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Entrances, Drives, and Walks

For an approach to be good there must be an easy turn-in from the high road; the grade within the gate must be as uniform and as gentle as possible; there must be no sharp turns: ...the house must be well displayed to advancing eyes; and the line of gravel must not so intersect the ground as to interfere with a beautiful arrangement of its parts, or to be itself a disagreeable object when seen from the house.

— Mrs. Van Rensselaer.

The orator takes great pains that his exordium shall be at once a fitting introduction to his oration and calculated to win the favor of his audience. The composer of an opera gives special care to his overture, endeavoring to introduce the best themes of the subsequent score, and to make an agreeable impression on his hearers. In the same way, when a landscape gardener plans a considerable picture he tries to arrange it so that the approaching visitor shall get not only a prejudice in its favor, but also a fair suggestion of its character. Among farmers who try to arrange their homes tastefully, and among people who have summer residences in the country, the importance of an appropriate approach is quite generally felt. In some other lines of work,—park-making, for example,—it is sometimes underestimated.

When the grounds are of any considerable size there ought to be an adequate (undefined) entrance area. The entrance is of some importance in itself, and other items in its immediate neighborhood may best be made subordinate to it. Usually this area will be more or less enlarged by being recessed from the outside. This emphasizes the entrance, makes it seem more hospitably inviting, gives room for a carriage turn, etc. Usually there will be a gateway of some sort; and if the vicinity, outside or inside, is full of buildings, the design of the entrance will probably be architectural in its main features. There is such an infinite variety of architectural ideas to be worked out for such places that no general suggestions can be made. For country places, where the entrance is made among purely natural surroundings, considerably less of architectural effect is permissible. Some very simple, substantial stone work is usually best. Downing, and the people of his day, always affected "rustic" work — poles with the bark on — for such places; and though these sometimes give a satisfactory result they are much less in vogue at the present.

It is quite customary to make the turn-in especially on moderate sized places, at right angles with the exterior highway. While this arrangement is often best, it might be greatly improved, in many cases, by substituting a less abrupt turn. The main drive may frequently be arranged to leave the public way very gently at an acute angle.

From the entrance to the house or other main point of interest the drive should proceed as directly as possible, and still be gracefully curved. Its course and direction will be modified chiefly by the contour of the ground. Sharp elevations or depressions must be alike avoided, by carrying the drive around them; but the grade of the drive must be compromised sometimes with the course to be adopted, and nothing will take the place of good judgment in doing this. The curve should be gentle and not winding. It should reveal something new at each turn. The best view of the house should be carefully treated. Its own effect should be reserved to it, and not squandered on a half dozen unimpressive and inadequate views. If the drive gives one good view, the poor views ought to be hidden by plantings or by the course of the road.

For very large and stately mansions, or in comparatively small grounds, the approach may be straight and lead directly to the front of the main building. Such an arrangement lends dignity to a building which is in itself imposing. Such an avenue of approach is usually planted with rows of trees. Other drives, besides the main approach, may, be treated in the same general way as walks.

Walks and subsidiary drives must be provided where people want to walk or where they expect to drive. Neither is artistic in itself. Every foot of walk or drive is a trouble, an expense, and usually a distinct detraction from the artistic beauty of the place. They should, then, be designed to fit the actual demands of traffic about the place. The most practicable thing is often to await the most explicit call for a walk. When a path begins to appear through the grass, the need of a walk is manifest and its general direction pretty accurately indicated. Gentle curves are better than straight lines, for walks, except upon small places or in a geometrical plan. These curves must be determined by the exercise of good taste and judgment, on the ground. A design made on paper is apt to be very unsatisfactory when transferred to the soil, unless it is made by an experienced hand from an accurate topographical survey. Even then it may not fit. Curves made up of arcs of circles are not very satisfactory, unless the arcs are comparatively short and judiciously combined. If a road is properly made, only a very short arc will be visible from any point; and this enables the designer, when working on the ground, to make many curves and combinations of curves which would be decidedly unpleasing when accurately platted on a map.

figure 21
Figure 21. Diverging Drives
a, Correct. b, Wrong.

When a walk or a drive branches, each arm should take such a course as to appear to be the proper continuation of the trunk. Imagine how one arm would look with the other removed. Would it still be complete? Would the whole seem to be the perfectly natural course for the walk? Such bifurcations should not be at too obtuse an angle; and yet this angle of divergence is of quite minor importance if the foregoing consideration is kept fully in mind.

Where several drives or walks meet, upon demand, a suitable concourse must be provided, for at such points there is always apt to be a congestion of traffic. The size and form of this concourse is determined solely by circumstances. Sometimes such a spot commands some specially fine view. The place may be treated, then, with direct regard to the outlook. When no desirable external view is to be exhibited, the concourse area may have a special treatment of its own. It may be flanked by heavy plantings on part of its circumference, with open vistas left at the most favorable points. Or, if near a building, as is frequently the case, it may be treated as an outlying part of the architect's work, and made to conform to it in shape and ornamentation.

Walks must be well drained, but should not rise above the adjacent soil surface. Neither should they be depressed much, if any, below it, except for the necessary gutter at the edges. The practical construction of walks and drives is a matter of immense importance, but it belongs rather to engineering than to landscape gardening, and besides, there is not room here for a discussion of it. The principal artistic demands have, however, been pointed out.

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