Recommended Reading from Horace W. S. Cleveland

We haven’t had much of a winter yet in Minnesota, but it’s inevitable. When it comes and you’re imprisoned in your cozy den, your thoughts may turn to spring and the gardens you’ll plant or visit. To get you thinking about warmer weather, I’m providing a reading list from the man who envisioned Minneapolis’s park system and designed the first parks acquired by the Minneapolis park board in the 1880s.

In 1886, the secretary to the Minneapolis park board, Rufus J. Baldwin, apparently asked landscape architect Horace W. S. Cleveland to recommend books on his profession. It’s not clear if Baldwin was interested in furthering his own education (he was a prominent Minneapolis attorney) or if he was acquiring books for the park board. Below is Cleveland’s reply dated 23 Sep. 1886.

(All of the books Cleveland cited are now available free online at Google Books. The links in the letter take you to the online volume of the work cited.)

In considering your request that I would furnish you a list of desirable works on landscape gardening I find the subject growing in my mind so rapidly and attaining such dimension that the chief difficulty lies in making a judicious selection. The literature of the last century was especially rich in the discussion of the principles on which the art is founded. “Repton’s Landscape Gardening” is perhaps the ablest and most elaborate of the works of that date, but I think I learned more of first principles from the “Essays on the Picturesque, By Sir Uvedale Price,” than from any book.

It is doubtful however whether either of these books can be purchased in this country unless by chance at a second-hand store. “Loudon’s Encyclopedia of Horticulture,” contains perhaps the most detailed, practical instructions of any English work and is still a standard of reference and can be had in England though it has not been republished here.

Downing’s Landscape Gardening” is at the head of all works on the subject in this country and is in fact a compilation and adaptation to our wants of all the essential principles of the best foreign writers. Next to that and in fact supplying much in which Downing’s work is deficient is “Country Life By Robert Morris Copeland.” He was for many years my partner and was a man of rare taste and skill, and his book is an admirable one. “Scott’s Suburban Homes,” is also an excellent treatise and full of judicious advice in regard to the arrangement of grounds and tasteful use of trees and shrubbery. These books can be procured of any of the leading booksellers or at the seed stores of the principal cities. In ordering Downing’s book, be sure to get the edition which has the appendix by Winthrop Sargent, which contains a vast amount of very valuable information.

I do not think of any other work directly devoted to the subject that would add to the value of what is contained in the above.

The Horticulturist during the time it was edited by Downing was rich in essays on different branches of useful ornamental gardening, but it is doubtful if a complete set could be had, and indeed the three works above enumerated comprise I think all the essential principles so far as they can be given by print and illustration.

If I think of others that would be desirable I will let you know.

The letter is signed, “Very truly yrs, H.W.S. Cleveland.”

(The letter is in the files of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.)

Amazing, isn’t it, that works Cleveland cited as unavailable in the United States in 1886 — or available at “the seed stores of principal cities” — are now free to anyone with access to a computer. Some people have a problem with a company such as Google having so much control over information — I just read The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan — and while I agree with concerns over the concentration of information control, the widespread availability of so much information, even as old and arcane as these texts, is an invaluable resource.

Happy reading.

David C. Smith

P.S. Minneapolis still doesn’t have a park named for Horace W. S. Cleveland — and we should. I’m still in favor of naming the west side of the Mississippi River Gorge for him.

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