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The Ornamentation of Farm Yards

We would have the cottage, the farmhouse and the larger country house, all marked by a somewhat distinctive character of their own, so far as relates to making them complete and individual of their kind; and believing, as we do, that the beauty and force of every true man's life or occupation depend largely on his pursuing it frankly, honestly, openly, with all the individuality of his character, we would have his house and home help to give significance to, and dignify, that daily life and occupation, by harmonizing with them. For this reason we think the farmer errs when he copies' the filigree work of the retired citizen's cottage, instead of showing that rustic strength and solidity in his house which are its true elements of interest and beauty.

— A. J. Downing.

Everyone must some time have felt a shock at coming upon a city house in the country. Such houses are, fortunately, rare; but they are not unknown. There will be the house of complicated architecture, with gables, and porticoes and loggias, and porte-cochère; and there will be all the other accompaniments to give a thoroughly urban air to the whole place. And most persons will feel instinctively what an impropriety such a composition presents. The country house must have a thoroughly rural air. The owner has hardly the choice of any other plan. And to give a rural atmosphere some sort of naturalistic treatment of the grounds will be necessary.

This naturalistic treatment, on account of the considerations already hinted at, ought to be on a comparatively large scale. This is usually possible, for the farm can commonly spare whatever room is required for the homestead and its immediate dependencies. In those rather too common cases in which the house and gardens are of mean extent or are crowded into the highway, the trouble has arisen, not through parsimony of room, but simply through thoughtlessness of the needs of the farm home. A farmhouse ought to have plenty of room; and if the grounds have already been laid out so as not to leave ample space, the best thing that can be done is to reconstruct them altogether, or so far as may be necessary to gain a free and roomy farmyard.

A farmhouse ought to be comparatively remote from the road. The distance will vary according to the height of the house, the slope of the land, the taste of the builder, and other circumstances; but the distance ought not to be less than three times the height of the house, or more if the ground slopes upward from the street. If the house is put some distance back into the grounds, as is sometimes very desirable, and has an approach of its own, the main view of the house ought still to be given at a distance something greater than three times the height of the house.

This is not a work on architecture, but it may not be out of place to make a few brief suggestions respecting the farmhouse itself. Generally some very simple plan of architecture is to be preferred. A sharp or much broken roof is especially to be avoided. Porches ought to be wide, and their floors not high from the ground, especially if the place be level. City dwellers affect high porches and second-story balconies for the sake of the privacy they give; but privacy is more easily secured on a farm. Country houses are often painted white, and sometimes the result is fairly agreeable. Usually some other color will give a better effect, however, —some slaty, or grayish, or other neutral shade,— for white surfaces mar the rurality of the general effect.

A farmyard without some large shade trees is a very unsatisfactory affair. This needs hardly to be mentioned. The more common evil is an over-indulgence of this craving for shade trees; and there are many houses badly shadowed and shut in, and many yards cramped and crowded by twice or thrice the number of large trees which the place ought to support. The ax is the remedy for such cases. The remedy is, indeed, very hard to apply to trees which have become old friends, but the improvement will be worth all the sorrow which comes with it. The best way of all is to make such thinnings very much earlier in the development of the grounds, and then there is likely to be much less grief in the family.

To produce the rural, naturalistic effect here recommended, there should be a liberal use of shrubs. And for the most part, the common native shrubs of the woods and fields are much superior to the finest exotics. Those things which are so common as to be slightingly passed by are often the very best. Buck berries, snow berries, alders, elders, dogwoods, wild roses, the flowering raspberry, and many others which are always ready to the hand, should be planted in profusion. If they prove to be too thick, they may be thinned out as they grow; but it is very seldom that such a necessity arises. Of course, many of the nurseryman's shrubs are well worth having, and may be added as occasion requires and means permit.

figure 27
Figure 27. Suggestion For A Farmyard
a, Sugar maples; b, shrubbery; c, climbers on porch; d, hawthorn; f, basswood or horse-chestnut; g, sycamores.

In connection with shrubs, a great many hardy perennials may be used to advantage. These are more fully discussed in another place. Annual flowering plants are not very useful or appropriate in the ordinary front yard, though they may be grown in any quantity in the side borders if desired. Such flowering plants are usually grown for the blossoms themselves rather than for anything they contribute to the general effect; and their end is then best served if they can be cultivated in a separate garden plot, behind the house or at one side, enclosed somewhere, or in connection with the kitchen garden. In this latter situation they are likely to receive better culture and more fertilizer, and to give correspondingly larger crops of finer blossoms.

A fence about the farmyard is frequently a positive necessity, but it need not be a whitewashed picket fence. The less conspicuous it be, the better; and some sort of hedge, of arbor vitae, holly, privet, or similar materials, is much to be preferred. The plan shown in Fig. 27, for a farm yard, is offered merely as a suggestion, and should not be copied. The chief features to which attention should be directed are the open space in front of the house, the limited number of large trees, and the shrubbery at the sides.


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