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The Architectural Style

The evident harmony of arrangement between the house and surrounding landscape is what first strikes one in Italian landscape architecture,—the design as a whole, including gardens, terraces, groves, and their necessary surroundings and embellishments, it being clear that no one of these component parts was ever considered independently, the architect of the house being also the architect of the garden and the rest of the villa.

— Charles A. Platt.

A number of terms, all equally clear and useful, have been used for this well-defined style of gardening. We need to notice three,—architectural, geometrical and Italian. Of these the first is best for our purposes, especially if architecture is understood in the broadest sense to include all the exterior accessories of buildings, to which the work of the architect may rightfully extend. Columns, obelisks, arches, fountains, statues and groups of statuary, and all similar structures whatsoever, are in this sense included within the common range of architecture and architectural gardening. Indeed, the earliest and some of the best examples of this style which we have were planned and executed by professional architects,—men who did not claim to be gardeners at all. The term "geometrical" has its obvious signification. It is perfectly legitimate, and in many places highly serviceable. This method is also widely and properly known as the Italian style, having received its best development in Italy.

The architectural style is diametrically opposed at all points to the extreme natural style. It is opposite in methods and in effects; though this is no reason why a person of artistic taste may not find full satisfaction in either. The most modern tendency is to admit the architectural, the natural and all other possible styles of gardening, to equal consideration; to recognize that each may claim greatest advantages in special situations; and to choose from among different styles, in a frame of mind quite free from prejudice, the one best suited to any given circumstances of environment and demand. The time was,—and recently,—when English and American gardeners were very much prejudiced against geometrical methods of all sorts. As a result, their attempted naturalistic effects were forced into situations where grievous failure alone could meet them, but where a less partisan good taste would have wrought beautiful and satisfying results through the discredited methods.

Two things especially have contributed in recent years to an honest appreciation in America of the claims of the architectural style. One is the favorable attitude of discriminating praise on the part of almost all American writers, more emphatically presented in Mr. Charles A. Platt's book, "Italian Gardens." The second cause is the satisfaction and delight felt by all in the wonderful architectonic outdoor effects realized at the World's Fair. It is not so much that the gardening architecture of the World's Fair was so much grander in size, extent and artistic conception than anything we had previously had on this continent, as it is that it was seen by so many hundreds of thousands of people from all parts of America, to most of whom this architectural glory came as a revelation.

Before beginning to point out the specific contrivances by which the perfection of the architectural style is sought, it will be best to consider its broader relations, conditions and limitations. The architectural garden is, in a very proper sense, an extension,—a development of the building or buildings in contiguity. A dwelling house must have porches, promenades, provision for the exercise, rest or enjoyment of its inhabitants in the open air, with more or less protection under foot and overhead. A public building must have its colonnades, loggias and approaches. These may extend indefinitely away from the proper walls of the building and into the area of the garden. It is necessary only to keep up a close and obvious connection between the entrance steps, the walks of stone or marble flagging, the resting seats of hewn stone, the fountains, the statuary and the stone boundary walls, to see how completely the main edifice may extend quite to the boundary of the grounds.

Looking at it in this light it is manifest that the surrounding grounds, developed from the central building, are accessory and subordinate to it. They serve as an appropriate frame in which to exhibit the beauty of the building. They do not attempt to hide the main work of architecture, nor to draw attention away from it, but to point out and emphasize its beauties. It would be well if this point were borne in mind by landscape gardeners in general ; for there are many cases in which the buildings are of supreme interest, and any gardening which openly competes with them for public attention and admiration is pronouncedly intolerable. It is doubtful if any naturalistic effects should ever be attempted in such cases. It can be fairly said that the possibilities of developing such places after the Italian methods are seldom realized in this country; for while we have a great deal of painfully unnatural gardening, we have woefully little creditable architectural adornment outside the paint which covers our houses.

The principle of choice between the two great styles has already been pointed out. In situations where the buildings are necessarily predominant, the architectural style is more easy of application while m those cases where the grounds are naturally of chief importance, they respond most readily and satisfactorily to the natural style of development This rule may not be proof against exceptions, but it is safe.

One word more needs to be said. A compromise or combination of the two styles-the natural and the architectural-is utterly irrational and impossible. Certain concessions to architecture are always necessary in natural gardening, even in Yellowstone National Park, but they must always be looked upon as detracting from the ideal, and their thoughtless introduction or unskillful treatment may quickly damage the naturalistic landscape beyond repair And so must flowers, foliage and trees be brought into the architectural garden, but they must, by heroic efforts, be subordinated to the geometrical outlines of the main features.

Geometrical lines, always to be avoided in naturalistic gardening, are to be conservatively sought in working out the architectural ideal. Flower beds borders, drives, walks, and all other similar elements of the landscape, which in naturalistic compositions would preferably be expressed in flowing curves will in this style be set in straight lines and geometrical curves. There are pleasing geometrical lines and unpleasing ones. More truly are there good combinations of geometrical lines, and bad ones. To discriminate between the good and the bad requires the same taste that is needed to criticise any other art object. To originate a good one in the imagination and successfully to transfer it to the garden, requires the mind and the education of an artist.

The amateur may remember that these three tests can safely be applied to his geometrical tracings: Simplicity, boldness, grace. Simplicity is of supreme importance. Intricate or complex geometrical designs, which do not appear at once clear and reasonable, even at the first careless, inattentive glance, are curiosities fit for intellectual study, and not elements of a picture for the delight of the more subtle aesthetic faculties. They might serve a purpose in a museum. In a garden they have no place. This is especially to be insisted on at this point, for the novice can easily combine geometrical forms: but doing so without training and without sympathy, his work is at best grotesque, and quite apt to be silly. This same lack of feeling for dignity of outline results in tameness, weakness, puerility, in place of that quality which we have designated as boldness. We might have called this quality dignity; but dignity is both simple and bold. Now if simplicity and boldness alone were demanded of geometrical lines, perfection would be within easy reach. One would have only to confine himself to rectangular combinations to achieve both. But some more graceful outlines are desired by the eye, and to their invention the designer may well give earnest study. No definition of grace, in this sense, can be put in words, much less any directions by which its realization may be effectually secured.

The lawn has already been referred to as being in a double sense the ground work of the garden picture. The close shaven lawn is the very life of the architectural garden. Often it is all the garden there is to the composition. If a city residence crowds upon a busy street, trees, shrubs and flowers are all impracticable; but the little strip of close cut grass between is clean, cool and comfortable. A court yard may be chiefly concerned with a fountain, stone flagging and heavy benches; but there may be some little patches of clipped grass in between, and these will be like the carpets within the building. The uncut lawn with grass running riot is so evidently out of unity with all architectonic features as to need no remark.

Trees set in rows may or may not add to the perfection of the Italian style. If trees are to be used in any moderate number they should usually stand in rows; and if they approach closely to some extended geometrical line they should always be placed parallel to it. This applies to those infrequent instances in which a row of trees will appear next the long face of a building, and to the more common cases in which they will follow a drive or walk. It is quite the delight of the landscape architect to form long avenues of stately trees; and how successful such leafy avenues have been in satisfying the longings of men's hearts one need only consult the historian, the story writer and the poet to learn.

Street planting should be referred, for discussion, to this place in our outline; and it is a matter of such general importance, and yet one in which such a surprising amount of bad taste is displayed, that we may give it a proportionally large amount of our attention. The street, then, is to be regarded as a geometrical figure, and is to be consistently treated as such. This requires three things. First, the rows should be parallel with the street. Second, the trees should be set at uniform distances. Third, the individual trees should be just as nearly uniform in all respects as it is possible to make them. The first two considerations are sufficiently obvious. The third rule is constantly violated. It is not at all uncommon to find two or more distinct species mixed together in the same row. The writer remembers to have seen nine different species in a single row running only half the length of a city block. This row was purposely set in such an order by the enthusiastic owner of the property. The man might consistently have sewed nine monstrously different buttons in a row down the front of his Prince Albert coat. Great effort should further be made to have all the trees in any given row of the same size and form. If in the first planting of a street only a part of the trees grow, no time or pains can be spared quickly to fill the vacancies. And during the early development of the row attention should be given to favor the slow growing specimens and to check the strong. After a low of trees of a single species is well started, a satisfactory uniformity will usually result without further special attention. It is, of course, not desirable to try to make each tree along an avenue the exact counterpart of some model,* but with trees of more precise forms even this effort is worth while. There are some species of trees having forms almost architectural in themselves, such as the Lombardy poplar, and for purely ornamental purposes such trees may be used with marked success along avenues. Other trees, as arbor vitaes, which can be clipped into distinctly geometrical forms, might undoubtedly be used with abundant satisfaction in certain cases for the same purposes.

*Special effort was required however to make a good avenue of elms. The diversities of form were often so serious as to detract materially from the beauty of the row. This diffculty was overcome when the work was of sufficient importance, by planting well selected grafted trees. See also The Planting of Streets and Avenues

Clipped trees and shrubs are frequently seen in the little gardens about our city and country residences. But among the numerous specimens of this sort which one finds, it is hard indeed to find one which really adds some value to the scene. They are usually mere freaks of the gardeners' imagination. They should be severely discouraged. But in a consistently developed Italian garden, judiciously placed among harmonious surroundings, these clipped plants may become beautiful and dignified. The clipped hedges of the Italian villas are a most delightful part of the compositions. In some of these, sculptured columns are set at regular distances, fitting snugly into the mass of the hedge plants; and thus the architectural effect is accented and improved.

Topiary work was extremely fashionable among the gardeners of England and the continent in the years preceding the development of the natural style. It was more used there than in Italy, and without the related features of the Italian style. Topiary work consists in the clipping of trees or shrubs into more elaborate architectural or statuesque forms, such as to make whole arbors, statues, and often ingeniously grotesque figures. If it is useful anywhere it may be brought into the architectural garden; but its extravagances are always unbearable, and are now haply out of vogue.

The introduction of stairways, balustrades, urns, fountains and statues in a much-frequented garden, supposing the articles to be in themselves pleasing, must always be a satisfaction to the human habitues. The eye delights in them all. So that when we have quite laid aside the attempt to deceive the senses into a feeling of rural solitude, and are working along professedly artificial lines, nothing gives greater pleasure than well-executed and well-disposed architectural and sculpturesque features. This proposition needs no argument or explanation. It is self-evident, but none the less pregnant for its obviousness.

The colors which seem most in unison with architectural gardening are the deep green monotones in the clipped walls and columns. A mixture of colors in these would spoil forever their dignity and repose. A spotted wall or a variegated column would be an absurdity. But sharp contrasts are in some places also useful, as in the practice of setting white marble statues against walls of the darkest green. For the blossoming plants which are sometimes used in beds or pots, bright and contrasting colors are to be chosen. This practice is also entirely the opposite of that employed in the natural style, where the most delicate gradations of greens and grays are contrived.

A terrace always presents two or three parallel lines, according to its construction. These should be exactly parallel and geometrical in outline. They are in any case purely formal, geometrical, architectural; and they fit easily into an architectural composition and measurably enhance its effect.

Fountains are always appropriate to the style of gardening here under consideration. But limited stretches of still water, bound in by stone steps, walls or edgings, also serve to beautify the scene while still further heightening the effect which we are now seeking. It may perhaps be permissible to refer again to the Court of Honor at the World's Fair in illustration of the wonderful effectiveness of water surfaces amid architectural surroundings. The free use of water pieces in gardens was a chief tenet of the Moorish, Persian and Indian gardeners, and may be said to be the principal attraction of so much of their work as remains to the present day.

Flower beds were notable features of the old Italian villas. The typical disposition of them was within an enclosure walled by sheared trees, as already described. Within these environs a large number of small flower beds were laid off in geometrical shapes, edged with low clipped borders of grass or shrubs, and separated by graveled walks. Both hardy perennial plants and flowering annuals were used in these little plots. Outside these gardens, in any suitable position, flowering or foliage plants may be found in pots or boxes. These receptacles may be at the successive posts of a horizontal balustrade; they may surmount the newel posts at the foot of some stairs, or they may flank a path-side garden seat. The lawn vases, such as one sees quite too often on naturalistically treated lawns, may be used in this style with greater freedom.

Pattern bedding should be mentioned here because it does not belong to the architectural ideal, though some people may suppose that it does. Indeed, the pattern beds such as we see so distastefully displayed in our parks, showing in gaudy colei and acalyphas the day of the week, a map of the United States or an ugly ship sailing on dry land,—these things do not belong to any system of landscape gardening. Neither do the trivial little mosaics of echeverias and geraniums which one sees in private dooryards. These things belong in the horticultural museum, along with other oddities and monstrosities. It is not possible to speak of gardening as a fine art until these things are thoroughly forsaken and forgotten.


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