THE ENGLISH LANDSCAPE AND THE ENGLISH LOVE OF ITCategory: Land + People
There are as many types of natural scenery in England almost as there are counties. To attempt to describe all in this one volume w’ould be absurd. Yet to generalise on English natural beauty is difficult, because of that great diversity. Who can suggest, for instance, a common denominator to suit the Devonshire Moors, the Norfolk Broads, the Surrey Downs, and the Thames Valley. But since one must generalise, it is safe to give as the predominant feature of England’s natural beauty that which strikes most obviously the eye of the stranger used to other countries.
Nine out of ten strangers coming to England for the first time, and asked to speak of its appearance, will say something equivalent to “parklike”. England in truth looks like one great well-ordered park, under the charge of a skilful landscape gardener. The trees seem to grow with an eye to effect, the meadows to be designed for vistas, the hedges for reliefs. The land indeed does not seem ever to be doing anything — not at all a correct impression in fact, that, but it is the one conveyed irresistibly.
The hedges, which take up a considerable fraction of English arable soil, help to the park-like appearance of the country. They are inexpressibly beautiful when spring wakes them up to pipe their roulades in tender green. In summer they are splendid in blazon of leaf and flower. In autumn they flaunt banners of gold and red and brown. In winter, too, they are still beautiful, especially in the early winter when there still survive a few scarlet berries to glow and crackle and almost burn in the frost. If England, in a mood of thrift, swept away her hedges and put in their places fences, the saving of land would be enormous. But much of the park-like beauty of the countryside would depart; and with it the predominant note of the English landscape,, which is that of the estate of a rich, careful, orderly nobleman.
The change will be slow in coming, if it comes at all; for though he would be the last man, probably, to suspect it, the Englishman is at heart aesthetic. Yes, in spite of horse-hair furniture, gilt-
‘Arms of the counties of England
Top row (from left to right) Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Chashire, Cornwall, Cumberland, Derbyshire; 2nd row: Devonshire, Dorsetshire, Durham, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire; 3rd row: Huntingdonshire, Kent, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Middlesex, Monmouthshire, NorfolK; 4th row: Northamptonshire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Rutlandshire, Shropshire, Somersetshire, Staffordshire; 6th row: Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire, Westmoreland, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, Yorkshire. framed oleographs, wax-flower decoratiors, and Early Victorian wall-papers, and other sins of which many of him have been and still are, guilty, the Englishman has planted in him an instinct of art. It shows in his love of nature, of the green of his England. Almost every one aspires to’come into touch with a bit of plant life. In the East End of London the aspiration takes the form of a window garden. You may see workingman’s “flats” let at six shillings a week with their window gardens. In the West End, land which must be worth many thousands of pounds per acre is devoted to garden use. For want of better, a terrace of houses will have a strip of plantation, at back or front, common to all of them. House and “flat I” agents tell that tenants almost always demand that there shall be at least sight of a green tree from some window. In the small suburban villas a very considerable tax of money and labour is cheerfully paid in the effort to keep in good order a little pocket handkerchief of lawn and a few shrubs. This love of the garden is holy and wholesome, and it proves, I think, that the Englishman is at heart a lover of the beautiful, an “aesthetic”, though he is supposed to be such a dull, prosaic, practical person.
All along the English countryside the gardens are delicious, from the winsome cottage plots to the nobly sweeping landscape surrounding a typical manor house, blending a hundred individual beauties of lawn, rosary, herb border, walled garden, wild garden into one enchanting mosaic. But, withal, it is the wonderful variety and perfection of the trees tliat is most remarkable. The affectionate regard for trees in England is a most pleasing thing; I have been shown oaks which in Cromwell’s time were recorded as “too old to be cut down for the building of ships”. They are still carefully preserved, some of them enjoying old-age pensions in the shape of props to keep up their venerable limbs.
(From England by F. Fox)