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Water, and Its Treatment

The water surfaces of a park need more study and care to make them appear natural in outline than does the general ground surface of the park.

— John C. Olmsted.

Spaces of clear surface among water plants, with undisturbed reflections, are particularly necessary to secure the best effects.

— Samuel Parsons, Jr.

The artistic possibilities of any place are almost doubled with the introduction of a fair amount of water surface. Water gardening gives room for almost as rich a variety of plants and plant combinations as does the open ground. There are still ponds, broad reaches of river, trickling brooks, playing fountains, and many other general forms of expression which water may assume; and in each case new opportunities are offered to the plant lover.

The water itself is one of the most effective elements of any picture. A painted landscape is hardly complete without a touch of water somewhere. And a public park would probably be considered seriously deficient without some kind of a lake. The restful and quieting influences of rural scenery are peculiarly enhanced by stretches of still water. The very best effect is gained when the grounds are so fortunately situated as to give a good view of a long reach of river, or a broad lake, or of the ocean. This consideration is so cogent as to determine the location of a very large proportion of summer residences. They seem to be gregarious along the seaside and on all the lake shores. This effectiveness of water pictures rests upon a primitive human instinct which has been strengthened rather than impaired by the conventions of civilization. For every reason, then, stress must be laid upon the value of such water views. They must be sought, preserved and sympathetically displayed.

When the point of view is at the water's edge the water forms the entire picture,—excepting, of course, the background of trees or mountains which may be beyond it. But when, as usual, the house, or the path, or the drive is some distance from the shore, the treatment of the intervening foreground becomes a delicate and important matter. The gardener who would plant a coleus bed on the sea beach would properly be sent to the insane asylum; but any other gaudy or trivial piece of work put into the foreground would be as inexcusable. To give the water best effect the space between it and the observer should be obstructed the least possible. Usually it will be in grass. It will be only moderately undulating. A perfectly flat surface and broken ground are equally to be avoided. The view should then be set off at the sides by large trees, if possible. Nothing else answers quite so well. If they can be arranged so as to be seen in a long and varied perspective, they will be the more satisfactory. It is impossible to give an exact prescription for the treatment of all such cases, for a good result depends on the tasteful management of delicate details; and yet, in the greater number of these very common water views, the landscape gardener has choice of only a limited number of devices, the principal considerations of which have here been pointed out.

The small pond, comprehended entirely within the grounds under treatment, offers quite another series of problems. If it is large enough to give some pictorial effect, there will naturally be arranged a series of glimpses and complete views from various advantageous points, mostly near its banks. These will, however, be chiefly glimpses, and are to be treated accordingly,—not with the same dignity and seriousness which are given to larger views, though in general the plan of treatment will be a sort of miniature of that already described.

Besides this, the small pond offers wonderful opportunities for planting. Sedges, cat-tails, lotuses, water lilies, alders and many other plants are especially suitable to the banks and shallow water of ponds. Very fine effects can be arranged with them. The outline of a pond may be tastefully broken, so that what would otherwise look like a mere cup in the ground becomes a necessary and integral part of the whole composition. The grass should come down to the water in places. In other parts a fringe of overhanging alders may form the outline. Still further along the sedges and cat-tails may jut far out into the still water. It is hard to spoil such a picture.

If some of the trees along the pond shore are situated so as to cast their reflections upon the water, their effect will be more than doubled. Everyone knows what a pleasing touch such reflections give to a picture. But the trees must not be of the unquiet sort, like some of the willows, always shivering and shimmering in the breeze, for the pond must be still and the images on its surface must be still. It is the quietness and peacefulness of such a picture which attract us, and we are very sensitive of even the slightest interference. And yet some of the statelier willows, especially the heavier weeping willows, make excellent pond borders. Ash trees and sycamores with thorns, and viburnums, and many more such things, enter helpfully into such effects.

The small rivulet does not seem to enjoy the favor which its comparative merits would justify. It cannot become a part of the same sedate and serious pictures which depend so much on large sheets of water; but it has an equal degree of efficiency in its own way. When the landscape approaches that character which Andre calls "gay,"* nothing can be more appropriate than the glancing, glimmering, vanishing, changing glimpses of running water in a small brook. Such a brook should be wooded, and among the trees should be loose tangles of vines, shrubbery, brambles and brakes. Rocky impediments in the bed of the brook, if the character of the ground will justify them, give little, tinkling cascades where the sunlight flashes. Here and there a calmer pool may grow some rushes or lily pads. And every turn gives a change of view, and every change of view a new delight.

*"Le genre gai on riant... s'applique generalement a des scenes champetres, pastorales, doucement animees, variees, qui constituent la grande majorite des cadres dans lesquels le talent du dessinateur est appele a s'exercer." — Andre, L'Art des Jardins, 138.

A good brook offers, indeed, a multitude of opportunities for delightful landscape gardening. It is unfortunate that such opportunities are sometimes wholly neglected.


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