The Garden Guide

Book: Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, 1803
Chapter: Chapter IV. Of Planting for immediate and for future Effect

Coombe Lodge, Berkshire and Oxfordshire

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I am now to speak of plantations for future, rather than for immediate effect, and instead of mentioning large tracts of land which have been planted under my directions, where a naked, or a barren country, has been clothed without difficulty or contrivance, I shall rather instance a subject requiring peculiar management, especially as, from its vicinity to a high road, I cannot perhaps produce a better example than the following extract furnishes:- "COOMBE LODGE, seen from the turnpike-road, does not at present give a favourable impression; for though the view from the house, consisting of the opposite banks of Basildon, is richly wooded, the place itself is naked; and it is difficult to remove this objection without sacrificing more land to the purposes of beauty than would be advisable, or even justifiable." Both the situation and the outline of the house at COOMBE LODGE have been determined with judgment: the situation derives great advantage from its southern aspect, and from the views which it commands; and the house derives importance from its extended front. Both these circumstances, however, contribute to the bad opinion conceived of the place when viewed from the road, which is the point from whence its defects are most apparent. The front towards the road faces the south, and is therefore lighted by the sun during the greatest part of the day; but being backed by lawn and arable land, and not relieved by wood, the effect of sunshine is equally strong on the back ground as on the house, because there is not a sufficient opposition of colour to separate these different objects; but if, on the contrary, the house be opposed to wood, it will then appear light and conspicuous, the attention being principally directed to the mansion, while the other parts of the scene will be duly subordinate. It is also proper that the grounds should accord with the size and style of the place, and that the mansion be surrounded by its appropriate appendages. At present the character of the house, and that of the place, are at variance: the latter is that of a farm, but the character of the house is that of a gentleman's residence, which should be surrounded by pleasure-grounds, wood, and lawn; and although great credit is due to those gentlemen who patronise farming by their example, as well as by their influence, it would be a reflection on the good taste of the country to suppose that the habitation of the gen- tleman ought not to be distinguished from that of the farmer, as well in the character of the place as by the size of the house. I shall not on this occasion enter into a discussion of the difference between a scene in nature, and a landscape on the painter's canvas; nor consider the very different means by which the painter and the landscape gardener produce the same effect: I shall merely endeavour to shew how far the same principles would direct the professors of either art in the improvement of COOMBE LODGE, and more particularly in the form and character of the wood to the north of the house. Breadth, which is one of the first principles of painting, would prompt the necessity of planting the whole of the hill behind the house; but the improver, who embellishes the scene for the purposes of general utility and real life, must adopt what is convenient as well as beautiful. The painter, when he studies the perfection of his art, forms a correct picture, and takes beauty for his guide. The improver consults the genius of the scene, and connects beauty with those useful supporters, economy and convenience; and as COOMBE LODGE would not be relieved by one large wood without a great sacrifice of land, the effect must be produced by planting a part only, whilst the judgment must be influenced by two principles belonging to the sister art, breadth and intricacy. Breadth directs the necessity of large masses, or continued lines of plantation, whilst intricacy suggests the shape and direction of the glades of lawn, and teaches how to place loose groups of trees, and separate masses of brushwood, where the outline might otherwise appear hard; and, by occasional interruptions to the flowing lines of grass, with suitable recesses and projections of wood, intricacy contrives to 'lead the eye a wanton chase,' producing variety without fritter, and continuity without sameness. There is another principle to guide the improver in planting the hill in question, which may be derived from the art of painting, and belongs to perspective. It is evident, that if the whole bank were planted, its effect would be good from every point of view: it is no less evident, that where it is necessary to regard economy in planting, and, as in the present instance, to produce the effect of clothing by several lines of wood, instead of one great mass; that effect from some points of sight may be good, from some indifferent, and from others bad; it is therefore necessary to consider how those lines of plantation, which produce a good effect from the house, will appear in perspective from different heights and from different situations, and this question has been determined by various circumstances of the place itself. This subject was elucidated by as many drawings as there were stations described; but as most of them were taken from the public road between Reading and Wallingford, the effect of these plantations will be seen from thence; and I have availed myself, as much as possible, of those examples which, from their proximity to a public road, are most likely to be generally observed."