The Garden Guide

Book: Gardening tours by J.C. Loudon 1831-1842
Chapter: London to Manchester in the Spring of 1831

Faults in mansion residence gardens

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Mansion Residences. The names of these are too numerous to be repeated, and therefore we have marked them thus (*), where first enumerated. (p. 385.) We shall only here notice a few general faults, as the details, which will be given afterwards, would more than fill this Number. Too great an extent of pleasure-ground, for the number of hands allowed to keep it in order, is an error that prevails every where. We scarcely know an exception; and the consequence is, that we have hardly seen one mansion residence kept in the order in which it ought to be. The pleasure-grounds at Stoneleigh Abbey, at Hewel Park, and at Barlaston Hall, are approximations to our beau ideal; but the kitchen-gardens at the first two places are badly situated. Most proprietors of mansions have, within these few years, been obliged to curtail the number of hands allowed to their gardener; and, under such circumstances, the plan we should recommend would be, to reduce and concentrate the highly kept part of the pleasure grounds, and keep it near the house; never to attempt higher keeping at a distance from the house than is to be found at it, and leave all distant parts to run comparatively wild, but keeping the walks in good order, though without trimming their edges, or digging or hoeing the surface among shrubs. Some parts of the pleasure grounds at Sandwell, Guy's Cliff, and Deepdene are in the style to which we allude; but few gardeners hit the precise point where digging and trimming the edges of walks ought to be gradually left off. In wild pleasure ground scenery of this kind only three fourths of the width of the walk ought to be kept in high order, leaving the remaining fourth in the form of irregular broken edges, such as we see along the margins of gravelled approach roads which are much in use, and in which the gravel is on a level, or as nearly so as the nature of the soil and surface will admit, with the adjoining grassy surface. The difficulty with wild scenery created by art is, to avoid the appearance of waste ground covered with weeds; but this is to be got over by planting trailing evergreens, such as ivy, large-flowered St. John's wort, periwinkle, &c., and by abundance of evergreen shrubs, and such perennial herbaceous plants as will grow among turf. It is very common among places of this class to have flower-gardens, or perhaps a green-house and parterre of flowers, at some distance from the house, with a portion of commonplace shrubbery, lawn, and gravel walk intervening. We conceive this to be in very bad taste. To whatever extent avowed art is carried, the highest degree ought almost always to be nearest to the most avowedly artificial object, viz. the house; and, from the garden front of that, art ought to spread along the lawn and the walks, diminishing in proportion to the distance, till it loses itself in scenery comparatively natural. Were this principle properly understood and acted upon, the money now spent upon even those places where the hands are greatly reduced, would produce tenfold the present effect. It would, in fact, give satisfaction; whereas, miles of walks and acres of land, in a state of mediocrity, never can give pleasure to the gardener or the stranger visitor, and surely not to the proprietor. In adopting this plan, art should always begin high on the scale; that is, a portion near the house, if only a few yards of walks, a few groups of shrubs and flowers, and a quarter of an acre of lawn, should be kept to the highest degree of order and neatness; diminishing gradually or rapidly, according either to the extent of the place or the amount of the money allowed to keep it up. It may be thought that this would shorten the length of walks necessary for the health and recreation of a family too refined to take exercise by any kind of manual labour; but this is by no means the case. The style of keeping which we recommend in no degree interferes with the length of walks. Walks may extend for miles among scenery so wild as seldom to be touched by the hand of the gardener or forester; and this scenery may be as interesting to the botanist, and even to the lover of showy flowers, as the most highly kept pleasure ground; while it is a great deal more so to the lover of nature and of picturesque scenery. All that the gardener has to do is, to plant at first a copious variety of trees and shrubs in masses of one sort together, every mass being very irregular in shape, and running into those adjoining; to plant all the herbaceous plants which are hardy and cheap, and leave them to run wild; to cut in the trees and shrubs when they obtrude too much on the walks, or on one another; and to keep the walks constantly fit for use. This last operation may be very advantageously done by the labour of women and children, or by old men unfit for any thing else.