The Garden Guide

Book: A treatise on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, adapted to North America,1841
Chapter: Section III. On Wood.

Experience in natural grouping

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Nothing, at first thought, would appear easier than to arrange a few trees in the form of a natural and beautiful group,-and nothing really is easier to the practised hand. Yet experience has taught us that the generality of persons, in commencing their first essays in ornamental planting, almost invariably crowd their trees into a close, regular clump, which has a most formal and unsightly appearance, as different as possible from the easy, flowing outline of the group.* (* A friend of ours, at Northampton, who is a most zealous planter, related to us a diverting expedient to which he was obliged to resort, in order to ensure irregular groups. Busily engaged in arranging plantations of young trees on his lawn, he was hastily obliged to leave home, and intrust the planting of the groups to some common garden laborers, whose ideas he could not raise to a point sufficiently high to appreciate any beauty in plantations, unless made in regular forms and straight lines. "Being well aware," says our friend, "that if left to themselves I should find all my trees, on my return, in hollow squares or circular clumps, I hastily threw up a peck of potatoes into the air, one by one, and directed my workmen to plant a tree where every potatoe fell! Thus, if I did not attain the maximum of beauty in grouping, I at least had something not so offensive as geometrical figures.") "Were it made the object of study," said Price, "how to invent something, which, under the name of ornament, should disfigure a whole park, nothing could be contrived to answer that purpose like a clump. Natural groups, being formed by trees of different ages and sizes, and at different distances from each other, often too by a mixture of those of the largest size with others of inferior growth, are full of variety in their outlines; and from the same causes, no two groups are exactly alike. But clumps, from the trees being generally of the same age and growth, from their being planted nearly at the same distance, in a circular form, and from each tree being equally pressed by his neighbor, are as like each other as so many puddings turned out of one common mould. Natural groups are full of openings and hollows, of trees advancing before, or retiring behind each other; all productive of intricacy, of variety, of deep shadows and brilliant lights: in walking about them the form changes at every step; new combinations, new lights and shades, new inlets present themselves in succession. But clumps, like compact bodies of soldiers, resist attacks from all quarters; examine them in every point of view; walk round and round them; no opening, no vacancy, no stragglers; but in the true military character, ils sont face partout !"* (* Those who peruse Price's "Essay on the Picturesque," cannot fail to be entertained with the vigor with which he advocates the picturesque, and attacks the clumping method of laying out grounds, so much practised in England on the first introduction of the modern style. Brown was the great practitioner at that time, and his favorite mode seems to have been to covet the whole surface of the grounds with an unmeaning assemblage of round bunchy clumps.)