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History of Early American Landscape Design

Andrew Jackson Downing

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Magazine of Horticulture

  • January 1837, “Notices on the State and Progress of Horticulture in the United States” (Magazine of Horticulture 3: 8)
“The finest single example of landscape gardening, in the modern style, is at Dr. Hosack’s seat, Hyde Park, and the best specimens of the ancient or geometric style may probably be met with in the neighborhood of Philadelphia.”

A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1849)

  • Section I (pp. 21, 30, 42–44)
“THE ANCIENT STYLE. A predominance of regular forms and right lines is the characteristic feature of the ancient style of gardening. The value of art, of power, and of wealth, were at once easily and strongly shown by an artificial arrangement of all the materials; an arrangement the more striking, as it differed most widely from nature. And in an age when costly and stately architecture was most abundant, as in the times of the Roman empire, it is natural to suppose, that the symmetry and studied elegance of the palace, or the villa, would be transferred and continued in the surrounding gardens. . . .
“Whatever may have been the absurdities of the ancient style, it is not to be denied that in connexion with highly decorated architecture, its effect, when in the best taste—as the Italian—is not only splendid and striking, but highly suitable and appropriate. . . .
“The seat of the late Judge Peters, about five miles from Philadelphia, was, 30 years ago, a noted specimen of the ancient school of landscape gardening. . . . Long and stately avenues, with vistas terminated by obelisks, a garden adorned with marble vases, busts, and statues, and pleasure grounds filled with the rarest trees and shrubs, were conspicuous features here. . . .
Lemon Hill, half a mile above the Fairmount waterworks of Philadelphia, was, 20 years ago, the most perfect specimen of the geometric mode in America, and since its destruction by the extension of the city, a few years since, there is nothing comparable with it, in that style, among us. All the symmetry, uniformity, and high art of the old school, were displayed here in artificial plantations, formal gardens with trellises, grottoes, spring-houses, temples, statues, and vases, with numerous ponds of water, jets-d’eau, and other water-works, parterres and an extensive range of hothouses. The effect of this garden was brilliant and striking; its position, on the lovely banks of the Schuylkill, admirable; and its liberal proprietor, Mr. Pratt, by opening it freely to the public, greatly increased the popular taste in the neighborhood of that city.
“On the Hudson, the show place of the last age was the still interesting Clermont, then the residence of Chancellor Livingston. Its level or gently undulating lawn, four or five miles in length, the rich native woods, and the long vistas of planted avenues, added to its fine water view, rendered this a noble place. The mansion, the greenhouses, and the gardens, show something of the French taste in design, which Mr. Livingston’s residence abroad, at the time when that mode was popular, no doubt, led him to adopt. . . .
Judge Peters’ seat, Lemon Hill, and Clermont, were [the best specimens] of the ancient style, in the earliest period of the history of Landscape Gardening among us.”


  • Section II (pp. 62, 63)
“The beauties elicited by the ancient style of gardening were those of regularity, symmetry, and the display of labored art. These were attained in a merely mechanical manner. . . .The geometrical form and lines of the buildings were only extended and carried out in the garden. . . .
“The ancient style of gardening may, however, be introduced with good effect in certain cases. In public squares and gardens, where display, grandeur of effect, and a highly artificial character are desirable, it appears to us the most suitable; and no less so in very small gardens, in which variety and irregularity are out of the question. Where a taste for imitating an old and quaint style of residence exists, the symmetrical and knotted garden would be a proper accompaniment; and pleached alleys, and sheared trees, would be admired, like old armor or furniture, as curious specimens of antique taste and custom.


  • Section III (pp. 89–90, 92)
“In these gardens, nature was tamed and subdued. . . . The stately etiquette and courtly precision of the manners of our English ancestors, extended into their gardens, and were reflected back by the very trees which lined their avenues, and the shrubs which surrounded their houses . . . the gay ladies and gallants of Charles II’s court . . . fluttering in glittering processions, or flirting in green alleys and bowers of topiary work. . . .
“The beautiful and the picturesque are the new elements of interest, which, entering into the composition of our gardens and home landscapes, have to refined minds increased a hundred fold the enjoyment derived from this species of rural scenery. Still, there is much to admire in the ancient style. Its long and majestic avenues, the wide-spreading branches interlacing over our heads, and forming long, shadowy aisles, are, themselves alone, among the noblest and most imposing sylvan objects. Even the formal and curiously knotted gardens are interesting, from the pleasing associations which they suggest to mind, as having been the favorite haunts of Shakespeare, Bacon, Spenser, and Milton. They are so inseparably connected, too, in our imaginations, with the quaint architecture of that era, that wherever that style of building is adopted . . . this style of gardening may be considered as highly appropriate, and in excellent keeping with such a country house. . . .


  • Section X (pp. 455–57)
“The simplest variety of covered architectural seat is the latticed arbor for vines of various descriptions, with the seat underneath the canopy of foliage; this may with more propriety be introduced in various parts of the grounds than any other of its class, as the luxuriance and natural gracefulness of the foliage which covers the arbor, in a great measure destroys or overpowers the expression of its original form. Lattice arbors, however, neatly formed of rough poles and posts, are much more picturesque and suitable for wilder portions of the scenery.
“There is scarcely a prettier or more pleasant object for the termination of a long walk in the pleasure-grounds or park, than a neatly thatched structure of rustic work, with its seat for repose, and a view of the landscape beyond. On finding such an object, we are never tempted to think that there has been a lavish expenditure to serve a trifling purpose, but are gratified to see the exercise of taste and ingenuity, which completely answers the end in view. . . .
“Figure 84 is a covered seat or rustic arbor, with a thatched roof of straw. Twelve posts are set securely in the ground, which make the frame of this structure, the openings between being filled in with branches (about three inches in diameter) of different trees—the more irregular the better, so that the perpendicular surface of the exterior and interior is kept nearly equal. In lieu of thatch, the roof may be first tightly boarded, and then a covering of bark or the slabs of trees with the bark on, overlaid and nailed on. The figure represents the structure as formed round a tree. For the sake of variety this might be omitted, the roof formed of an open lattice work of branches like the sides, and the whole covered by a grape, bignonia, or some other vine or creeper of luxuriant growth. The seats are in the interior.” [Fig. 10]


  • Appendix V (pp. 531)
“The only situation where this brilliant [white] gravel seems to us perfectly in keeping, is in the highly artificial garden of the ancient or geometric style, or in the symmetrical terrace flower garden adjoining the house. In these instances its striking appearance is in excellent keeping with the expression of all the surrounding objects, and it renders more forcible and striking the highly artificial and artistical character of the scene; and to such situations we would gladly see its use limited.”

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