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"From the intimate union of art and nature, of architecture and landscape, will be born the best gardening compositions which Time, purifying public taste, now promises to bring us."
-- EDOUARD ANDRE.
THE FORMAL GARDEN
SINCE orthodoxy was ever "my doxy," it need surprise no one but the merest tyro in gardening to learn that this, the most peaceful of the arts, has the greater part of its devotees divided into two bitterly hostile camps. The "spirit of sect," so heartily deplored by Turgot in matters of politics and religion, is rife even in their midst, and there would seem to be no more likelihood of a truce between them now than in the days when the affected, complacent Addison made admirable copy in the Spectator, and Pope, that most artificial of jingling rhymesters, amused his generation by poking fun at formal gardens generally, and not alone at the errors which undoubtedly disfigured much of the "Italian" gardening in the England of his time. Pope, while he professed to abhor hedges, pleached walks and statuary in gardens, and to adore nature unadorned, nevertheless went on piling up rocks and shells into grottos at Twickenham, making cascades, bridges, miniature torrents and wild, mountainous impossibilities in a pastoral landscape until he had, in much condensed, compendium form, a sample of every kind of scenery his fertile brain could conjure, and all within five acres.
These two literary men, Addison and Pope, with not a little help from Walpole, neither artists nor yet gardeners, who knew not what they were undoing, must be held largely responsible for bringing about the radical reaction in garden methods which swept away with axe, plough and grubbing hoe most of the tree-lined avenues like cathedral aisles, the ancient evergreen hedges, the broad terraces and box-edged parterres that had been the glory of the old English estates, influenced by the Renaissance. The saying that nature abhors a straight line was construed to warrant the destruction of every line of oaks and elms, every direct road and path on English country places. People professed to travel cheerfully, in the name of reform, twice the distance in meaningless serpentine twists and turns to reach either their entrance gate or the kitchen garden. The planting of trees and shrubbery was supposed to be ridiculous if wild nature were not copied literally. Hence the logical step was presently taken of setting out an occasional dead tree in English parks. Devotees of the so-called natural school went so far as to refuse to clip their lawns -- those wonderful velvet lawns which are the very heart of the English garden. Quite as many crimes were committed in the name of nature by the unintelligent followers of Repton and "Capability" Brown as had been done in the name of art by the formal gardeners who had reached the baroque period of decadence before Addison's day.
For the novice who turns for inspiration to Robinson's "The English Flower Garden," one of the most delightfully infectious books on gardening ever written, is to be taught that the formal garden is most unlovely and absurd. Robinson is an enthusiastic horticulturist who simply cannot see the architectural point of view. On the other hand, let the novice take up Blomfield's "The Formal Garden," or Sedding's exquisitely written "Garden Craft," and he will get the notion that the naturalistic method of making a garden or treating a landscape is unworthy to be called an art at all.
"The question at issue is a very simple one," says Blomfield, who is Robinson's special bête noire. "Is the garden to be considered in relation to the house, and as an integral part of a design which depends for its success on the combined effect of house and garden; or is the house to be ignored in dealing with the garden as a part of nature? The latter is the position of the landscape gardener in real fact. There is some affectation in his treatises of recognising the relationship between the two, but his actual practice shows that this admission is only borrowed from the formal school to save appearances, and is out of court in a method which systematically dispenses with any kind of system whatever."
RESTORED GARDEN IN THE HOUSE OF THE VETTII, POMPEII. THE PROSPEROUS ROMAN HAD EVERY ROOM
OF HIS HOUSE OPEN UPON A COURT CONTAINING A FOUNTAIN AND FLOWERS. WATER STILL SPOUTS INTO
THE MARBLE BASINS FROM THE BILLS OF DUCKS HELD IN THE ARMS OF BRONZE FIGURES OF LITTLE BOYS.
PATIO HOUSES IN AMERICA ARE BUILT ON THIS PLAN.
And so the battle of words comes down to the present day in England, from whence our training in garden tactics has been largely derived. Not until quite lately have we had any garden literature of our own, and even now England continues to supply most of the text books. To the dispassionate observer it is quite plain that ammunition for both sides of the conflict has been gathered, not from the best examples of the formal or the naturalistic school of gardening, but from the poorest examples of the other's work that the partisan devotees of each could find.
Where did the formal garden originate? Wherein lies the magic that draws men to it in every age?
Maspero, in his "Dawn of Civilisation," tells of an Egyptian nobleman who lived over four thousand years before Christ, whose splendid fruit, vegetable and flower garden, formally laid out, was described upon his tomb. When various forms of art spread from Egypt to other lands, no doubt the art of gardening was widely copied. Even the sea-roving Phoenicians had fine gardens, and we feel sure that the famous hanging gardens of Babylon, from the very nature of their site, could have been nothing but formal. Greek gardens, which, like the Egyptian, were a combination of the utilitarian and the decorative, were laid out with cold precision, purely in keeping with the classic severity of the architecture they surrounded. They must have been too severely formal to be enjoyed and lived in as the Romans enjoyed and lived in theirs, which they, in turn, derived from the Greeks.
On the Roman and Alban hillsides, where the patricians had their villas, the terrace, which was cut at first as a necessity to prevent wash-outs on the steep slopes, was soon cleverly utilised as a pictorial feature. A terraced hill, of course, necessitated steps and balustrades for convenience and safety, because the Romans, who lived much out of doors, entered their homes through their gardens. Pliny, in his letters, describes two of his villas, but so far no antiquarian has been able to identify them with the remains of any that are now known. In the house of the Vettii at Pompeii we may see to-day a delightful little garden in the central court, faultlessly restored, where every room of the house opens upon it. The inmates of that home, whose bodies have been dust for nearly nineteen centuries, heard these very fountains splash their refreshing waters among the flowers. How near us does that little garden bring the everyday life of Pompeii!
With the delightful use of gardens as outdoor living-rooms, the utilitarian features -- vegetable patches, fruit trees, and vineyards -- were banished either to a distant part of the Roman's estate or to an outlying farm, and the garden now came to be recognised as an adjunct to the house, partly architectural and wholly decorative. Accordingly, no pains were spared to make it so. The same principles of design which governed the house were extended to the grounds immediately surrounding it, and there they left off abruptly. Such weather-proof embellishments as the Roman patrician, connoisseur, and collector had inside his dwelling -- beautiful statuary, sculptured seats and vases of marble -- were taken to his open-air living-room for their greater enjoyment. Can we doubt that their chaste beauty was less appreciated when set on balustrades and terraces against the dark background of olive, ilex, and cypress?
LANDING PLACE FOR PLEASURE BOATS ON THE LAKE IN A RENAISSANCE GARDEN ON THE
PINCIAN HILL, ROME. THE MASTER GARDENER PERFECTLY UNDERSTOOD THE VALUE OF MIRROR
EFFECTS WITH WATER.
But with the growth of luxury in the Empire decadence began; the topiary gardener did his worst, and innocent trees, frivolously clipped into the forms of impossible birds and beasts, with much else that was absurdly artificial, marked the decline of art in the Roman's once simple and dignified pleasure ground. After the fall of Rome, when the darkness of the Middle Ages settled down over Europe, gardening, with all her sister arts of peace, slumbered for centuries. The mediaeval garden, where it existed at all, we learn from old, illuminated missals, was merely a monastery's patch of "simples" or vegetables tended by a monk, or an enclosure within the castle's precincts, where herbs grew around the well and fruit trees were espaliered against the walls.
Inevitably, a great awakening would come to artistic Italy with the cessation of wars, holy and unholy, and the return of prosperity to the land. In those days of marvellous artistic activity which we call the Renaissance, when men delved among the archives of their Roman ancestors for inspiration in all the arts, the classic garden was rediscovered with acclaim. Restored in all its splendour throughout Italy, but given new breadth and freedom of treatment at the hands of some of the greatest artists of all time, Michelangelo and Raphael among them, the Italian garden of Lorenzo de Medici's day has become synonymous in the artistic world with garden craft carried to its highest degree. Where lies the secret of its excellence? Doubtless in the discovery of the landscape. Heretofore the garden had been regarded merely as a circumscribed architectural extension of the castle or villa, as rigidly formal as the walls of a room. But the master architect of the Renaissance, looking forth from the terraced hillside to the distant view, realised that his art might be fused with nature in the making of a picture where the imagination would enjoy a freedom of expression hitherto unknown. He knew, none better, the importance of adapting the garden to the lines of the house it joined -- so did the Egyptian, the Greek, and the Roman. He realised the importance of adapting the garden in every case to the uses to which it would be put, providing accessible, shady paths, sheltered resting places in the most lovely spots, fountains to refresh the dweller in that hot, dry climate, and cascades down the terraced hillsides from the overflow of the aqueducts, bowling greens on the tapis vert, parterres, plantations of roses and fruit orchards for the enjoyment of his patron's family -- in the union of beauty with the practical he surpassed all his predecessors. But his genius lay first in discovering that the landscape lying beyond the house and garden should be the ultimate goal of his tributary art; and secondly, in seizing on the great and varied beauty of the Italian landscape, and fitting it into his design with an art which concealed itself. His scenic sense remains a marvel.
Whether one studies the Villa Lante gardens at Bagnaia, the incomparably beautiful Villa d'Este at Tivoli, the superb old estates at Frascati, the sumptuous pleasure grounds of the prelates in Rome itself or the charmingly simple Colonna garden of flowers on a hill-top in the very heart of the city, one sees masterpieces of composition in the large and in detail, calculated to inspire a nation of painters.
THE POOL, FALCONIERI, REFLECTING CYPRESSES FIVE CENTURIES OLD. A SIMILAR EFFECT
COULD BE PRODUCED HERE WITH OUR NATIVE JUNIPERS. TREES LARGE ENOUGH TO BE
EFFECTIVE MAY BE SAFELY TRANSPLANTED.
A GARDEN ARRANGED WITH FLOWER-FILLED PARTERRES, AFTER THE ITALIAN METHOD, BUT MODIFIED BY
ENGLISH, DUTCH OR FRENCH COLONISTS, IS KNOWN HERE AS THE COLONIAL OR OLD-FASHIONED GARDEN.
NOT SINCE ITS INTRODUCTION IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY HAS IT BEEN IN GREATER FAVOUR THAN IT IS TO-DAY.
"I can't abide Italian gardens," a young architect once startled me by saying, for he had an uncommonly artistic eye.
"Did you ever see one -- a real one in Italy?" I asked.
"No, I have never been there," he frankly admitted. "I have in mind only American 'Italian gardens,' I am afraid -- geometric patterns patched on to the lawns of new estates, with little clipped trees set along the borders at exact intervals, and stiff, prim asters in rectangular beds, or a row of urns on a concrete balustrade with perhaps a few meaningless relics of Italian sculpture from some antique shop in New York, to make the garden convincing of its expense.
"Apropos, I must tell you a story," he went on. "Once I was dining in the house of some very rich people, where the lady on my right insisted upon talking about her imposing earthly possessions. Her Italian garden, of the type I have described, she dwelt upon in detail, telling me how much the marble work had cost, how expensive the topiary effects were to keep up, and every other painful particular. At last, unable to endure her prattle about a sarcophagus she had decided to use as a garden seat, I surprised her by saying: 'My wife, too, has an Italian garden.' 'Indeed?' she asked incredulously, knowing perfectly well that we live in a small suburban cottage. 'Yes,' I replied; 'it took two Italians three days to dig it.' Then she changed the subject."
In translating the Italian garden cult to America, via England, France and Holland, and after long subjugation there, the fundamental principles of the best formal garden making have been so far lost sight of in the great majority of cases that it has become well-nigh a travesty to call most of our meaningless imitations Italian gardens at all. It may be claimed that Italian ideals cannot be translated into our terms; that the garden magic of the Renaissance is dependent upon age, the peculiarity of the Italian climate and landscape, the wealth of deep-toned evergreens, the cheapness of labour, the social usages of an age of splendour, the Italian genius for artistic expression.
Age undoubtedly enhances the beauty of a garden planned on noble lines, but it can completely obliterate the poorly planned one that is dependent upon constant care; and after centuries the best Italian gardens have preserved their charm. Our summer skies are as blue as the Italian, and our spring and summer climate is not unlike that of Italy. We have our choice of a score of evergreens and a hundred flowers for every one that was known to the garden designers of the sixteenth century. Pyramidal junipers and other columnar evergreens may be used in the Eastern United States, and the less hardy yews and cypresses in the South, as the tapering shafts of cypress were used in Italy; Lombardy poplars thrive here as well as there; retinosporas, magnolias, rhododendrons, laurel, boxwood, bay, and a host of other possibilities are perfectly adapted to our needs. Certainly, there is no lack of wealth at the disposal of American home-makers, nor can it be spent in a better way to bring health and pleasure to a family than upon a garden. Many kinds of labour-saving devices, unknown in Europe three centuries ago, now help to lessen the expense of garden-making and maintenance. Fountains, sundials, garden seats, balustrades, steps, and other garden accessories are by no means essential to a lovely garden, but if one wants them, and cannot afford stone or marble, excellent reproductions in a special preparation of cement may be had at a small fraction of the cost of classic models. Thus a man of very moderate means may enjoy a duplicate of the fountain of lions at the Vatican; and the birds that come from the woods to his very door to bathe in the spray and drink from the basin, where goldfish play hide and seek under the lotus and lily leaves, show constant appreciation of his taste.
EIGHT MONTHS BEFORE THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN THE SITE WAS THE STEEP SLOPE OF A MOUNTAIN.
A LEVEL SPOT WAS BLASTED OUT OF THE ROCK, LEAVING THE NATURAL WOODLAND GROWTH AS
A SETTING FOR THE GARDEN. AGERATUM, ASTERS, ALYSSUM AND OTHER ANNUALS WERE USED
FOR QUICK EFFECTS.
It is painfully true that we Americans, like the English, are too Teutonic to be an artistic people. Yet here and there among us arises an artist capable of making far more beautiful pictures on the landscape than he is the better content to paint on canvas; and so the limitation of art by the artists themselves continues to be a fruitful source of our artistic poverty. Very few excellent models inspire the garden makers in this new land. For nearly a hundred years garden making went out of fashion. The worthy formal gardens here can be counted on the fingers of one hand. But art out-of-doors shows encouraging signs of waking from its long sleep, and the few really competent designers are meeting with refreshing encouragement at last.
Perhaps it would be as futile as it is undesirable to servilely copy even the best Renaissance gardens, nevertheless we may, with the greatest profit, learn from them how a house and garden may become an integral part of the landscape, whether it be situated in Italy, New England, Illinois, or California, for happily the principles of their making are of universal application. What we chiefly need is the informing spirit; with it alone shall we learn how to meet our problems as successfully as the Italians met theirs. Even in Italy methods were necessarily adapted to various situations. The Roman's pleasaunce, overlooking the broad Campagna, was given a majestic breadth and simplicity of treatment in harmony with its environment, whereas, farther north, where the landscape is less imposing, compensations were offered in the wealth of garden details. The designer invariably took the cue for treatment of a place from the adjoining landscape. So must we learn of him.
A room that is not lived in never possesses the charm of one that is, however correctly furnished it may be. And so our gardens will never be what they might easily become until we make of them outdoor living-rooms after the good Old World custom.
Piazzas, pleasant as they are, have doubtless retarded the adoption of the custom here; so has the tendency to do away with walls, tall hedges, and screen planting, so exposing to the gaze of every passer-by the intimate family life spent under the open sky.
The Renaissance garden maker planned the hedged-in, vine-clad, walled enclosures, sheltered from the winds and sun, for the family's comfort and convenience, as carefully as he did the rooms of the dwelling. Broad paths through pergolas, arbours or wooded alleys led from one subdivision of the garden to another, and so, by easy and almost imperceptible transition, the formal lines nearest the house flowed more freely and more informally into the naturalistic the farther one walked away from the house, until the stroll brought one out face to face with nature herself. Here was infinite variety in perfect unity. No "method" was despised by the artist designer to gain the end desired. The terraces, the stone work, the fountains, the sundial, the ilex walks, the parterres, the bowling green, the open sunny spaces, the shaded retreats, the rushing cascades down the hillsides, the mirror-like pools, the groups of trees, the converging lines of a straight-hedged path, the irresistible invitation of a disappearing curved one, the distant vista alluring the eye to the beauty of a distant panorama -- all had a deeper harmony underlying them than the uninitiated observer could suspect. A glance at one of the old garden plans astonishes one. The design drawn on paper shows a rigid formality, perfect balance and intricacy of line comparable to Chinese fretwork. The finished garden seems to be a naturally perfect picture wherein the design is frequently lost to sight, and one is conscious only of harmony on every hand. Another matter for astonishment to the American is that the beauty of a Renaissance garden may be entirely independent of flowers. These were used lavishly in many gardens, it is true, while in others they were scarcely necessary at all, and were added, as Corot might have added a touch of colour to one of his landscapes, which, even without the pleasing detail, would form a well-nigh faultless composition.
ONE OF THE BEST MODERN AMERICAN FORMAL GARDENS, WHOSE ARCHITECTURAL
FEATURES ONLY TIME CAN MELLOW.
Our simple democratic society has no need of imitating the great gardens of Italy, where Church and State vied with each other in the splendour of their open-air functions, or the excessively formal pleasure grounds of the French court to which Le Notre devoted his genius; but it is a mistake to assume that the formal garden may not serve our day and generation. What are the "old-fashioned" gardens around our Colonial homesteads, with their box-edged parterres and vine-covered arbours but an evidence of the Italian fashion in vogue in England, France, and Holland when our forefathers first came to these shores? We feel no prejudice against our grandmothers' formal gardens -- quite the reverse -- but that there is a decided modern prejudice against the formal treatment for anything but the large estates of the newly rich Americans one cannot deny. Our Teutonic blood prejudices us, as a people, toward a more general love for nature than for art; our training, derived from English text books, inclines us toward the naturalistic method; and our ignorance of the best examples of the formal school, which may scarcely be found outside of Italy, might easily account for the scorn which Americans generally feel for formal gardens.
The refreshing truth is that nowhere so well as on a small place, where the house is the dominating object in the home picture, is the formal or architectural treatment of the grounds so well adapted. How much of the charm of the simple, dignified Colonial house, on the elm-lined village street in New England was due to the box-hedged path leading directly from the front gate to the front door, and the neat, trim parterres filled with flowers and herbs conveniently near, which preserved harmony in the yard of the perfectly balanced dwelling! In its modest way it was as satisfying an artistic composition as the Villa Medici, for our "Colonial" architecture, adapted after Palladio, and "Colonial" gardening were twin children of the Renaissance.
A CHARMING SMALL GARDEN, INEXPENSIVE TO PLANT AND TO MAINTAIN, WITH A WELL
FOR ITS CENTRAL FEATURE. PRIVET HEDGES, JUNIPERS, HARDY PERENNIALS AND
VINE GROW LUXURIANTLY ENOUGH TO SOFTEN ITS LINES WITHOUT OBLITERATING THE
PROPORTIONS OF THE PLAN.