better. — F. A. W.
The sunken fence, fosse, or ha-ha, is an English invention, used in separating that portion of the lawn near the house, from the part grazed by deer or cattle, and is only a ditch sufficiently wide and deep to render communication difficult on opposite sides. When the ground slopes from the house, such a sunk fence is invisible to a person near the latter, and answers the purpose of a barrier without being in the least obtrusive.*
In a succeeding section we shall refer to terraces with their parapets, which are by far the most elegant barriers for a highly decorated flower garden, or for the purpose of maintaining a proper connection between the house and the grounds, a subject which is scarcely at all attended to, or its importance even recognized as yet among us.
* This contrivance has not been so frequently used in America as its merits would warrant. A good example is seen by thousands of visitors annually at Mt. Vernon. — F. A. W.