The aesthetic tree, the tree with nothing to do but just to be a tree and look pretty, is rare in most countries; but in England it is the commonplace.
Nine out of ten strangers coming to England for the first time, and asked to speak of its appearance, will say something equivalent to “park-like.” 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 aesthetic tree, the tree with nothing to do but just to be a tree and look pretty, is rare in most countries; but in England it is the commonplace. Other countries have useful trees which look pretty, forests which are impressive in spite of man. England seems to have the amiable thriftlessness of giving up much land to growth which is not intended to serve any base utilitarian purpose at all.
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 country-side 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 Englishman has planted in him an instinct for art that 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 workingmen’s “flats” with them. 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 little strip of plantation, at back or front, common to all of them. 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 a dull, prosaic, practical person.
I have noticed among all classes in England the same natural love of beauty. It does not exist only in the rich (but as a class it exists among them to a very marked degree: there is nothing in the world more beautiful than an English manor house, with its park and garden); it permeates the whole people. I recall a farmer to whom I spoke of the waste caused by the gorgeous yellow-blossomed weeds which invaded his wheat. “Yes,” he said, half content, half sorry, “but they do look so beautiful.” It was not that he was a lazy farmer, but he did actually love the beautiful wild life which came to rob his wheat of its nourishment.
As an exile the Englishman carries away with him the ideal of the soft green English country-side, and tries to reconstruct England wherever he may settle overseas. English trees, English grass, English flowers he sedulously cultivates in Australia, in Canada, in South Africa, and wins some strange triumphs over Nature in many of his acclimatisations.
All along the English country-side 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, rosery, herb border, walled garden, wild garden into one enchanting mosaic. But, withal, it is the wonderful variety and perfection of the trees that is most remarkable.