My friends at the Tatler’s Waste-Bin have come at last to the larch and very much to my surprise praise for its character has been universal.
The larch ‘claims the Alps, and Apennines for it’s native country… Often it is felled by the alpine peasant, and thrown athwart some yawning chasm, where it affords a tremendous passage from cliff to cliff, while the cataract roaring many fathoms below, is seen only in surges of rising vapour… Among it’s native steeps it’s form, no doubt, is fully picturesque; when the storms of many a century have shattered it’s equal sides: and given contrast and variety to it’s boughs’. Nothing could be prettier than the larches in a plantation in the autumn when the wind blows their dropped orange needles into the worn declivities of the narrow woodland paths and pick out the routes across it. Who would not want Larch in their landscape, with such drama in its natural history?
Yet Uvedale Prices’s comments have their own suasive power: ‘Even large plantations of firs… have, in my mind, a harsh look, and that on the same principle of their not harmonizing with the rest of the landscape … The inside of these plantations fully answers to the dreary appearance of the outside. Of all the dismal scenes it seems to me the most likely for a man to hang himself in … The whole wood is a collection of tall naked poles, with a few ragged boughs near the top; above – one uniform rusty cope, seen through decayed and decaying sprays and branches; below – the soil parched and blasted with the baleful droppings; hardly a plant or a blade of grass, nothing that can give an idea of life, or vegetation. Even its gloom is without solemnity; it is only dull and dismal; and what light there is, like that of hell.’ Listen then to his death knell: `In many such plantations the trees which principally shew themselves are larches, and they produce the most compleat monotony of outline’
Larch was adapted as ship’s timber, for which it would be bent at ground level and I recall seeing fine examples of the form at Heanton Satchville, presumably planted by Uvedale Price’s pupil, William Sawrey Gilpin, but even its commercial value would not have been enough to justify his use of it in plantations. That genius Capability Brown had no such scruples.