Friday, June 7, 2013

The Mount or Mound


Colonial British American gardeners often constructed artificial viewing sights called mounts or mounds to survey their gardens and the nearby countryside. These mounts usually consisted of a pile of earth heaped up to be used as the base for another structure such as a summerhouse or as an elevated site for surveying the adjoining landscape or as an elevated post for defensive reconnaissance or just a spot for fresh and cooling air in the summer.

Occasionally gardeners planted their mounts with ornamental trees and shrubs. Mounts were often formed from the earth left from digging of cellars and foundations. Walks leading up the slope of a mount sometimes has their breadth contracted at the top by one half to add the illusion of greater length.

European pleasure gardens & parks often contained a model Greek Mountain of Parnassus [see Catshuis for example]. In antiquity, the Parnassus, dedicated to Apollo & the Muses, was the traditional home of poetry & music. Deer are being hunted at the foot of the 'mountain.'

Francis Bacon, (1561-1626), English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, & author, wrote in his 1625 Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall in the essay entitled Of Gardens, "I would also have the alleys spacious and fair. You may have closer alleys upon the side grounds, but none in the main garden. I wish also, in the very middle, a fair mount, with three ascents and alleys, enough for four to walk abreast; which I would have to be perfect circles, without any bulwarks or embossments; and the whole mount to be thirty feethigh, and some fine banqueting house, with some chimneys neatly cast, and without too much glass."

Bacon added, "At the end of both the side grounds I would have a mount of some pretty height, leaving the wall of the enclosure breast-high, to look abroad into the fields."

English writer John Evelyn had mentioned a mount in the middle of his garden in his 1641-1705 Diary. In his 1718 Ichnographia Rustica; or The Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener's Recreation, Stephen Switzer described a garden, "On one Side you ascend several Grass Steps, and come to an artificial Mount, whereon is a large spreading Tree, with a Vane at the Top, and a Seat enclosing it, commanding a most agreeable and entire Prospect of the Vale below."

Switzer describes another garden of the period, "From hence you advance to a Mount considerably higher... on the Top of which is a large Seat, call'd a Windsor Seat, which is contriv'd to turn round any Way, either for the Advantage of Prospect, or to avoid the Inconveniencies of Wind, the Sun... Here 'tis you have a most entertaining Prospect, all all round, and you fee into several Counties of England, as well as into Wales."

"There are abundance of Ever-greens, and Green Slopes regularly displayed; and to the West of the Garden, on an artificial Mount, is a pleasant Summer-house." This description is from one of Daniel Defoe's (1659-1731) greatest works, (often overlooked) the magisterial A tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724–27), which provided a panoramic survey of the British landscape & trade on the eve of England's Industrial Revolution.

South Carolinian Eliza Lucas Pinckney described her neighbor William Middleton's mount at his estate Crowfields in 1743, “to the bottom of this charming spot where is a large fish pond with a mount rising out of the middle-the top of which is level with the dwelling house and upon it is a roman temple.”

By the fall of 1769, William Eddis wrote of the Governor's House at Annapolis, Maryland, "The garden is not extensive, but it is disposed to the utmost advantage; the center walk is terminated by a small green mount, close to which the Severn approaches."

Also built in Annapolis during the 1760s is the 2 acre William Paca Garden. Multi-tier terraces define the garden. The lower terraces feature a fish-shaped pond whose bridge leads to a 2-story summer house built upon an artificial mount, plus serpentine paths through lush lawns & past beds of native plants.

William Paca Garden in Annapolis, Maryland. Dr. Jean Russo, historian for Historic Annapolis, writes that Paca built his garden mount with dirt dug out of his fishpond to give visitors a prospect from the summer house of the harbor & river over his brick wall and to keep "an eye eye on the governor on the other side of the (governor's) pond!"

George Washington wrote in his spring 1786 diary from Mount Vernon, Virginia, "I set the people to raising and forming the mounds of Earth by the gate in order to plant Weeping Willow thereon."

In 1787, the Rev. Manasseh Cutler described the mall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in his journal, "The artificial mounds of earth, and depressions, and small groves in the squares have a most delightful effect."

Eliza Clitherall wrote in her 1801 diary when visiting, Wilmington, North Carolina, "In this Garden were several Alcoves, Summer Houses, a hot-house ...Upon a mound of considerable height was erected a Brick room containing shelves and a large number of books--chairs and table and this was call'd the family chapel, for in those days there was no regular worship in Wilmington."

More detailed descriptions of garden mounts are easier to come by in British publications mid-century. Details of the New College garden at Oxfordshire appeared in a 1755 issue of The Universal Magazine in London, "In the middle of the garden is a beautiful mount with an easy ascent to the top of it, and the walks round about it, as well as the summit of it, guarded with yew hedges." The children of the gentry in the British American colonies often made their way to Oxford to continue their education during this period.

In 1783, the garden at New College in Oxford was described in a guidebook, "In the Garden is a beautiful Mount well disposed, behind which and on the North Side are some curious and uncommon Shrubs and Trees. The whole is surrounded by a Terras. Great Part of the Garden... is encompassed by the City Wall, which serves as a Fence to the College."

An issue of the 1773 London Magazine published a view of Mr. Garrick's House and Gardens at Hampton. "At the north part of the garden is a mount, which commands an extensive prospect into Surry; from thence, by a gradual descent, you pass through an arch, and immediately you are surprised with a prospect of the Thames."

Some British American gardeners constructed more than one mount on their grounds during the colonial period. An advertisement offered for sale “a very large garden both for pleasure and profit, with a variety of pleasant walks, mounts, basons, canals” in the South Carolina Gazette on January 30, 1749.

Artist Diane Johnson's Depiction of Thomas Jefferson's Plan for Poplar Forest.

Thomas Jefferson built two mounts at his retreat Poplar Forest 90 miles south of Monticello in Bedford County, Virginia. Poplar Forest was an estate of 4,800 acres which Jefferson inherited in 1773, from his father-in-law, John Wayles. He supervised the laying of the foundations for a new octagonal house in 1806, in accordance with Andrea Palladio's architectual principles.

The house includes a central cube room, on a side, porticos to the north and south, and a service wing to the east. On either side of the house, Jefferson had mounts built. Two artificial mounds on either side of the sunken lawn behind the house served as ornamental architectural elements and screened identical octagonal privies.

Poplar Forest Mound and Privy.

Palladio’s architecture normally featured a central architectural mass, flanked by two wings, each ending in a pavilion. However, Jefferson substituted landscape elements for bricks-and-mortar: double rows of paper mulberry trees formed the “wings” and earthen mounds replaced the pavilions.

In Europe, Jefferson had seen mounds placed away from the houses to serve as vantage points for surveying ornamental grounds. At Poplar Forest, Jefferson placed his mounds close to the house, planted them with circles of aspens and willows, and used them as a component of his symmetrical landscape.

Thomas Jefferson used the landscape he planted around his house, including the mounts, to visually imitate a Palladian archiectural plan. Poplar Forest with earthen mounds planted with trees subsituting for traditonal pavilions and lines of trees forming Palladian“wings” or “hyphens.”

The house, “wings” comprised of trees, and earthen mounds formed an east-west axis, separating the ornamental grounds within the circle into two distinct areas which Jefferson designed to reflect opposing sensibilities. At the front of the house, he created a landscape that appeared natural, even wild, like gardens he had seen in England.

Poplar Forest Mound or Mount.

See: Masters thesis on Poplar Forest , University of Virginia School of Architecture: C. Allan Brown, "Poplar Forest: Thomas Jefferson and the Ideal Villa," UVA Landscape Architecture 1987

A Curiosity

William Stuckeley (English, 1687–1765)  1723 image of Marlborough “Mount” Wiltshire, England

William Stuckeley (English, 1687–1765) 1723 image of Marlborough “Mount” Wiltshire, England Detail

An article on 31 May 2011 from the BBC notes, Marlborough Mound: 'Merlin's burial place' built in 2400 BC. "A Wiltshire mound where the legendary wizard Merlin was purported to be buried has been found to date back to 2400 BC.  Radiocarbon dating tests were carried out on charcoal samples taken from Marlborough Mound, which lies in Marlborough College's grounds.  The 19m (62ft) high mound had previously mystified historians...Silbury Hill, an artificial man-made mound about five miles away, also dates back to 2,400 BC. Marlborough Mound was reused as a castle and became an important fortress for the Norman and Plantagenet kings.  It was also the scene for major political events, such as the general oath of allegiance sworn to King John in 1209."  It had previously been suggested the Mound dated back to about 600 AD, the Arthurian Age, legend claiming it as the elusive site of Merlin’s grave. Merlin, as Arthur's wizard, is largely the creation of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Vita Merlini, (Life of Merlin) c.1150AD.

1810 Engraving of Marlborough Mount from Colt Hoare's Ancient Wiltshire

Marlborough Mount today