Edgar Allan Poe. At the mention of this name one thinks of such haunting works as The Raven or The Pit and The Pendulum. But Poe was a man of far-ranging interests and exquisite taste, and landscape gardening did not escape his critical eye. Perhaps his most memorable observations on design are to be found in a work about fantasy landscaping, titled The Domain of Arnheim (1850).
Considering that Poe possessed a towering imagination, it is not surprising that he should be interested in constructing a fantasy landscape, nor that other landscapes described in his books are sometimes grand, profound visions. Edgar Allan Poe didn't "think small" on any subject. The "Domain of Arnheim" referred to in the title is the name of the setting for the fantasy landscape in question. The construction of this fantasy landscape is made possible by the landscape design skill and staggering inherited fortune of Ellison, the main character in the story. The canvas for Ellison's fantasy landscape is a vast acreage -- hardly affordable for the person of average means (regardless of landscape design skill).
Poe classifies Ellison's landscape design skill as being poetic in stating the vision that moved Ellison to create the fantasy landscape design of the Domain of Arnheim:
"A poet, having very unusual pecuniary resources, might, while retaining the necessary idea of art or culture, or, as our author expresses it, of interest, so imbue his designs at once with extent and novelty of beauty, as to convey the sentiment of spiritual interference."
Note the mention of "extent" above: again, this is a fantasy landscape design on a grand scale, a work of art that unfolds over an extended landscape. "The usual approach to Arnheim was by river," Poe tells us; and he proceeds to describe the nature of this grand river cruise. The fantasy landscape sightseeing begins immediately -- the pleasure is not only in reaching Arnheim, but also in getting there (the entire experience).
Poe elaborates upon the landscaping on the river banks that one beholds from the boat, ranging from rolling meadows with grazing sheep to cliffs of chiseled stone "overhung and overspread with the ivy, the coral honeysuckle, the eglantine, and the clematis." Enhancing the enjoyment of the fantasy landscape are the changes in the river itself, leading the traveler now through gorges and mazes, now across wide, serene basins. At each turn, a new vista opens up to thrill the eye.
Just as interesting as these descriptions, however, is the landscaping discussion that prefaces them, including the explanation provided as to why Ellison decided to spend his millions specifically on a grand fantasy landscape project:
"No definition had spoken of the landscape-gardener as of the poet; yet it seemed to my friend [Ellison] that the creation of the landscape-garden offered to the proper Muse the most magnificent of opportunities. Here, indeed, was the fairest field for the display of imagination in the endless combining of forms of novel beauty; the elements to enter into combination being, by a vast superiority, the most glorious which the earth could afford."
More specifically, Poe (through Ellison and through the narrator of this tale) is fascinated by the perception that, while the beauty of this or that component in nature is considered to be inimitable, humans can actually improve upon nature when it comes to the composition of the individual components. Nature doesn't create fantasy landscapes; but humans can. This perception applies both to landscape painting and landscape design. Poe marvels that
no such combination of scenery exists in nature as the painter of genius may produce. No such paradises are to be found in reality as have glowed on the canvas of Claude. In the most enchanting of natural landscapes, there will always be found a defect or an excess -- many excesses and defects. While the component parts may defy, individually, the highest skill of the artist, the arrangement of these parts will always be susceptible of improvement. In short, no position can be attained on the wide surface of the natural earth, from which an artistical eye, looking steadily, will not find matter of offence in what is termed the 'composition' of the landscape.
With boundless wealth and ample landscape design skill, Ellison essentially sought to achieve -- using rocks and vines, water and trees -- what landscape painters had achieved using paints on a canvas, namely, a fantasy landscape. Indeed, the land was Ellison's canvas -- and his work of art was the fantasy landscape called, "The Domain of Arnheim."