A.J. Downing & His Legacy

Landscape Gardening

Downing’s first book, A treatise on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, adapted to North America, was originally published in April 1841. Downing was only 25 years old, but he was already extremely knowledgeable about plants and horticulture through his practical experience, close study of English books on landscape architecture, and personal correspondence with landscape designers in England. As an author, he was an experienced contributor to periodicals, including Horticultural register, New-York farmer, New England farmer, and The magazine of horticulture. In securing a publishing contract from Wiley & Putnam, Downing gained a wide, national audience and further credibility for his ideas on improving rural America’s farming practices, landscape and housing. The book showcased his elegant writing style, and included many handsome illustrations; it became a best-seller of its type. The Treatise was expanded and improved by Downing himself through four editions, and the book remained in print into the 20th century.

The Horticulturist

A.J. Downing was offered the editorship of The horticulturist in 1846, due to his extensive knowledge of plants as well as his growing fame from the publication of his books. He used the position to promote his ideas on improving rural architecture, and over the years, included several editorial essays on the topic. The magazine also covered news of plants and was notable for its extensive (for the time) etched and lithographed illustrations. This was not a farmer’s magazine but rather a publication for horticultural enthusiasts, typically “gentleman farmers.” They were the audience for whom a “country villa” might be an appropriate aspiration, but who also might encourage improvements in rural architecture by building small, picturesque cottages on their property for workmen and their families.

As editor of The horticulturist, Downing provided an anonymous – and very favorable – review of his own book, Cottage residences, which had just been re-issued in a fourth edition, a few months ahead of the publication of his newest (and last) work, The architecture of country houses.

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