The Landscape Guide

Gardening in North America, as an Art of Design and Taste.

[These notes on American gardens, edited by Tom Turner, were written by John Claudius Loudon in 1834 for the second edition of his Encyclopaedia of Gardening.  Politically, Loudon was a utilitarian, a radical, an advocate of public parks and a great admirer of  the United States,  then less than 60 years old. Loudon greatly admired George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The garden historian had not visited America but had many sources of information and Ann Leighton in her book on American Gardens in the Eighteenth Century (University of Massachusetts Press, 1976) writes that 'The descriptions of American gardens quoted in Loudon's Encyclopaedia, give us a sense of eighteenth-century American garden history encapsulated that would be hard for us to rival in any summation of our own'. Through his writings, and through Andrew Jackson Downing, Loudon had an immense influence on American gardens. He explained the historic origins of garden design, reported on the latest horticultural knowledge and, above all, supplied plans and elevational drawings of gardens in the Old World. The paragraph numbers in these notes are Loudon's.]
  • Private Estates and Gardens in North America
  • American Parks and Public Gardens
  • American Cemetery Gardens
  • North American Botanic Gardens

Private Estates and Gardens in North America

1473. Landscape Gardening is practiced in the United States on a comparatively limited scale; because, in a country where all men have equal rights, and where every man, however humble, has a house and garden of his own, it is not likely that there should be many large parks. The only splendid examples of park and hot-house gardening that, we trust, will ever be found in the United States, and ultimately in every other country, are such as will be formed by towns and villages, or other communities, for the joint use and enjoyment of all the inhabitants or members. With a view to this end, and to this end only, are the gardens of the monarchs and magnates of Europe at all worth studying. 

1474. New York State Gardens.   Hyde Park, on the Hudson, according to a recent writer in the Gardener's Magazine, Mr. Gordon, is the first in point of landscape-gardening in America. Its proprietor, Dr. David Hosaek, is a botanist, and a man of taste. The natural capacity of this seat for improvement has been taken advantage of in a very judicious manner; and every circumstance has been laid hold of, and acted upon, which could tend to beautify or adorn it. The mansion is splendid and convenient. The park is extensive, the rides numerous, and the variety of delightful distant views embrace every kind of scenery. The pleasure-grounds are laid out on just principles, and in a most judicious manner; and there is an excellent range of hot-houses, with a collection of rare plants, remarkable for their variety, cleanliness, and handsome growth. (Gardener's Magazine, vol. viii. p 282.) Mrs. Trollope, speaking of this villa, says, "Hyde Park is the magnificent seat of Dr. Hosack: here the misty summit of the distant Catskill begins to form the outline of the landscape; and it is hardly possible to imagine a more beautiful place." (Domestic Manners of the Americans, vol. ii. p. 206.) Mr. Stuart speaks in raptures of  "the view over the most beautiful of all beautiful rivers, from the magnificent terrace in the front of Dr. Hosack's house, situated in the most enviable of the desirable situations on the river." Hyde Park, he says, "is quite a show place, in the English sense of the word." (Three Years, &c., vol. ii. p. 549.) 

1475. Albany. The residence of General Van Rensellaer, the most wealthy landed proprietor in the United States, consists of a mansion at the north end of Albany, with more of the accompaniments of garden, shrubbery, conservatory, &c., than is often seen in America; but no great quantity of land is devoted to what we call pleasure-grounds, though the estate of the proprietor extends twelve miles in every direction. (Stuart's Three Years' Residence, &c. vol. i. p. 52.)

1476. Woodlawn. There is hardly an acre of Manhatten Island, says Mrs. Trollope, but what shows some pretty villa or stately mansion. The most chosen of these are on the North and East Rivers, to whose margins their lawns descend. Among these, perhaps the loveliest is one (Woodlawn) situated in the beautiful village of Bloominsgdale. Here, within the space of sixteen acres, almost every variety of garden scenery may be found. To describe alt its diversity of hill and dale, of wood and lawn, of rock and river, would be in vain, for I never saw any thing like it." (Domestic Manners of the Americans, &c. vol. ii. p. 183.)

Tema254seg211477. Waltham House (fig. 271.), the property of Theodore Lyman, in the state of Massachusetts, is situated in a very flourishing country, about nine miles from Boston. The grounds round the house consist of a lawn of a mile in length, in front, upon which there are many fine oaks, English and American elms, linden, and other valuable form trees. A deep and clear stream of water, varying in breadth, runs the whole length of the lawn, and afterwards falls into Charles River. There is an extensive park, containing about forty deer, principally of the Bengal breed; to the left and rear of the house I the kitchen-garden, grapery, green-house, hot-house, wall for fruit, &c. (Gardener's Magazine, vol. i. p. 205.)

1478. Philadelphia Gardens. The neighborhood of Philadelphia is rendered interesting by a succession gentlemen's seats on the Delaware, which, says Mrs. Trollope, " if less elaborately finished in architecture and garden grounds than the lovely villas on the Thames are still beautiful objects to gaze upon as you float rapidly past, on the broad silvery that washes their lawns. They present a picture of wealth and enjoyment that well with the noble city to which they are an appendage." (Domestic Manners of the Americans vol. ii. p. 153.)

1479. New Jersey Gardens. The seat of Joseph Bonaparte, near Bordentown, on the New Jersey shore Delaware, is in the midst of an extensive tract of land, on which the ex-monarch has built several houses, which are occupied by French tenants. The country is very flat, but a terrace of two sides has been raised, commanding a fine reach of the river; at the point where this terrace forms a right angle, a lofty chapel has been erected, 'which looks very much like an observatory. The highest part of this building presents in every direction the appearance of an immense cross; the transept being formed by the projection of an ample balcony, which surrounds a tower. (Domestic Manners of the Americans, vol. ii. p. 154.)

1480. Connecticut Gardens. Monte Video, the residence of Daniel Wordsworth, Esq., says Mr. Stuart "stands in a very fine situation, not less than 600 feet above the Connecticut River, and its beautiful meadow scenery. The approach to the house is about three miles in length and is carried over a succession of small hills finely wooded. There is a handsome piece of water near the house, and a bill behind it; from a tower on the top of which there is a magnificent view, bounded by the hills of Massachusetts, of as rich and fertile a country as there is in the world, watered by a great river, the Connecticut, the windings of which are all in sight. Advantage has certainly been taken of the natural beauties of in laying it out-the road, the piece of water, and the grounds; but nothing the place is kept in the handsome style of an English country residence." (Three Years 7 vol. i. p. 363.)

1481. Virginia Gardens. Mount Vernon was the seat of General Washington, "first in peace, first in war, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." This noble residence is situated on the banks of the Potomac; a magnificent river, which at the city of Washington "makes a beautiful sweep, and forms a sort of bay, round which the city is built. Washington was buried at Mount Vernon, and it is easy to distinguish from the river the cypresses that wave over his grave." (Domestic Manners of the Americans, vol. ii. p. 306.) Mr. Stuart informs us that the extent of this property is 10,000 acres. About five miles of the drive from Washington, pass through wooded ground belonging to the property. The situation of the house, on a fine hank of land above the Potomac, and the elevation and undulation of the neighboring are altogether very desirable, and afford great facilities for making Mount Vernon magnificent place; but neither the house nor the offices, nor any part of the grounds, are in any thing like good order. Every thing seems to have remained unchanged, by time, since Washington died. The narrow path at the top of the bank also river, which was began by him, just before he was carried off by sudden illness, remains in its unfinished state. The house at Mount Vernon contains only one apartment which would be considered good in Britain. (Three Years , &c. vol. i. p. 397.)

1482. Monticello, the seat of the immortal Jefferson, is situated on the summit of an eminence commanding extensive prospects on all sides. It is ascended by a spiral approach, laid out by the proprietor himself, and passing through fruit and ornamental trees, many of which were planted by his own hands. The southern declivity of the is covered with vineyards, the east and west sides by orchards, the north side bye forest, and the champaign lands below are devoted to the culture of corn and tobacco In the extreme distance, looking from the south front of the house towards the left, appears Jefferson College, a magnificent quadrangle, of Grecian architecture, founded by the first modern statesman wino duly appreciated the education of the mass of society and the evils of an established church. Jefferson was a skilful agriculturist, as is proved by many of his letters in his Life and Correspondence, and by several articles of his in the Transactions of American societies. It was fitting that such a man should have such a residence. (Ibid.)

1483. Arlington, the seat of Mr. Custie, the grandson of General Washington's wife is a noble-looking place, having a portico of stately white columns; which, as the mansion stands high, with a background of dark woods, forms a beautiful object in the landscape. (Domestic Manners of the Americans, vol. ii. p. 330.)

1484.Washington Gardens.  Kaleirama is about a mile from Washington, on high terrace ground, and is a very pretty place. It is not large, or in any way magnificent, but the view from it is charming; and it has a wood behind, covering about 200 acres of broken ground, that slopes down to a dark cold little river, so closely shut in by rocks and evergreens, that it might serve as a noonday bath for Diana and her nymphs. The whole of this wood is filled with wild flowers, but such as we cherish fondly in our gardens. (Domestic Manners of the Americans, vol. ll. p. 330.) 

l485. Stonington is about two miles from the most romantic point of the Potomac river; and Virginia spreads her wild but beautiful and most fertile paradise on the opposite shore. The Maryland side partakes of the same character, and displays an astonishing profusion of wild fruits and flowers. The walk from Stonington to the falls of the Potomac is through scenery that can hardly be called forest, park, or garden; but which partakes of all three. Cedars, tulip trees, planes, sumacs, junipers, and oaks of various kinds, shade the path. Below are Judas trees, dogwood, azaleas, and wild roses; while wild vines [Vitis vulpinus?] with their rich expansive leaves and sweet blossom rivaling the mignonette in fragrance, cluster round the branches; and straw berries, violets, anemones, heartsease, and wild pinks literally cover the ground. The sound of the falls is heard at Stonington, and the gradual increase of this sound is one of the agreeable features of this delicious walk. A rumbling, turbid, angry little rivulet, called the Branch Creek, flows through evergreens and flowering underwood, and is crossed a plusieurs reprises by logs thrown from rock to rock. The thundering noise of the still unseen falls suggests an idea of danger while crossing these rude bridges, which hardly belongs to them; and, having reached the other side of the creek, the walk continues under the shelter of evergreens another quarter of a mile, and then emerges on the rocky depths of an enormous river; and so large arc the black crags that enclose it, that the thundering torrents of water rushing through, over, and among the rocks of this awful chasm, appear lost and swallowed up in it. ((Domestic Manners of the Americans, vol. ii. p. 4.)

1486. Charleston Gardens At Charleston the houses of the suburbs are, for the most part, surrounded by gardens, in which orange trees with most splendid ripe fruit, monthly roses in full bloom, and a variety of other flourishing plants, display themselves. The greater part of the habitations have piazzas and spacious balconies. Upon the walls and columns are creeping vines, and a great number of passion-flowers (Flint's Geography and History of the United States, vol. ii. p. 4.)

1487. Savannah Gardens. At Savannah, the seat of Thomas Young, Esq., is said by Mr. Gordon " to surpass all others in the south. It is rich in the choicest and most expensive plants that can be obtained either in America or Europe." (Gardeners Magazine, vol. viii. p. 286.)

Tem5300seg211488. The Garden of Lewis Le Conte, Esq., near Riceborough, is said by Mr. Gordon to be the richest in bulbs that he had ever seen. M. Lu Conte is an excellent botanist and vegetable physiologist. He has also paid great attention to the subject of arboriculture. (Ibid., vol. viii. p. 287.) The village of Riceborough (fig. 272.) is very picturesque. Most of the houses have verandas; and it is observed both by Captain Halt, and by Mr. Stuart, that the pride of India, the Lagerstroemia indica is planted along the streets, as well as in those of most of the southern towns, particularly Charleston one Savannah (Hall's Sketches &c., and Three Years in North America, &c.)

1489. Niagra Falls Gardens. Country-house in the neighborhood of the Falls of Niagara. Captain Hall, is his Travels in Upper Canada, relates a curious anecdote of landscape-gardening in America. A gentleman, wishing to form a country residence as expeditiously as possible selected a certain spot in the midst of the wilderness, which, he conceived, the nature of the ground, the description of trees which grew upon it, and the extent of view which it commanded, might be converted, with little trouble, from its wild state into a beautiful park, such as must have cost, in the ordinary process of old countries at least one century, if not two, to bring to perfection. Some of the oaks and other trees were particularly beautiful, and of immense size; and he determined on removing only those trees which encumbered the ground, leaving the others in all their native beauty. The trees were marked accordingly; but the proprietor was unfortunately obliged to be absent when the thinning took place, and the workmen, who from their infancy had known nothing about trees, except that they ought to be cut down as fast as possible, could not conceive it possible that their employer wished so large a number of trees to saved, and accordingly decided among themselves that he had made a mistake, and that the small number of trees marked to be cut down, were, in fact, those intended to be save! The first thing, accordingly, that struck the master's eye, on his return, was the whole of his noble grove lying flat upon the ground, while only a dozen or two craggy oaks, and hemlocks, destined for the fire, were left standing to tell the tale. (Travels North America, vol. i. p. 267.)

1490.Allegheny Gardens. The whole region of the Allegheny mountains is a garden. "The magnificent rhododendron fringes every cliff, nestles beneath every rock, and blooms around tree. The azalea, the sumac, and every variety of that beautiful mischief the kalmia are in equal profusion." Cedars, firs, and the hemlock spruce attain here the greatest splendor and perfection of growth." Oak and beech, with innumerable roses and wild vines hanging in beautiful confusion among their branches, were in many placed scattered among the evergreens, and the earth was carpeted with various mosses, and creeping plants. Often, on descending into the narrow valleys, spots were found in a state of cultivation. These little gardens, or fields, were "hedged round with sumacs rhododendrons, and azaleas; and the cottages were covered with roses. These are spots of great beauty, and a clear stream is always found running through them which is generally converted to the use of the miller."(Domestic Manners of the Americans, vol. ii. p. 276.)

1491 " I never saw so many autumn flowers as grow in the woods and sheepwalks of Maryland," says the same writer. "Let no one visit America without having first studied botany: it is an amusement that helps one wonderfully up and down hill, and must be superlatively valuable in America, both from the lack of other amusements, and the plentiful material for enjoyment in this." (Ibid., vol. ii p. 91.)