Farm House 7 Lawns Grounds Parks And Woods
Having essayed to instruct our agricultural friends in the proper modes of erecting their houses, and providing for their convenient accommodation within them, a few remarks may be pardoned touching such collateral subjects of embellishment as may be connected with the farm residence in the way of plantations and grounds in their immediate vicinity.
We are well aware that small farms do not permit any considerable appropriation of ground to waste purposes, as such spot
are usually called which are occupied with wood, or the shade of open trees, near the dwelling. But no dwelling can be complete in all its appointments without trees in its immediate vicinity. This subject has perhaps been sufficiently discussed in preceding chapters; yet, as a closing course of remark upon what a farm house, greater or less in extent, should be in the amount of shade given to it, a further suggestion or two may be permitted. There are, in almost all places, in the vicinity of the dwelling, portions of ground which can be appropriated to forest trees without detriment to other economical uses, if applied in the proper way. Any one who passes along 182 a high road and discovers the farm house, seated on the margin or in the immediate vicinity of a pleasant grove, is immediately struck with the peculiarly rural and picturesque air which it presents, and thinks to himself that he should love such a spot for his own home, without reflecting that he might equally as well create one of the same character. Sites already occupied, where different dispositions are made of contiguous ground, may not admit of like advantages; and such are to be continued in their present arrangement, with such course of improvement as their circumstances will admit. But to such as are about to select the sites of their future homes, it is important to study what can best embellish them in the most effective shade and ornament.
In the immediate vicinity of our large towns and cities it is seldom possible to appropriate any considerable breadth of land to ornamental purposes, excepting rough and unsightly waste ground, more or less occupied with rock or swamp; or plainer tracts, so sterile as to be comparatively worthless for cultivation. Such grounds, too, often lie bare of wood, and require planting, and a course of years to cover them with trees, even if the proprietor is willing, or desirous to devote them to such purpose. Still, there are vast sections of our country where to economize land is not important, and a mixed occupation of it to both ornament and profit may be indulged to the extent of the owner's disposition. All over the United States there are grand and beautiful sweeps and belts of cultivated country, interspersed with finely-wooded tracts, which 183 offer the most attractive sites for the erection of dwellings on the farms which embrace them, and that require only the eye and hand of taste to convert them, with slight labor, into the finest-wooded lawns and forested parks imaginable. No country whatever produces finer trees than North America. The evergreens of the north luxuriate in a grandeur scarcely known elsewhere, and shoot their cones into the sky to an extent that the stripling pines and firs, and larches of England in vain may strive to imitate. The elm of New England towers up, and spreads out its sweeping arms with a majesty unwonted in the ancient parks or forests of Europe; while its maples, and birches, and beeches, and ashes, and oaks, and the great white-armed buttonwood, make up a variety of intervening growth, luxuriant in the extreme. Pass on through the Middle States, and into the far west, and there they still flourish with additional kinds—the tulip and poplar—the nut-trees, in all their wide variety, with a host of others equally grand and imposing, interspersed; and shrub-trees innumerable, are seen every where as they sweep along your path. Beyond the Alleghanies, and south of the great lakes, are vast natural parks, many of them enclosed, and dotted with herds of cattle ranging over them, which will show single trees, and clumps of forest that William the Conqueror would have given a whole fiefdom in his Hampshire spoliations to possess; while, stretching away toward the Gulf of Mexico, new varieties of tree are found, equally imposing, grand, and beautiful, throughout the whole vast range, and in almost every 184 locality, susceptible of the finest possible appropriation to ornament and use. Many a one of these noble forests, and open, natural parks have been appropriated already to embellish the comfortable family establishment which has been built either on its margin, or within it; and thousands more are standing, as yet unimproved, but equally inviting the future occupant to their ample protection.
The moral influences, too, of lawns and parks around or in the vicinity of our dwellings, are worthy of consideration. Secluded as many a country dweller may be, away from the throng of society, there is a sympathy in trees which invites our thoughts, and draws our presence among them with unwonted interest, and in frequent cases, assist materially in stamping the feelings and courses of our future lives—always with pure and ennobling sentiments—
The groves were God's first temples.
The thoughtful man, as he passes under their sheltering boughs, in the heat of summer, with uncovered brow, silently worships the Hand that formed them there, scarcely conscious that their presence thus elevates his mind to holy aspirations. Among them, the speculative man
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones.
Even children, born and educated among groves of trees, drink in early impressions, which follow them for good all their days; and, when the toils of their 185 after life are passed, they love to return to these grateful coverts, and spend their remaining days amid the tranquillity of their presence. Men habituated to the wildest life, too, enjoy the woods, the hills, and the mountains, beyond all the captivation and excitement of society, and are nowhere at rest, but when in their communion.
The love of forest scenery is a thing to be cultivated as a high accomplishment, in those whose early associations have not been among them. Indeed, country life is tame, and intolerable, without a taste, either natural or acquired, for fine landscape scenery; and in a land like this, where the country gives occupation to so great a proportion of its people, and a large share of those engaged in the active and exciting pursuits of populous towns, sigh and look forward to its enjoyment, every inducement should be offered to cultivate a taste for those things which make one of its chief attractions. Nor should seclusion from general society, and a residence apart from the bustling activity of the world, present a bar to the due cultivation of the taste in many subjects supposed to belong only to the throng of association. It is one of the advantages of rural life, that it gives us time to think; and the greatest minds of whose labors in the old world we have had the benefit, and of later times, in our own land, have been reared chiefly in the solitude of the country. Patrick Henry loved to range among the woods, admiring the leafy magnificence of nature, and to follow the meandering courses of the brooks, with his hook and line. Washington, 186 when treading the vast solitudes of central Virginia, with his surveyor's instruments on his back, conceived the wonderful resources of the great empire of which he will ever be styled the father. The dwelling of the late John C. Calhoun, sheltered by noble trees, stands on an elevated swell of a grand range of mountain land, and it was there that his prolific genius ripened for those burning displays of thought which drew to him the affections of admiring thousands. Henry Clay undoubtedly felt the germ of his future greatness while sauntering, in his boyhood days, through the wild and picturesque slashes of Hanover. Webster, born amid the rugged hills of New Hampshire, drew the delightful relish of rural life, for which he is so celebrated, from the landscapes which surrounded his early home, and laid the foundation of his mighty intellect in the midst of lone and striking scenery. Bryant could never have written his Thanatopsis, his Rivulet, and his Green River, but from the inspiration drawn from his secluded youthful home in the mountains of Massachusetts. Nor, to touch a more sacred subject, could Jonathan Edwards ever have composed his masterly Treatise on the Will, in a pent-up city; but owes his enduring fame to the thought and leisure which he found, while ministering, among the sublime mountains of the Housatonic, to a feeble tribe of Stockbridge Indians.
And these random names are but a few of those whose love of nature early imbibed, and in later life enjoyed in their own calm and retired homes, amid the serene beauty of woods and waters, which might 187 be named, as illustrations of the influence which fine scenery may exercise upon the mind, to assist in moulding it to greatness. The following anecdote was told us many years ago, by a venerable man in Connecticut, a friend of the elder Hillhouse, of New Haven, to whom that city is much indebted for the magnificent trees by which it has become renowned as the City of the Elms: While a member of the General Assembly of that state, when Hillhouse was in Congress, learning that he had just returned home from the annual session, our informant, with a friend, went to the residence of the statesman, to pay him a visit. He had returned only that morning, and on their way there, they met him near his house, with a stout young tree on his shoulder, just taken from a neighboring piece of forest, which he was about to transplant in the place of one which had died during his absence. After the usual salutations, our friend expressed his surprise that he was so soon engaged in tree-planting, before he had even had time to look to his private and more pressing affairs. Another day may be too late, replied the senator; my tree well planted, it will grow at its leisure, and I can then look to my own concerns at my ease. So, gentlemen, if you will just wait till the tree is set, we'll walk into the house, and settle the affairs of state in our own way.
Walter Scott, whose deep love of park and forest scenery has stamped with his masterly descriptions, his native land as the home of all things beautiful and useful in trees and plantations, spent a great share of his leisure time in planting, and has written a most 188 instructive essay on its practice and benefits. He puts into the mouth of the Laird of Dumbiedikes, the advice, Be aye sticking in a tree, Jock; it will be growing while you are sleeping. But Walter Scott had no American soil to plant his trees upon; nor do the grandest forest parks of Scotland show a tithe of the luxuriance and majesty of our American forests. Could he but have seen the variety, the symmetry, and the vast size of our oaks, and elms, and evergreens, a new element of descriptive power would have grown out of the admiration they had created within him; and he would have envied a people the possession of such exhaustless resources as we enjoy, to embellish their homes in the best imaginable manner, with such enduring monuments of grace and beauty.
To the miscellaneous, or casual reader, such course of remark may appear merely sublimated nonsense. No matter; we are not upon stilts, talking down to a class of inferior men, in a condescending tone, on a subject above their comprehension; but we are addressing men, and the sons of men, who are our equals—although, like ourself, upon their farms, taking their share in its daily toils, as well as pleasures—and can perfectly well understand our language, and sympathize with our thoughts. They are the thoughts of rural life everywhere. It was old Sam Johnson, the great lexicographer, who lumbered his unwieldy gait through the streets of cities for a whole life, and with all his vast learning and wisdom, had no appreciation of the charms of the country, that said, Who feeds fat cattle should himself be fat; as if the dweller on 189 the farm should not possess an idea above the brutes around him. We wonder if he ever supposed a merchant should have any more brain than the parcel that he handled, or the bale which he rolled, or directed others to roll for him! But, loving the solitude of the farm, and finding a thousand objects of interest and beauty scattered in profusion, where those educated among artificial objects would see nothing beyond things, to them, vulgar and common-place, in conversing with our rural friends upon what concerns their daily comfort, and is to constitute the nursery of those who succeed them, and on the influences which may, in a degree, stamp their future character, we cannot forbear such suggestions, connected with the family Home, as may induce them to cultivate all those accessories around it, which may add to their pleasure and contentment. We believe it was Keats, who said,
A thing of Beauty is a joy for ever.
And the thought that such beauty has been of our own creation, or that our own hands have assisted in its perpetuation, should certainly be a deep joy of our life.
We have remarked, that the farm house is the chief nursery on which our broad country must rely for that healthy infusion of stamina and spirit into those men who, under our institutions, guide its destiny and direct its councils. They, in the great majority of their numbers, are natives of the retired homestead. It is, therefore, of high consequence, that good taste, intelligence, and correct judgment, should enter into 190 all that surrounds the birth-place, and early scenes of those who are to be the future actors in the prominent walks of life, either in public or private capacity; and as the love of trees is one of the leading elements of enjoyment amid the outward scenes of country-life, we commend most heartily all who dwell in the pure air and bright sunshine of the open land to their study and cultivation.
Every man who lives in the country, be he a practical farmer or not, should plant trees, more or less. The father of a family should plant, for the benefit of his children, as well as for his own. The bachelor and the childless man should plant, if for nothing more than to show that he has left some living thing to perpetuate his memory. Boys should early be made planters. None but those who love trees, and plant them, know the serene pleasure of watching their growth, and anticipating their future beauty and grandeur; and no one can so exquisitely enjoy their grateful shade, as he whose hand has planted and cared for them. Planting, too, is a most agreeable pastime to a reflecting mind. It may be ranked among the pleasures, instead of the toils of life. We have always so found it. There is no pleasanter sight of labor than to see a father, with his young lads about him, planting a tree. It becomes a landmark of their industry and good taste; and no thinking man passes a plantation of fine trees but inwardly blesses the man, or the memory of the man who placed them there.
Aside from all this, trees properly distributed, give a value to an estate far beyond the cost of planting, 191 and tending their growth, and which no other equal amount of labor and expense upon it can confer. Innumerable farms and places have been sold at high prices, over those of perhaps greater producing value, merely for the trees which embellished them. Thus, in a pecuniary light, to say nothing of the pleasure and luxury they confer, trees are a source of profitable investment.
It is a happy feature in the improving rural character of our country, that tree-planting and tree preservation for some years past have attracted much more attention than formerly; and with this attention a better taste is prevailing in their selection. We have gained but little in the introduction of many of the foreign trees among us, for ornament. Some of them are absolutely barbarous in comparison with our American forest trees, and their cultivation is only a demonstration of the utter want of good taste in those who apply them.
For ordinary purposes, but few exotics should be tolerated; and those chiefly in collections, as curiosities, or for arboretums—in which latter the farmer cannot often indulge; and for all the main purposes of shade, and use, and ornament, the trees of no country can equal our own.
Varied as our country is, in soils and climates, no particular directions can be given as to the individual varieties of tree which are to be preferred for planting. Each locality has its own most appropriate kinds, and he who is to plant, can best make the selections most fitted to his use. Rapid-growing trees, when of fine symmetry, and free from bad habits in throwing up 192 suckers; not liable to the attacks of insects; of early, dense, and long-continued foliage, are most to be commended; while their opposites in character should be avoided in all well-kept grounds. It requires, indeed, but a little thought and observation to guide every one in the selection which he should make, to produce the best effect of which the tree itself is capable.
Giving the importance we have, to trees, and their planting, it may be supposed that we should discuss their position in the grounds to which they should be appropriated. But no specific directions can be given at large. All this branch of the subject must be left to the locality, position, and surface of the ground sought to be improved. A good tree can scarcely stand in a wrong place, when not injurious to a building by its too dense shade, or shutting out its light, or prospect. Still, the proper disposition of trees is a study, and should be well considered before they be planted. Bald, unsightly spots should be covered by them, when not devoted to more useful objects of the farm, either in pasturage or cultivation. A partial shading of the soil by trees may add to its value for grazing purposes, like the woodland pastures of Kentucky, where subject to extreme droughts, or a scorching sun.
If the planter feels disposed to consult authorities, as to the best disposition of his trees, works on Landscape Gardening may be studied; but these can give only general hints, and the only true course is to strive to make his grounds look as much like nature herself as 193 possible—for nature seldom makes mistakes in her designs. To conclude a course of remark, which the plain farmer, cultivating his land for its yearly profit alone, may consider as foreign to the subject of our work, we would not recommend any one to plant trees who is not willing to spend the necessary time to nurse and tend them afterward, till they are out of harm's way, and well established in a vigorous growth. All this must be taken into the account, for it is better to have even but a few trees, and those what trees should be, than a whole forest of stinted things, writhing and pining through a course of sickly existence.
A chapter might also be written upon the proper mode of taking up and planting trees, but as this would lead us to a subject more directly belonging to another department, the proper authorities on that head must be consulted.