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Downing at One Time Encouraged Exotics over Native Plants

Landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852) set as his standard, the English garden landscape.

He wrote regularly to John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843), England’s voice for what to include in the landscape in the first part of the nineteenth century.

Downing’s black and white illustrations in his book reflect the lawn and curved pathways into the property that also came from the English garden design. [below]

A. J. Downing A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1844)

The other day I was reading a wonderful book by Judith Major called To Live in the New World: A. J. Downing and American Landscape Gardening.

Major presents Downing’s early ideas about plant selection for the landscape.

She writes, “As did Loudon, Downing made paramount the necessity of introducing exotic ornamental plants instead of indigenous ones.”

That was in Downing’s early years of his landscape work. The year was 1841.

Eventually he came to understand that native plants deserved a spot in the landscape as well.

By 1851 he had changed his opinion.

He wrote in his magazine Horticulturist in 1851, “Our hot-houses are full of the heaths of New-Holland and the Cape, our parterres are gay with the Verbenas and Fuchsias of South America.

“Our pleasure-grounds are studded with the trees of Europe and Northern Asia.

“While the rarest spectacle in an American country place is to see above three or four native trees, rarer still to find any but foreign shrubs, and rarest of all, to find any native wild flowers.”

Downing by then was lamenting the sparse use of native plants, and the tendency to use exotics in the landscape.

He said, “Our woods and swamps are full of the most exquisite plants, some of which would greatly embellish even the smallest garden.”

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