The Garden Guide

Book: Gardening tours by J.C. Loudon 1831-1842
Chapter: From London to Sheffield in the Spring of 1839

Derbyshire tree planting

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Trees are the objects which have most effect in improving the natural features of a country, and therefore we begin with them. Many belts of plantation, particularly in Derbyshire, which were newly planted, or made but very little appearance, in 1806, are now from 50 ft. to 70 ft. in height, and have completely changed the face of the country. The black Italian poplar (Populus monilifera) in 1806 was little known, but was strongly recommended by the Messrs. Pontey of Huddersfield, and planted very generally throughout the north of England. In 1826, these poplars began to take the lead of all the other trees in plantations made during the first ten years of the present century (see our Tour made in October, 1826, given in Vol. V. p. 671); while at present (1839) they are conspicuous in every part of the country and have completely overtopped the old oaks, and in many cases even the elms. In a picturesque point of view, these poplars, as they appear at present, are injurious, because they have changed the customary scale by which the eye estimates the magnitude of objects in scenery; and they have also given a general sameness of appearance to immense tracts of country, which were formerly more or less distinguished by their terrestrial features, in conjunction with the slower-growing hedgerow trees. In 1806, the only poplars that were to be seen of any size were, the white poplar, and the common black poplar, with occasionally a Lombardy poplar, rearing its cypress-like head in some gentlemen's pleasure-grounds; but now these and all other poplars are lost amid the multiplicity of the trees of the black Italian kind. In many places these trees are from 80 ft. to 100 ft. in height, with trunks 18 in. in diameter. Between Chesterfield and Sheffield there are many along the roadside of all sizes; and near Shenstone, in the vicinity of Lichfield, some Lombardy poplars have been planted apparently accidentally, along with the black Italian poplar, in a hedgerow, which thus afford striking proof of the comparatively rapid growth in height and bulk of the latter species. Between Shenstone and Walsall there is a plantation of one or two acres on the estate of Sir Robert Lawley, which has made extraordinary progress. It is on good, deep, loamy soil, rather moist; and we were informed by an intelligent countryman in the neighbourhood, that though only fourteen years planted, the trees, if cut down and sold, would purchase the land. The great objection to these trees is the sameness which they produce in the appearance of the landscape; but this sameness is greatly owing to all the trees being apparently of similar forms, ages, and sizes; conditions that will be changed as soon as a part of the trees become fully grown, and are partially cut down as timber. Besides, supposing the trees to be fully grown, and not to be cut down, but to remain till they have the same appearance of age as the oaks and elms, their heads having become comparatively round, instead of pointed, as they are at present, would harmonise with these slow-growing round-headed trees, in the same manner as they do at present with the old thorns and hollies which are left standing in parks. But even if they did not harmonise in a picturesque point of view, still, if they were useful as producing a great bulk of timber in a short time, and also a great deal of shelter and shade (both which effects are useful in grazing countries), why should they be objected to merely because they do not satisfy the eye that looks at them with reference only to one particular kind of beauty or effect ? Artists, from the time of Gilpin, have, in our opinion, been far too exclusive in their mode of viewing nature; and, by confining their admiration to the picturesque or sculpturesque, or, in other words, to what is peculiarly suitable for their art, they have lost sight of the beauties of high polish, neatness, cultivation, agriculture, architecture, arboriculture, and other kinds far more important to society, and affording much greater evidence of civilisation, comfort, and the general diffusion of human happiness, than mere picturesque beauty. We allow that a taste for picturesque beauty is an evidence of refinement, or of cultivated taste; but we contend that it is only one beauty out of many that ought to be sought for in a civilised country, by minds of general cultivation. The enthusiast in favour of the picturesque, however, can see no other beauty, and hates straight roads, hedges, and walls, and every appearance of order, regularity, symmetry, and neatness. This feeling has been strengthened and perpetuated by the eloquent writings of such authors as Gilpin and Price, though unintentionally; because the true way of judging of the writings of these great men is, to consider them as endeavouring to oppose the formality and sameness of the taste which prevailed in their times; in Gilpin's time, of the old avenue and terrace style, and in the time of Price, of the clump and belt style. The writings of every author, indeed, to be truly judged, ought to be taken in connexion with the times in which he lived.