The Picture in the Landscape

Introduction | Exhibit Homepage | Credits

Above: Unknown artist, Liberty Hyde Bailey photographing the landscape, 1896, cyanotype photograph. Liberty Hyde Bailey Papers, #21-2-3342. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. Also available online here. Below: “The Common or Nursery Way of Planting,” in L. H. Bailey, Manual of Gardening (1925), fig. 5, and here. “The Proper or Pictorial Type of Planting,” in L. H. Bailey, Manual of Gardening (1925), fig. 6, and here.

“The best preparation for garden making is to go afield, and to see the things that grow there. Take photographs in order to focus your attention on specific objects, to concentrate your observation, to train your artistic sense. An ardent admirer of nature once told me that he never knew nature until he purchased a camera.” –LHBGC, p. 49

What does photography have to do with loving nature? After all, Bailey often wrote in his own books that students of nature should spend less time reading and more time out in the field—he preferred firsthand contact to reproductions, literature, and models. But the ability to better know and appreciate nature would depend greatly on the individual’s point of view toward the world around them, because a misleading outlook could result in poor conclusions—he described this as “the importance of seeing correctly” (LHBGC 22-3). And it wasn’t the photograph itself that he thought was useful so much as the action of actually taking the photograph. He gives the gardener this advice, continuing the passage quoted above:

“If you have a camera, stop taking pictures of your friends and the making of mere souvenirs, and try the photographing of plants and animals and small landscapes. Notice that the ground glass of your camera concentrates and limits your landscape. The border-pieces frame it. Always see how your picture looks on the ground glass before you make the exposure. Move your camera until you have an artistic composition,—one that will have a pictorial or picturesque character. Avoid snap-shots for such work as this. Take your time. At the end of a year, tell me if you are not a nature-lover.” –LHBGC, p. 49

This nature-love would manifest itself in the design of the garden and the home. Bailey believed that good garden design, or “landscape gardening,” should imitate the free and easy dispersal of plants found in undisturbed natural areas. He disliked the then-common practice of growing individual plants as showpieces scattered about a front lawn, as seen in an illustration from his Manual of Gardening at the left. The illustration below, by contrast, depicted his ideal, of plants arranged into a cohesive picture, symbolizing the ways they grow together in the wild, but arranged in a way that makes sense to the human eye.

“A garden or a plant is valuable for the place it occupies as well as for itself. There is satisfaction in the yard in which all parts blend and harmonize; it has character as a whole and as a picture. It has meaning. A yard that has individual plants scattered over it hails you as you pass; and each plant shouts, ‘See! I cost five dollars!'” –LHBGC, pp. 126-7

Creating around one’s home a landscape-picture, Bailey believed, would encourage the sense that the home is a part of nature, and the people living in such a home would feel more at home in their landscape. This, he believed, was one of the great gifts of both gardening and farming. Good design would create a natural “background” to the home that would simulate the effect of domesticity and wildness living side by side. As we see in the two illustrations below, Bailey believed this sort of landscape gardening would make a house a home.

C. W. Furlong, “A House,” in L. H. Bailey, Manual of Gardening (1925), fig. 7, and here.
W. C. Furlong, “A Home,” in L. H. Bailey, Manual of Gardening (1925), fig. 8, and here.

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