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"There is no such thing as a style fitted for every situation; only one who knows and studies the ground well will ever make the best of a garden and any 'style' may be right, where the site fits it. I never see a house the ground around which does not invite plans for itself only."
-- W. ROBINSON.
"All rational improvement of grounds is, necessarily, founded on a due attention to the character and situation of the place to be improved; the former teaches what is advisable, the latter what is possible to be done; while the extent of the premises has less influence than is generally imagined; as, however large or small it may be, one of the fundamental principles of landscape gardening is to disguise the real boundary."
SITUATION AND DESIGN
ONE reason why English gardens are so wonderful to us Americans is that successive generations, perhaps for hundreds of years, have been lovingly and intelligently at work upon them, each striving to adorn the main design in some new detail before passing over the inheritance to the next heir. At the sight of the surpassing beauty of Old World country estates, as contrasted with our raw, new, mushroom homes, that are rarely lived in by two generations, one is almost persuaded against his better judgment that inheritance through primogeniture and entail must be the proper method. Perhaps we may be wise enough some day to achieve the same ends by more just means, consistent with republican, not monarchic, conditions. Instead of endowing our oldest sons, the heirs-apparent to our little thrones, we may endow the homestead itself -- who knows? -- just as we endow hospitals and colleges to insure their future maintenance. Happy the children who are brought up in a little world of beauty and who may one day hope to inherit it all -- the well grown trees, the velvety lawn, the established vines and shrubbery -- all the cumulative results of love's labour. Certainly, unless one may work for permanence in the garden there can be little incentive in this country toward the best art out-of-doors.
It is, of course, expecting too much that the site of the house should be chosen solely with reference to the best conditions for its garden. We place our homes, as a general rule, not where there is good, rich loam, not where fine trees are already established and the situation is sheltered, but where the house will be convenient to the railroad station, the school, our friends, or the golf links; or where a special bargain in real estate may be had, or where the greatest number of windows will command the finest views, or where the prevailing summer breezes will sweep through the living-rooms, or where they will be protected from winter winds, or where the sunshine may pour health into them, or where perfect drainage and a water supply are best assured. These and a hundred other practical reasons may dominate the selection of a building site. Relying upon the bounty of nature to provide embellishments for every spot on earth man has yet decided to live upon -- and she has plants for every place and purpose -- we have been too apt to ignore the garden's claims until the eleventh hour and to concentrate all our thought, oftentimes all our money plus a mortgage, upon the house itself, leaving little or nothing for the setting of the home picture, in which, after all, the house should be merely the most important detail.
But if there is to be a union of the house and the landscape into which it obtrudes -- a happy marriage between the house and the garden -- the help of the artist-gardener is needed most of all before the house is started, I had almost said before the land is bought. For it is the design of a place as a whole that is the main thing, whether the size of the picture that is to be wrought out is reckoned in miles, acres, or square feet. If the home-maker cannot afford to execute the whole plan at the outset, it is all the more reason that he should possess such a design and proceed methodically to do what he can, year by year, to execute it permanently, rather than waste his money on costly experiments. A rich man can afford to make mistakes; he cannot. Moving soil, for example, is surprisingly expensive. A cart-load of it dumped on a lawn looks but little larger than an ant-hill, and the equivalent of a landscape architect's fee might be easily wasted in an unintelligent disposal of the top soil alone. A plan which involves annual upheavals and repeated efforts upon the same piece of land and the incessant care of a skilled gardener, is a very poor plan indeed for a man of modest means. Skyrocket effects of coleus, geraniums and other bedding plants from the florist are rarely desirable in any case, but usually the novice's first undirected efforts are to get them. All plants require some attention, but not necessarily annual attention; certainly not annual renewal. A permanent planting of hardy shrubs and perennials has all the artistic qualities and the practical ones as well. Since it takes years for newly planted trees to look thoroughly at home, delay in setting them out means a needless prolonging of the raw, unfinished state of the place. The era of vanity -- or was it parsimony? -- when every man presumed to be his own lawyer, his own doctor, or architect, or garden designer, is happily being superseded by an age of specialists whom the wise consult more and more.
It goes without saying that the professional gardener to be chosen should be practical as well as an artist -- one who has had too much experience with growing things to advise planting elms on a dry, sandy hill-top or tea roses near Quebec. Enormous sums have been wasted on rhododendrons alone, through attempting to grow in this country imported foreign hybrids which soon give up the struggle for existence in our uncongenial climate; whereas lasting and equally beautiful effects may be produced from hardy hybrids of our native rhododendron race. Costly mistakes are made annually in planting yews and certain other European evergreens. Manchuria and Siberia, with climatic conditions similar to our own, are likely to yield far more valuable treasures for the lawn and garden than the continent of Europe, where we have looked too long, not only for models of design, which may be sometimes desirable, but for the plants to execute them, which most often are not.
Where is that nurseryman's catalogue so frankly honest that the novice may learn from it what not to buy? It is safe to say that millions of dollars worth of plants die for the lack of intelligent selection, planting, or care. Decidedly, for economic reasons as well as artistic, we Americans are sorely in need of more disinterested, expert advice. But beware of the adviser who has an axe to grind. There are some excellent men connected with nursery establishments of the highest class, but the frequent tendency is to retain "landscape gardeners" of little or no artistic training whose real business is to sell plants for their employers. Naturally the temptation is to load the client with as much stock as possible, regardless of its value to the general effect of his place. "Plant thick; thin quick," is a popular saying in the trade. The disinterested professional, with no commercial connections, makes it his business to secure for his client the best stock that may be purchased anywhere in the open market and at the lowest price. Likewise beware of the landscape gardener who does not insist upon studying the garden problem on the land where it is to be worked out; who would attempt to furnish a design from a few photographs of your grounds at his office desk, or copy another garden that he made successfully elsewhere. Ninety-nine chances out of one hundred it will not suit your place; perhaps not a single feature could be transferred to advantage. It is easier to copy than to originate, but rarely satisfying either to the aesthetic or to the moral sense.
The architect of the house, who very often essays the role of designer of its surrounding's, that the effect of his work may not be spoiled by his client, usually lacks a knowledge of plants, without which there can be no lasting success. Such knowledge can be had only by years of special study and experiment, quite beyond the attainment of most professional architects. The landscape gardener on the other hand, very often lacks the needful knowledge of design, apart from the naturalistic treatment of very large park-like areas. He may know a great deal about plants, how to choose and how to grow them, but usually he knows very little about the principles of art and design, or how to treat the land adjoining buildings. The natural landscape he understands, and his usual endeavour is to bring its purely informal lines right up to the purely formal lines of a building, with disastrous results from the artistic view-point. Happily there are not a few well-rounded men, however, trained in design as well as horticulture, who are lifting the art of gardening in this country to a higher plane than it ever before attained here. And more will be forthcoming when their value is more generally appreciated.
But if, for any sufficient cause, one may not employ disinterested, expert advice, one may at least proceed in the artistic spirit along reasonable lines, acquiring by patient study of one's own peculiar problem the knowledge necessary to solve it, and so enjoy one's self all the fun of garden making. Then, indeed, the garden becomes one's very own and best beloved. It is not, or should not be, a matter of capricious taste, but a matter of reason and the affections. Principles of composition govern its making, it is true, as surely as they do a painting in oils; nevertheless the application of those principles to each individual garden problem should be as various as the gardens themselves that each may possess its own distinctive features and charm. Personality reflected in a garden may be its chief attraction. Better a craving for the ideal carried to a "fine lunacy" than the coldly correct, impersonal art of an unimpassioned hireling. It were happiness indeed if, when the time for garden making comes, Art
"shall say to thee:
Before daring to proceed with a single detail on the place, study your piece of land as a whole from every point of view. Map it out on a large sheet of tough paper. Draw it to scale, if possible. Show its elevations and depressions and respect these as far as may be when you come to grade rather than attempt the expense and achieve the ugliness of reducing the land to a monotonous level like a billiard table. Every plot of ground, like every human face, has an individuality to be emphasised rather than obliterated. If your place is not a small one, divide the map into several enlarged sections for special study and treatment. This book can help you with only one section, the area to be pictorially treated. It concerns itself with the flower garden only, not with forestry, road-making, the vegetable garden, orchard, vineyard, poultry yard, or any other utilitarian subject, however important, that may engage the home-maker's attention. But the flower garden, of many types, is broadly interpreted to include the lawn and the trees and shrubs suitable for it, because these contribute so immeasurably to the garden picture that no really good one can be made without them. In the succeeding chapters the artistic principles that should govern each style of garden and the directions for its making will be given for the benefit of the novice with aspirations.
On the chart of the garden area put arrows to indicate the direction of objects of beauty or interest, such as a fine view, a vista through the trees, a gigantic pine, or a mirror-like lake toward which attention should be directed. Put crosses where unsightly objects need to be screened or planted out; but first make very sure that what you have considered an eye-sore may not be transformed into an object of beauty. Consider deepening the dismal swamp into a pond for a water garden; covering the dead tree with a mantle of vines instead of chopping it down; making an alpine garden among the rocks instead of blasting them out.
Think well before locating the house, even on paper, and include the drive or path by which it is to be approached in your calculations. Many a house has been completed before it was discovered that the only route left to it approached from the worst possible point of vantage, or spoiled the chances for a good broad lawn, or necessitated too steep a grade, or cut the garden picture in half.
Oftentimes considerable planting may be done on larger grounds than suburban lots before the house is built, but only on the area outside of the building operations, where the carpenter's, plumber's and painter's horses will not feast upon the tender new growth or strip off the bark from your favourite possessions. As soon as the design of your place has been mapped out, a list of such trees, shrubs and hardy perennials as will be needed to execute it may be made. Do not try to collect a museum of plants; avoid freaks of variegated foliage, exclamation points of colour, strange exotics that look out of place in our American landscape, and the beguiling novelties of the catalogues. Personally visit several reliable nurseries if possible, make your own selections and see them tagged with your name. Choose well-grown, vigorous stock at a fair price rather than the puny disappointments that, alas! are what tempt so many because they are erroneously considered cheap. Many a man, intensely practical in his own business, will give his order to the lowest bidder among competing nurserymen and waste years looking at sickly, struggling or dying trees, shrubs and perennials about his home rather than invest a little more money and get satisfaction and joy from the start. Poor stock is dear at any price.
In an out-of-the-way corner of your place prepare the ground for a little nursery of your own by deeply ploughing the soil, enriching it well, and lightening it, if it be heavy, with sand, leaf-mould from the woods or humus from the compost heap. Plants make very slow growth in clay soil. A rich, sandy loam, cool and moist with much decomposed vegetable matter through it, favours the rapid growth that the owner of a new place so greatly longs for. As soon as the stock arrives, set it out in rows, with room to spread and with sufficient space between the rows for cultivation with the wheeled hoe. A mulch of stable litter or leaves will protect the roots from drying out in summer and from winter frosts. Perhaps a greater percentage of nursery stock dies for the lack of mulching before it becomes well established than from any other cause. If the house is not to be built for a few years, this little nursery will yield a very high rate of compound interest, for the small stock, which it pays the nurseryman best to sell you, was comparatively cheap, but it would be sadly ineffective on a new place; whereas the larger, older stock you now possess, which is disproportionately costly and difficult to buy, gives delightful, quick results. Be sure you know just the tree or shrub for a given spot on your place before buying it. One can no more plant one's grounds in a hurry than one can successfully furnish a house outright in a week. One must feel one's way along, and realise the need of a certain plant for a certain place before proceeding to get it.
Near the place chosen for the garden, its jealous guardian angel will save every precious ounce of top soil and sod that comes from the site of the house and the cutting of drives and paths. There will be no wasteful burning of leaves in the autumn. What are not needed as a mulch will form the basis of a rich compost heap piled up with broken sod, cut grass, manure, and wood ashes. The merest novice must know that there can be no success in a garden without a careful study of the soil, and the needs of the various species of plants that are to draw their sustenance from it.
Some situations there are, a very few, where a house may be placed in the midst of wild scenery, so surpassingly beautiful in itself, that any garden artifice attempted seems a profanation. But even a camp in the wildest Adirondacks, without some planting about it to simulate Nature's garden coming to its very doors, appears to spring impertinently from the soil like a Jack-from-the-box. The very act of building a house anywhere destroys nature's balance, and man's best endeavours are required first of all to restore harmony. Whether the situation demands a wild garden or a formal one, the matter of fundamental importance is to establish the right relationship at the outset between the house and its environment.
A bit of wild tangled woodland is very beautiful, but it is not a garden, and the moment a man thrusts a spade into the earth or fells a tree, or sets out a plant where one did not grow before, that moment he becomes responsible for the effect of the land he subverts to his will. A garden should be "man's report of earth at her best."
There are those ardent lovers of unspoiled nature who consider any house a pimple on her face. Salve it over with vines, veil it heavily with trees and shrubbery, still it is a blemish to be apologised for, if not concealed. Surely a well-designed house, pure in style and restrained in treatment, needs no apology for its existence. Beauty of architecture is its own excuse for being. In this day of well-trained architects there should be no excuse, except the untrained client, for building an ugly house. Unhappily, mongrel architecture is still in our midst -- "the pug-Newfoundland-poodle-hound-style," a famous architect calls it -- but it is passing, and a distinguished Englishman who recently revisited this country after an absence of fifteen years declares that in no direction have the Americans made more rapid advance than in the building of beautiful homes. We have learned the wisdom of consulting the best architects before attempting to build. As a people, we have not yet learned to seek advice of a similar artistic grade when it comes to the treatment of that most important piece of land in all the world -- the area, be it large or small, around the home; which is why one may see a dozen good houses before one can discover a single beautiful, satisfying bit of art out-of-doors. Every architect, let us hope, will one day have a professional gardener associate in his office. Their work is largely interdependent. The advantage of frequent conferences between them would be immeasurable to the client.
The style of architecture best adapted to the climate, natural situation and purse of the owner having been decided, the next problem to present itself is how to tie the bald new house to the landscape into which it suddenly obtrudes. Obviously the solution must vary in every case. The Colonial type of house would lose its dignity if surrounded by woods and a wild garden like a log camp, and the unpretentious little seaside vacation cottage be made ridiculous by an Italian garden on a terrace. A Spanish house needs palms, yuccas and other tropical or semi-tropical garden accessories under Southern skies. Each style of architecture and no style of architecture demand a different setting. While the stately, perfectly proportioned Georgian type requires a formal, balanced treatment of trees and shrubbery masses immediately about it, and implies the box-edged parterres filled with old-fashioned flowers as a central feature of the garden design, the house of nondescript architecture, which might well be called the Predominant, may be treated electively, and sometimes most informally. Even the house that is "Queen Anne in front and Mary Ann behind" may have some of its ugliness mercifully concealed. It is a mistake to suppose that design can concern formality only. Where the architecture is not pure, vines, shrubbery and trees, judiciously placed, may perhaps conceal the defects, which is one of the many things to be said in favour of the informal treatment. Although such a house may have shrubs and flowers all about it, it may possess no special spot that might properly be called a flower garden at all. However, there are very few houses indeed that are not improved by a formal touch about them somewhere. Most houses, of whatever style, are benefited through carrying the principles of architectural design out to their immediate surroundings. Not every Elizabethan house was set on a bowling green above a hedged and knotted garden, nor need it be to-day; but surely no one with the artistic spirit would try to unite it to the landscape by a Japanese garden. Yet a newly rich lady, whose architect had achieved a Tudor triumph in stone and half timber, surrounded it with a poor imitation of a Japanese landscape in miniature within six weeks after the architect's back was turned.
"I can never forgive you," wrote the outraged designer. "What concern is it of yours? Isn't your bill paid?" replied the complacent parvenu, who, that very day, was arranging for the Japanese water-garden of many storks, stones and bridges, to be fed from an old Florentine fountain on the other side of the house. The idea of giving her Elizabethan house a suitable setting in which the shades of Lord Bacon or Shakespeare himself might feel at home, could not enter such a head unaided by a tactful professional gardener.
The style of architecture of the house may be a limitation or a great opportunity, whichever one is pleased to consider it. Infinite variety is possible with the historic method. It is not necessarily stereotyped.
There are cases, perhaps, where a better architectural effect may be had by bringing an unbroken stretch of lawn to the very foundations of a house where vines and a fringe of shrubbery might be their only screen; but in order that it may give the most pleasure, the garden should be conveniently near the dwelling. Then it may be lived with and lived in, enjoyed without effort, seen from the windows by busy workers indoors, tended with the least trouble, quickly robbed of some of its wealth for vases by the mistress of the house, its interests safeguarded by every member of the family, as well as the hired man. Only by living with one's garden can its beauties be fully realised, for every passing cloud changes the effect of light and atmosphere -- the most potent factors of beauty out-of-doors. A garden by moonlight becomes a new revelation. Then every defect is concealed, glaring colours recede into nothingness, and only the white flowers -- the long fragrant trumpets of nicotine, spires of foxgloves, tall white lilies, a Milky Way of cosmos stars, snow balls of phlox and peonies or a foam of boltonia -- have their loveliness enhanced by the night.
If we must walk through wet grass to a distant part of the grounds on a hot day, perhaps to an end of the vegetable garden devoted to flowers, before the eyes may feast upon them, or a few blossoms may be gathered for the dinner table, immeasurable pleasure is lost, as well as a decorative adjunct to the house. What would the little cottages of England look like without the gay gardens around every doorstep? How much a well composed garden may add to the beauty of the house itself by extending lines that end too abruptly, by softening sharp angles, by broadening the effect of a house that is too high for its width with masses of shrubbery or hedges on its sides, by nestling around a house on a hill top, or by reconciling another to a plain! The house and garden should seem to be inseparable complements each of the other.
It is conceivable, however, that not every desirable building site would permit a garden near the dwelling, that is, not a garden of definite boundaries. A cottage perched on a cliff overhanging the sea, for example, could not have flower beds and specimen trees and shrubs on the rocky ledges, nor would they be desirable; but the storm-resisting native pines and hardy stunted shrubbery -- bayberry, barberries, St. John's wort and broom -- would grow there and perfectly fit the landscape. A tide of flowers might surge around the rocky base of the promontory, and some flotsam and jetsam of bloom, like the sand-loving portulacca and sea-pinks, extend almost to the waves. Where nature left off and art began it would be impossible for any one but the maker of that garden to say. Every region has its own wealth of native plants which should be drawn from much more freely than it is. The laurel was quite without honour in its own country until after it had become a favourite in Europe, thanks to its introduction by Peter Kalm, when we could actually import it from European nurseries more conveniently than we could dig it from the woods at home.
A garden is no less a garden because it defies all limitations and conventions. And the artistic spirit likewise refuses to be bound by the fads and fancies of the gardener's craft. Art out-of-doors is universal, like nature herself, and knows no predilection for Italian gardens above wild gardens, for informal or naturalistic ones rather than for the prim, box-edged flower beds of our grandmothers, for the water garden in the humid East above the cactus garden of the desert. Fitness and beauty suffice. Happily every garden site is a law unto itself to which the gardener must submit. No two gardens, no two human faces, were ever alike. Both have individuality as their chief charm.
But it is generally conceded that every garden picture is improved by a frame. The sea, a wood, a tree-girt lawn, a lake, a hedge, a wall, a court yard, a pergola, a terrace, a hillside, or the house itself, any or several of these, and some other boundaries, natural and artificial, may set off the garden's own peculiar beauty to the best advantage. The needs of plants are so various that their loveliness can best be shown in a variety of situations and settings.
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