Saturday, December 11, 2021

Garden Design - Avenues, Alleys, & Walks

Most 18th century Atlantic coast gardens & grounds contained pathways of brick, grass, crushed oyster shells, or gravel dividing & connecting various components of the grounds & connecting the gardens with nearby buildings.  Any walk is a place prepared or set apart for humans to walk. These particular walks were the skeleton of the 18th century garden defining distinct areas, while directing walking pathways & lines of sight.

A walk  connecting to the garden was first mentioned in English appeared in Geoffrey Chaucer's Knight's Tale. "The gardyn...Ther as this fresshe Emelye...Was in hire walk, and romed vp and doun." In 1693, John Evelyn pronounced that "A Walke must be broad enough for two Persons to walk a-breast at least...without which it would no longer be a real Walk, but a large Path."

The pragmatic aspect of garden walks was equally important. Pathways of heavily rolled grass & gravel assured firm & relatively level ground underfoot. Remember, these folks were pretty heavy drinkers, from hard cider to more ardent spirits. They just didn't trust well water, often with good reason; and one fall or broken bone could be disastrous.  Practical gravel & brick walks often connected the dwelling with the "necessary" & other utility outbuildings & yards, which the garden owners & their servants would have to walk day & night, good weather & bad. Not many indoor options existed.
Some of the simplest features - the lawn and gravel walks - were the most labor intensive to maintain.  In The Universal Gardener and Botanist (1787), lawns were lauded as “add[ing] to the grandeur of the garden and beauty of the mansion,” which the bowling green does at Mount Vernon. Gravel walks were praised as “great ornaments to the gardens as well as the most useful kinds of walks for common walking.” But both required weekly maintenance. This work was typically done by enslaved individuals. 

Lawns were to be mowed once a week. Prior to mowing, the lawn would be poled with long tapered pliable poles, 15 to 18 feet in length, rolled across the ground The purpose of the poling was to “break and scatter the worm-casts about.” Earthen mounds left by worms were considered unsightly. If the lawn was damp, it was suggested to roll the lawn with a wooden roller so that the earth that had been scattered would adhere to the roller “and render the surface perfectly clean.” Mowing would occur at least once a week using a scythe. Stone rollers would have been used occasionally “to press down all inequalities close, so as to preserve a firm, even, smooth surface.” 

Similarly, gravel walks required weekly required raking and rolling. The rolling would be repeated, “till the surface is rendered perfectly compact, firm and smooth; and if after the first shower of rain, you give it another good rolling, it will bind like a rock.” George Washington’s hired gardeners frequently recorded the dressing, sweeping, and raking of the gravel walks in the gardens. New gravel was added throughout the year.

Grass walks invited more leisurely dry-weather strolls. Some walks led through the garden, so that the visitor could get a close-up view of the skills & the horticultural knowledge of the gardener & his plantings.  Some walks meandered around the wooded edge of the garden grounds leaving more time for talking about the news of the day. And some garden walks lead through a well-thought-out thick wilderness to ensure added privacy.
Walks were places for public & private exercise, serious romance, and other less physical & emotional social interactions.

And then, there was also the question of how you portrayed yourself to visitors & to those passing by your property. The gentry, cut off from their traditional heredity paths to power, needed to convince the locals; that they were meant to be in charge in this new land. They needed to be on the highest prospect, and their house & grounds needed to be the most impressive in the area.  So, early American landscape planners enjoyed playing with optics, when they designed gardens & grounds. Sometimes optics were used in pleasure grounds to make a walk appear longer, the width would decrease as the walk lead away from the main building, making the grounds seem larger. Occasionally, the width of the walk would increase as the walk lead away from the dwelling, making the house seem more imposing.

Avenues, Alleys, & Grasswalks

Gardeners also used smaller alleys of trees, to help define their gardens. Consisting of single or double rows of trees or hedges, these alleys usually bordered walkways. Alleys through the center of a garden were wider than intersecting ones. Occasionally the designers also manipulated the perspective of these alleys, so that their apparent size was lengthened, by gradually narrowing the width toward the far end. Often, colonial gentry used the term alley to refer to the walkways that ran between beds of plants & were bordered by low-growing shrubs.

Gentlemen garden planners designed their garden alleys to offer cooling shade & exercise, direct the line of sight, define garden compartments, & add ornament to their grounds. More often than not, they planted fruit-bearing plants as their alleys. George Washington planted “Apricots and Peach Trees which stood in the borders of the grass plats.”
Deborah Norris Logan reported that in 1767, the garden at the home of Charles Norris in Philadelphia was, "...laid out in square parterres and beds, regularly intersected by graveled and grasswalks and alleys."

When Manasseh Cutler visited the public pleasure garden called Gray's Garden, near Philadelphia, in 1787, he noted that, "...gardens seemed to be in a number of detached areas, all different in size and form. The alleys were none of them straight, nor were there any two alike. At every end, side, and corner, there were summer-houses, arbors covered with vines or flowers or shady bowers encircled with trees and flowering shrubs, each of which was formed in a different taste."

Lewis Beebe recorded in his journal viewing Henry Pratt's The Hills\Lemon Hill near Philadelphia, in 1800, "Mr. Pratts garden for beauty and elegance exceeds all that I ever saw--It is 20 rods long--and 18 wide An alley of 13 feet wide runs the length of the garden thro' the centre--Two others of 10 feet wide equally distant run parallel with the main alley. These are intersected at right angles by 4 other alleys of 8 feet wide--Another alley of 5 feet wide goes around the whole garden, leaving a border around it of 3 feet wide next the pales--this lays the garden into 20 squares each square has a border around it 3 feet wide--Likewise the border of every square is decorated with pinks and a thousand other flowers." 

Irishman Bernard M'Mahon came to Philadelphia in the last decade of the 18th century to apprentice at the David Landreth nursery before establishing his own seed business on Philadelphia's Second Street. He soon bought 20 acres of land on the Schuylkill River on Germantown Pike to build greenhouses and a botanic garden, which he named Upsal in commemoration of Linnaaeus' connection with Uppsala University. M'Mahon wrote about the gardens in 18th century Great Britain and America after a few years in Philadelphia, "Straight rows of the most beautiful trees, forming long avenues and grand walks, were in great estimation, considered as great ornaments, and no condsiderable estate and eminent pleasure ground were without several of them."

John Gardiner & David Hepburn wrote in their book The American Gardener in 1804, in Washington, District of Columbia, that January was the time to, "Roll your grass and gravel walks one a week at least if you wish to have them neat."

Fellow garden writer Bernard M'Mahon wrote in his 1806 The American Gardener's Calendar in Philadelphia, "With respect to walks, some ought to be made of gravel, and some of grass; the former for common walking, and the latter for occassional walking in the heat of summer... gravel walks however should lead all round the pleasure-ground, and into the principal internal divisions...As to the distribution of gravel walks...first a magnificient one from 15 to 20 or 30 feet wide, should range immediately close and parallel to the front of the house, and be conducted across the lawn into the nearest side shrubberies."
c. 1796. Charles Fraser (1782-1860). The Seat of James Fraser, Esq., Goose Creek, South Carolina.

Landowners in 18th century South Carolina tended to keep one eye on the sun and the other on the latest, most fashionable garden design, as they planned the gardens and grounds around their homes. Carolina gardeners used the same traditional European design components as their fellow colonists up and down the Atlantic coast, but they seldom forgot to factor in the oppressive Carolina summer heat. Shady trees and cooling water played a large part in colonial South Carolina garden design.

Garden planners throughout the colonies charted walkways, alleys, and avenues to form the basic skeleton of their gardens. Most colonial British Americans called the entire outdoor area surrounding their living quarters "gardens." Property owners often divided these garden areas into beds for growing flowers and vegetables; yards for enclosing a variety of outdoor work; and larger turfed open areas for playing lawn games or visiting with friends and family.

Settlers in the British American colonies were accustomed to referring to a walk in a garden or a park, generally bordered with trees or bushes, as an alley. They also used the term alley to refer to the spaces between beds of flowers or plants.

Lining their larger turfed open areas, South Carolinians especially enjoyed alleys of trees, because they offered cooling shade for year-round exercise. Alleys also directed the onlooker's line of sight, defined garden compartments, and added ornament to the grounds. Gardeners usually planned an alley as a walkway bordered with single or double rows of trees or hedges.

Alleys leading from a central door of a dwelling through the center of an adjoining garden were wider than subsidiary intersecting walkways. Garden planners often intentionally manipulated the perspective using optics, so that the apparent size of an alley was lengthened by gradually narrowing the width of the alley towards the far end.

Some gardeners also called those walkways between beds of plants bordered by low-growing shrubs alleys. On May 22, 1749, in Charleston, a landowner advertised, ''A garden, genteelly laid out in walks and alleys, with flower-knots, & laid round with bricks" for sale in the South Carolina Gazette. Although this was an early reference to alleys in the British American colonies, it was not the first.

Private Garden Walks

During Jasper Danckaerts' 1680 visit to New York, he reported, "We had nowhere seen so many vines together as we saw here, which had been planted for the purpose of shading the walks on the river side, in between the trees."

In 1722, Hugh Jones wrote about his visit to Williamsburg, Virginia, "...the Palace or Governor's House, a magnificent structure built at the publick Expense, finished and beautified with Gates, fine Gardens, Offices, Walks."
1765. Boys on a Walk within a Walled Garden. John Durand.

Judge Sewall wrote with melancholy when describing his garden in 1726 Boston, Massachusettes, "I miss my old friends and the charming garden and walks which are all vanished."

On February 2, 1734 in Charleston, the South Carolina Gazette advertised, "To Be Let or Sold...on an island...A delightful Wilderness with shady Walks..."
Brick Walk to a "Necessary" in Williamsburg, Virginia.

In 1736, Will Griff's contract for Thomas Hancock's house in Boston contained, "I...oblidge lay out the...upper garden allys. Trim the Beds & fill up all the allies with such Stuff as Sd Hancock shall order."

From Virginia, John Bartram wrote to Peter Collinson in England on July 18, 1740, "Colonel Byrd is very Gates, gravel Walks, hedges, and cedars finely twined..."
Entrance Walk from Road to Dwelling.

In May of 1743, Eliza Lucas Pinckney wrote describing William Middleton's Crow-Field in South Carolina, "From the back door is a spacious walk a thousand foot long; each side of which nearest the house is a grass plat ennamiled in a Serpentine manner with flowers."

Also in South Carolina in 1749, in Charleston, a landowner advertised, "A garden, genteelly laid out in walks and alleys, with flower-knots, & laid round with bricks" for sale in the South Carolina Gazette. Some gardeners called walks between beds of plants bordered by low-growing shrubs alleys.

Ezra Stiles described Springettsbury near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1754, "passing a long spacious walk, set on each side with trees, on the summit of a gradual ascent...besides the beautiful walk, ornamented with evergreens."
Walks Defining the Garden Beds at Paca House in Annapolis, Maryland.

Hannah Callender reported in 1762, on William Peters' Belmont near Philadelphia, "A broad walk of English cherry trees leads down to the river. The doors of the house opening opposite admit a prospect of the length of the garden over a broad gravel walk to a large handsome summer house on a green."

The Charles Norris House of 1767, in Philadelphia, was described by Deborah Norris Logan, "...laid out in square parterres and beds, regularly intersected by graveled and grasswalks and alleys...with a grass plot and trees in front, and roses intermixed with currant bushes, around its borders."
Walk at the Fish Pond at Monticello in Virginia.

In 1769 Oswego, New York, Anne Grant noted, "A summer house in a tree, a fish-pond, and a gravel-walk were finished before the end of May."

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..."
Brick Walks to Outbuildings at Riversdale in Maryland.

New Jersey schoolmaster Philip Vickers Fithian wrote in his journal in 1774, about the practical buildings at Nomini Hall, Virginia, "The area of the Triangle made by the Wash-house, Stable, & School-House is perfectly level, and designed for a Bowling-Green, laid out in rectangular Walks which are paved with Brick, & covered with Oyster-Shells."

In the midst of the Revolution in 1777, John Adams visited Mount Clare in Baltimore, Maryland, and observed, "There is the most beautiful walk from the house down to the water; there is a descent not far from the house; you have a fine garden then you descend a few steps and have another fine garden; you go down a few more and have another."
In 1787, Manasseh Cutler noted of Robert Morris' The Hills near Philadelphia, "...the gardens and walks are extensive...a commanding prospect down the Schuylkill."
Walk Dissecting the Garden at Berkeley in Charles City, Virginia.

Abigail Adams wrote in 1790, of Bush Hill in Philadelphia, "A beautiful grove behind the house, through which there is a spacious gravel walk, guarded by a number of marble statues."

In April of 1791, William Loughton Smith visited Mount Vernon near Alexandria, Virginia, "two pretty gardens, separated by a gravel serpentine walk, edged with willows and other trees."
Garden Walks at Carter's Grove in Virginia.

Just after George Washington's death, Mount Vernon was described in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1800. "On either wing is a thick grove of different flowering forest trees. Parallel with them, on the land side, are two spacious gardens, into which one is led by two serpentine gravel walks, planted with weeping willows and shady shrubs."

Alexander Graydon wrote of Israel Pemberton's garden near Philadelphia, in his memoirs, "...laid out in the old fashioned style of uniformity, with walks and allies nodding to their brothers, and decorated with a number of evergreens, carefully clipped into pyramidal and conical forms."

Adrian Valeck's estate was advertised for sale in the 1800 Federal Gazette of Baltimore, "A large garden in the highest state of cultivation, laid out in numerous and convenient walks and squares bordered with espaliers."
Walk up to Gunston Hall in Virginia through the Garden from the River.

Elizabeth Clitherall wrote in 1801 of a garden in Wilmington, North Carolina, "There was alcoves and summer houses at the termination of each walk, seats under trees in the more shady recesses of the Big Garden."

Manasseh Cutler wrote to Mrs. Torrey in November, 1803, of visiting William Hamilton's Woodlands in Philadelphia, "We then walked over the pleasure grounds, in front, and a little back of the house. It is formed into walks, in every direction, with borders of flowering shrubs and trees."
Walk at Belvedere, Home of John Eager Howard, Baltimore, Maryland, 1786-1794, painting by Augustus Weidenbach c 1858.