Edward Savage, The East Front of Mount Vernon, c. 1787–92. Savage's paintings are the earliest known eyewitness views of the house & grounds at Mount Vernon. (They date between 1787, when the Dove of Peace weathervane was added to the Mansion's cupola, & 1792, the year the outbuildings' roofs were repainted a Spanish brown color & the deer paddock near the East Lawn was removed.) The East Front portrays the bucolic setting of the Mansion. Savage possibly stopped at Mount Vernon while traveling north from South Carolina in 1791 or 1792.
A clump of trees or shrubs became a recognized garden component in the 2nd half of the 18C in both England & America. In British colonial America a clump usually was a group of 7 or 8 trees intentionally planted to form a single unit. England's The Complete Farmer (1769) suggested that these trees should be “without shape or order,” but Geographer Jedidiah Morse’s 1789 description of the “circular clumps” at Mount Vernon describes rounded, symmetrical groupings of trees as clumps. The Complete Farmer: Or, a General Dictionary of Husbandry is an 18C dictionary, dealing with most branches of agriculture. It contained various contemporary methods of cultivating and improving land plus information on breeding, managing, & fattening livestock. It was written by anonymous writers, which used the pseudonym a "Society of Gentlemen," only revealing that they were members of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, the later Royal Society of Arts. The content was based on the insights of authorities in each field, which were listed as "Carl Linnaeus, Michel Lullin de Chateauvieux, Marquis de Turbilly, Hugh Plat, John Evelyn, John Worlidge, John Mortimer, Jethro Tull, Ellis, Philip Miller, Thomas Hale, Edward Lisle, Roque, John Mills, Arthur Young."
1800 Francis Jukes Jukes (American artist, 1745–1812) Mount Vernon
George Washington noted March 2, 1785, at Mount Vernon, “Planted the remainder of the Ash Trees—in the Serpentine walks—the remainder of the fringe trees in the Shrubberies—all the black haws—all the large berried thorns with a small berried one in the middle of each clump—6 small berried thorns with a large one in the middle of each clump—all the swamp red berry bushes & one clump of locust trees.” Jedidiah Morse, noted of Mount Vernon in 1789, “...the lands in that side are laid out somewhat in the form of English gardens, in meadows & grass grounds, ornamented with little copses, circular clumps & single trees.”
The composition of clumps varied according to American observers. Bernard M’Mahon in 1806 stated that clumps could be composed solely of trees or shrubs, or a mixture of trees, shrubs, & herbaceous plants. Clumps from a mixture of larger & smaller deciduous trees, such as the horse chestnut & red bud, were created at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson.
University of Virginia Architectural History Professor Richard Guy Wilson explains in his 2019 “Thomas Jefferson’s Architectural & Landscape Aesthetics: Sources & Meaning” that "Jefferson certainly knew about the transformation that was taking place in the gardens of English country houses prior to his visit in 1786. On his own & then with Adams he visited many of the leading English picturesque gardens & observed firsthand the revolution. On the tour he took Thomas Whately’s Observations on Modern Gardening (1770) & saw the new composition that was in direct contrast to the highly organized, symmetrical gardens that dominated Versailles. Whatley describes this new English picturesque garden as an “exertion of fancy; a subject for taste” & “released now from the restraints of regularity, an enlarged beyond the purposes of domestic convenience, the most beautiful, the most simple, the most noble scenes of nature are all within its province.” Influenced greatly by landscape painting of supposedly natural scenery, the new English mode attempted to create gardens that disavowed the hand of man. Instead of straight lines the paths were curved & sometimes followed the natural contours. Ornate flower gardens disappeared except very close to the house & the landscape would be planted with clumps of trees & bushes that appeared random & not organized & ponds & streams wandered through rather than encased in geometrical order. Of course, all of this “new style“...garden was created by man but with the intention of imitating nature."
West Front of Monticello and Garden, depicting Tho Jefferson's grandchildren at Monticello by Jane Braddick Peticolas, 1825.
Thomas Jefferson, wrote in his 1804 of Monticello's landscape plan, “The ground between the upper & lower roundabouts to be laid out in lawns & clumps of trees, the lawns opening so as to give advantageous catches of prospect to the upper roundabout...“The canvas at large must be Grove, of the largest trees, (poplar, oak, elm, maple, ash, hickory, chestnut, Linden, Weymouth pine, sycamore) trimmed very high, so as to give it the appearance of open ground, yet not so far apart but that they may cover the ground with close shade. This must be broken by clumps of thicket, as the open grounds of the English are broken by clumps of trees. plants for thickets are broom, calycanthus, altheas, gelder rose, magnolia glauca, azalea, fringe tree, dogwood, red bud, wild crab, kalmia, mezereon, euonymous, halesia, quamoclid, rhododendron, oleander, service tree, lilac, honeysuckle, brambles.”
Thomas Jefferson wrote of Bedford County VA retreat Poplar Forest, November 1812, that he had planted a “clump of Anthenian & Balsam poplars at each corner of house. intermix locusts, common & Kentucky, red-bud, dogwoods, calycanthus, liriodendron.”
In his 1770, Observations on Modern Gardening England's clump guru Thomas Whatley explains, “It has been already observed, that clumps differ only in extent from a wood, if they are close; or from a grove, if they are open...But besides the properties they may have in common with woods or with groves, they have others peculiar to themselves, which require examination.
“They are either independent or relative; when independent, their beauty, as single objects, is solely to be attended to; when relative, the beauty of the individuals must be sacrificed to the effect of the whole, which is the greater consideration.
“The least clump that can be, is of two trees; & the best effect they can have is, that their heads united should appear one large tree; two therefore of different species, or seven or eight of such shapes as do not easily join, can hardly be a beautiful group, especially if it have a tendency to a circular form. Such clumps of firs, though very common, are seldom pleasing; they do not compose one mass, but are only a confused number of pinnacles. The confusion is however avoided, by placing them in succession, not in clusters; & a clump of such trees is therefore more agreeable when it is extended rather in length than in breadth...
“If humbler growths at the extremity can discompose the strictest regularity, the use of it is thereby recommended upon other occasions. It is indeed the variety peculiarly proper for clumps: every apparent artifice affecting the objects of nature, disgusts; & clumps are such distinguished objects, so liable to the suspicion of having been left or placed on purpose to be so distinguished, that to divert the attention from these symptoms of art, irregularity in the composition is more important to them than to a wood or to a grove; being also less extensive, they do not admit so much variety of outline: but variety of growths is most observable in a small compass; & the several gradations may often be cast into beautiful figures.
“The extent & the outline of a wood or a grove engage the attention more than the extremities; but in clumps these last are of the most consequence: they determine the form of the whole; & both of them are generally in sight: great care should therefore be taken to make them agreeable & different. The ease with which they may be compared, forbids all similarity between them: for every appearance of equality suggests an idea of art; & therefore a clump as broad as it is long, seems less the work of nature than one which stretches into length.
“Another peculiarity of clumps, is the facility with which they admit a mixture of trees & of shrubs, of wood & of grove; in short, of every species of plantation. None are more beautiful than those which are so composed. Such compositions are, however, more proper in compact than in straggling clumps: they are most agreeable when they form one mass: if the transitions from very lofty to very humble growths, from thicket to open plantations, be frequent & sudden, the disorder ismore suited to rude than to elegant scenes.
“The occasions on which independent clumps may be applied, are many. They are often desirable as beautiful objects in themselves; they are sometimes necessary to break an extent of lawn, or a continued line, whether of ground or of plantation; but on all occasions a jealousy of art constantly attends them, which irregularity in their figure will not always alone remove. Though elevations shew them to advantage, yet a hillock evidently thrown up on purpose to be crowned with a clump, is artificial to a degree of disgust: some of the trees should therefore be planted on the sides,to take off that appearance. The same expedient may be applied to clumps placed on the brow of a hill, to interrupt its sameness: they will have less ostentation of design, if they are in part carried down either declivity. The objection already made to planting many along such a brow, is on the same principle: a single clump is less suspected of art; if it be an open one, there can be no finer situation for it, than just at the point of an abrupt hill, or on a promontory into a lake or a river. It is in either a beautiful termination, distinct by its position, & enlivened by an expanse of sky or of water, about & beyond it. Such advantages may ballance little defects in its form; but they are lost if other clumps are planted near it: art then intrudes, & the whole is displeasing...
“But though a multiplicity of clumps, when each is an independant object, seldom seems natural; yet a number of them may, without any appearance of art, be admitted into the same scene, if they bear a relation to each other: if by their succession they diversify a continued outline of wood; if between them they form beautiful glades; if all together they cast an extensive lawn into an agreeable shape, the effect prevents any scrutiny into the means of producing it. But when the reliance on that effect is so great, every other consideration must give way to the beauty of the whole. The figure of the glade, of the lawn, or of the wood, are principally to be attended to: the finest clumps, if they do not fall easily into the great lines, are blemishes: their connections, their contrasts, are more important than their forms.
“A line of clumps, if the intervals be closed by others beyond them, has the appearance of a wood, or of a grove; & in one respect the semblance has an advantage over the reality. In different points of view, the relations between the clumps are changed; & a variety of forms is produced, which no continued wood or grove, however broken, can furnish. These forms cannot all be equally agreeable; & too anxious a solicitude to make them every where pleasing, may, perhaps, prevent their being ever beautiful. The effect must often be left to chance; but it should be studiously consulted from a few principal points of view; & it is easy to make any recess, any prominence, any figure in the outline, by clumps thus advancing before, or retiring behind one another.
“But amidst all the advantages attendant on this species of plantation, it is often exceptionable when commanded from a neighboring eminence; clumps below the eye lose some of their principal beauties; & a number of them betray the art of which they are always liable to be suspected; they compose no surface of wood; & all effects arising from the relations between them are entirely lost. A prospect spotted with many clumps can hardly be great: unless they are so distinct as to be objects, or so distant as to unite into one mass, they are seldom an improvement of a view.”
A 1788 description of William Hamilton's The Woodlands near Philadelphia, PA noted clumps, “[The walks were] planted on each side with the most beautiful & curious flowers & shrubs. They are in some parts enclosed with the Lombardy poplar except here & there openings are left to give you a view of some fine trees or beautiful prospect beyond, & in others, shaded by arbours of the wild grape, or clumps of large trees under which are placed seats where you may rest yourself & enjoy the cool air.” And in 1806, Charles Drayton wrote of The Woodlands, “The Approach, its road, woods, lawn & clumps, are laid out with much taste & ingenuity.”
James Peller Malcom (1767-1815), Woodlands, the Seat of W. Hamilton Esq., from the Bridge at Grey's Ferry, ca. 1792 Detail
England's Charles Marshall, in his 1st American edition of 1799 An Introduction to the Knowledge & Practice of Gardening explained, “As to small plantations, of thickets, coppices, clumps, & rows of trees, they are to be set close according to their nature, & the particular view the planter has, who will take care to consider the usual size they attain, & their mode of growth. An advantage at home for shade or shelter, & a more distant object of sight, will make a difference: for some immediate advantage, very close planting may take place, but good trees cannot be thus expected; yet if thinned in time, a strait tall stem is often thus procured, which afterwards is of great advantage.
“For little clumps, or groupes of forest trees, there may be planted three or four in a sport, within five or six feet of one another, & thus be easily fenced: having the air freely all round, & a good soil, such clumps produce fine timber. . .
“Rural & extensive gardening is naturally connected with a taste for planting forest trees; & an idea of the picturesque should ever accompany the work of planting. Merely for the sake of objects to gratify the eye, planting is very often pursued, & wherever trees can be introduced to improve a view from the house, or accustomed walks, there a man, having it in his power, a proprieter of the land, ought to plant.
“If to planting in clumps, coppices, groves, avenues, & woods, be added levelling of ground, improving of water courses, & pastures, making lawns, &c. the expense incurred would be honorable, & answered by pleasures of the sincerest kind! . . .
“If there is good room, single trees of the fir kind, at due distances, are admirable ornaments about a house, & clumps of shrubs all of the same kind have a good effect. . .
“Too much plain is to be guarded against, & when it abounds, the eye should be relieved, by clumps or some other agreeable object.”
William Russell Birch (1755-1834). Woodlands, the Seat of Mr. Wm. Hamilton, Pennsylvania, from Country Seats of the United States, 1808.
François Alexandre-Frédéric, duc de, La Rochefoucauld Liancourt, 1796, described Drayton Hall, plantation of John Drayton, Charleston, SC in 1796,“We stopped to dine with Dr. Drayton at Drayton-hall. The house is an ancient building, but convenient & good; & the garden is better laid out, better cultivated & stocked with good trees, than any I have hitherto seen. In order to have a fine garden, you have nothing to do but to let the trees remain standing here & there, or in clumps, to plant bushes in front of them, & arrange the trees according to their h eight. Dr. Drayton’s father, who was also a physician, began to lay out the garden on this principle; & his son, who is passionately fond of a country life, has pursued the same plan.”
P. E. Du Simitiére (1737-1784) Drayton Hall S.C
Washigton DC gardeners John Gardiner & David Hepburn, in the 1804 American Gardener, recommended the use of a graduated slope for such plantings. Their text was generally taken from England's Phillip Miller, 1733, Gardeners Dictionary, “In small Gardens, where there is not room for these magnificent Wildernesses, there may be some rising Clumps of Ever-greens, so designed as to make the Ground appear much larger than it is in Reality; & if in these there are some Serpentine-walks well contriv’d, it will greatly improve the Places, & deceive those who are unacquainted with the Ground, as to its Size. These Clumps or little Quarters of Ever-greens should be placed just beyond the plain Opening of Grass before the House, where the Eye will be carried from the plain Surface of Grass, to the regular Slope of Ever-greens, to the greatest Pleasure of the Beholder; but if there is a distant Prospect of the adjacent Country from the House, then this should not be obstructed, but rather a larger Opening allowed for the View, bounded on each Side with these rising Clumps, which may be extended to half the Compass of the Ground: & on the back Part from the Sight, may be planted the several kinds of flowering Shrubs, according to their different Growths, which will still add to the Variety. These small Quarters should not be surrounded with Hedges, for the Reasons before given for the larger Plantations; nor should they be cut into Angles, or any other studied Figures, but be designed rather in a rural manner; which is always preferable to the other, for these Kinds of Plantations...Plant roses, honeysuckles, jasmins, lilacs, double hawthorn, cherry blossom, & other hardy shrubs, when the weather is mild.—In forming a shrubbery, plant the lowest shrubs in front of clumps, & the tallest most backward, three to six feet apart, according to the bulk the shrubs grow. They will thus appear to most advantage.”
America's newest garden authority Bernard M'Mahon wrote in his 1806 The American Gardener’s Calendar, “In designs for a Pleasure-ground, according to modern gardening; consulting rural disposition, in imitation of nature; all too formal works being almost abolished...instead of which, are now adopted, rural open spaces of grass-ground, of varied forms & dimensions, & winding walks, all bounded with plantations of trees, shrubs, & flowers, in various clumps...
“For instance, a grand & spacious open lawn, of grass-ground, is generally first presented immediately to the front of the mansion, or main habitation; sometimes widely extended on both sides, to admit of a greater prospect, &c. & sometimes more contracted towards the habitation; widening gradually outwards, & having each side embellished with plantations of shrubbery, clumps, thickets, &c. in sweeps, curves, & projections, towards the lawn...
“First an open lawn of grass-ground is extended on one of the principal fronts of the mansion or main house, widening gradually from the house outward, having each side bounded by various plantations of trees, shrubs, & flowers, in clumps, thickets, &c. exhibited in a variety of rural forms, in moderate concave & convex curves, & projections, to prevent all appearance of a stiff uniformity... “Each boundary must be planted with a choice variety of ornamental trees & shrubs, deciduous, & ever-greens, arranged principally in several clumps; some consisting of lofty trees, others being entirely of the shrub kinds, & some consisting of trees, shrubs, & herbaceous plants together: in all of which, arrange the taller growing kinds backward, & the lower forward, according to their gradation of height; embellishing the front with the more curious low flowering shrubs, & ever-greens, interspersed with various herbaceous flowering perennials, all open to the lawn & walks...
“Another part shall appear more gay & sprightly, displaying an elegant flower-ground, or flower-garden, designed somewhat in the parterre way, in various beds, borders, & other divisions, furnished with the most curious flowers; & the boundary decorated with an arrangement of various clumps, of the most beautiful flowering shrubs, & lively ever-greens, each clump also bordered with a variety of the herbaceous flowery tribe.”
The President's House. Benjamin Henry Latrobe's 1807 plan for the White House made use of planting features that corresponded to relative clumps, positioned to create a transition from the wood & garden. Latrobe, explained that, “In removing the ground, it would certainly be necessary to go down in front of the colonnade to the level of about one foot below the bases of the Columns but, it will certainly not deprive this colonnade of any part of its beauty to pass behind a few gentle Knolls & groves or Clumps in its front, & much expense of removing earth would be thereby saved.”