copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
The American Flower Garden
Click Here To Return
To the Previous Chapter
"A dressed garden is Nature idealised -- pastoral scenery put fancifully in man's way. A gardener is a master of what a French writer calls 'the charming art of touching up the truth.'"
-- JOHN D. SEDDING.
THE NATURALISTIC GARDEN
WHEN we commit ourselves to any one style of gardening, how much beauty must be sacrificed to ignorance and prejudice! Devotees of the bedding system who delight in planting their initials in particoloured coleus on innocent lawns, or casting a hopeful anchor of "dusty miller," edged with clam shells, against a terrace like a railway embankment, must find their gardens fearfully fixed. To such there can be no possibility of adding a favourite plant throughout the season or allowing a single one to grow in a natural way.
There are, at large, gardeners without number whose sole ideas of beauty out-of-doors are derived from the garish coloured pictures in seedsmen's catalogues. These they toil early and late to perpetrate on their employers' grounds and display them with a complacent, pardonable pride that is equalled only by their masters' total indifference to what they do. Many a woman who will weep bitter tears when the painter puts a jarring tint on the wall of a room, will blindly blink at the gardener's affronts in her most conspicuous door yard. When we remember that the masses of our population are but lately landed immigrants, it is scarcely surprising that crowds gaze with rapture upon a life-sized elephant, done in uniform cactus rosettes, on the greensward of a public park. But is it not astonishing when cultivated Americans, even those whose houses are furnished artistically and whose taste in pictures has been formed after years of study, are content to let a day labourer compose what should be to them the most important picture of all -- the home garden? The rule may have sufficiently rare exceptions to prove it, but I have never seen the gardener who, if left, to his own devices, would not cut up a lawn into stereotyped flower beds of geometric exactness -- circles, stars, triangles, squares and ellipses -- and fill them with variegated coleus sheared to a level, or with cannas, or with prim rows of deep pink and purple china asters, or with screaming scarlet geraniums, or with very Dutch bulbs; the tulips or hyacinths invariably arranged in zones of sharply contrasting colours within the same bed. Such excrescences on a fair green lawn can be likened only to pimples on the face of Nature.
Even the large-minded Thackeray admitted that he liked to be observed by his friends when walking down Piccadilly buttonholing a duke. Similar gratification seems to elate the gardener who has the proud privilege of serving a gentleman with an imitation deer on his front lawn. The man's ideas of elegance and his fellow gardeners' are completely fulfilled by the sight. But, as "the Monarch of the Glen" gazes upon the geometric floral horrors at his feet, no wonder his face wears a chronically startled expression. How far away from nature have men, in their ignorance, departed! And for how many crimes against art out-of-doors are not the seedsmen's catalogues responsible!
POET'S NARCISSUS NATURALIZED ALONG AN OPEN WOODLAND WALK, WHERE
THEY REQUIRE ABSOLUTELY NO CARE. A THOUSAND BULBS COST LESS THAN FIFTY CIGARS.
AFTER THE YELLOW CROCUSES, BLUE SCILLAS, AND LONG TRUMPETED DAFFODILS, COME
THESE STAR-LIKE NARCISSI IN THE WILD GRASS. NOTE THE TUFTS OF BROAD LEAF BLADES
FROM WHICH ORANGE DAY LILIES WILL ARISE AT MID SUMMER; ALSO THE BARE BRANCHES
OF SUMACH BUSHES AND YOUNG LOCUST TREES IN THE BACKGROUND BEFORE LOOKING
AT THE NEXT PICTURE.
This chapter sings the charms of the naturalistic treatment of a place where unintelligent formality, stereotyped monotony and insincerity cease. It does not encourage the attempt to imitate wild nature on our lawns and about our houses, which would be absurd; but this is not to say, either, that this area may not be treated in the naturalistic spirit or that the wild and rough parts of the grounds may not be made the most interesting and beautiful. It must not be supposed for a moment, however, that a successful informal garden can be made haphazard. Not only must the place as a whole, be planned carefully, but each bit of planting, no matter how small, needs to be carefully thought out. Every one knows that more skill and a finer artistic sense are required by a landscape painter than by a mechanical draughtsman.
When the gardener, like the painter, studies the natural landscape, he learns how effectively nature breaks the sky line with tree tops; how she fringes her woodland with small trees and masses of high and low shrubbery in gently flowing outlines; how she clothes with kind verdure the raw banks and other scars of men's making, draping them with vines, scattering little bushes and plants over them until their ugliness is healed. Nature insists upon beauty. Her disciple learns that she has plants for every place and purpose, and that even on a small home area, he, too, may grow a great variety of them in a free and picturesque way, giving to each the situation where its peculiar needs may best be met and its beauty be displayed to the greatest advantage while adding to the effect of the garden picture as a whole. He cannot see a little stream without longing to plant a phalanx of Japanese irises along the edges, or clumps of feathery ferns or tufts of English primroses and daisies, or sheets of blue forget-me-nots on its banks. He knows that the deliciously fragrant clethra and white azalea bushes would be quite happy among the red-berried alder and elder flowers on the margin of his little lake where willows and white birches have already made themselves at home. A bit of well-drained land that has nothing to fear from cattle or a mowing machine, instantly suggests to his mind naturalising poet's narcissus and yellow trumpeted daffodils among the grass; and he figures that a thousand of these bulbs can be bought for the price of a box of cigars. He will spangle his lawn with cheerful yellow crocuses that, unlike the daffodils here, really "come before the swallow dares." He delays the first cutting of the grass awhile to allow the bulbs to ripen their grass-like leaves. Porcelain blue scillas will be happily colonised too. He uses trees and shrubs to mark with unoffending outline the boundaries of his grounds and secures privacy with them rather than with fences or walls. Nature's open stretches of meadow land will have their counterpart in the unbroken stretches of his lawn whose borders only may be softened by the sweeping branches of a fringe of shrubbery or a sinuous border of hardy flowers. He would be as loth to put a bed of geraniums in the centre of a tree-girt lawn picture as he would to rouge his baby's cheeks. Weeping and freakish trees distress him as does shrubbery with variegated foliage suggesting a calico pony. If he be the joyful possessor of a bit of woodland, he will surely copy nature's method of planting flowering dogwoods and shad bushes along the undulating border with an occasional Judas tree, perhaps, if its vivid bluish pink blossoms do not offend his eye for colour; but by no possibility could a landscape gardener worthy the name, plant copper beeches or Japanese maples along a copse. A sense of fitness must be conveyed or trees and plants, however beautiful in themselves, may give positive offence in alien environments. The student of nature's effects will soon cover any unsightly old fences, not as nature does too often, with poison ivy, but with a fragrant tangle of sweet briar and clematis. He will see that a raw, newly cut bank is planted with honeysuckle or with the trailing Wichuriana roses, whose shining dark, waxy leaves and myriads of delicate white or pink flowers in July will speedily transform it into a bank of beauty. Under the trees, along a walk or drive, the naturalistic planter will place pockets of soil, mellow and cool with leaf-mould, for the spreading masses of rhododendron and laurel that keep cheerfully green all winter, and for azaleas that include all the shades of sunset. Spires of white foxglove will ascend at the half-shaded entrance to his woodland cathedral aisles. He will sow poppies broadcast in his most informal garden and enjoy a waving ribbon of them along the sunny edge of a walk. He may even hope to naturalise them successfully among the grain and pasture grasses as one sees them growing in Europe. The enthusiastic garden lover ploughs a bit of waste ground early every spring and seeds it down with wheat and scarlet poppies that are a ravishing delight even if not commercially profitable. He scatters the portulacca's tiny seed in the driest, sunniest places where no other flower would grow, for he knows that a plant that is next of kin to "pusley" -- most pestiferous of weeds-is not more easily discouraged by drought. I have seen it blooming luxuriantly on a sandy beach just beyond reach of the tide. Such old-fashioned common crowders of finer garden flowers as the tiger lily and the orange day lily, scorned by the pretentious, take on new splendour when naturalised among the tall grass of an unmowed meadow.
SECTION OF THE SAME BIT OF NATURALISTIC PLANTING SHOWN IN THE PRECEDING PICTURE.
TAWNY ORANGE DAY LILIES AND YARROW NOW IN FLOWER. BLACK-EYED SUSANS AND THE
BRILLIANT BURNT ORANGE UMBELS OF BUTTERFLY-WEED ARE BARELY VISIBLE IN THE DISTANCE.
TALL, LATE MAY GARDEN TULIPS (Gesneriana) NATURALIZED IN A GRASSY BORDER
IN FRONT OF SHRUBBERY: -- LOSS TEN TO TWENTY PER CENT. ANNUALLY. T. sylvestris,
A LOVELY, PALE YELLOW FLOWER, WITH LONG, POINTED PETALS, WOULD BE QUITE
AT HOME HERE OR IN OPEN WOODS.
When the gardener of the landscape school comes to plant around a home his problem becomes more difficult, for here nature, who puts no houses in her pictures, cannot help him with designs. His best endeavours will be spent in attempting to reconcile nature to the house, by softening its angular outlines and doing what he can to divert the eye from its least attractive features, with the help of trees, shrubs, and vines, rather than essay the impossible task of obliterating them altogether or the undesirable task of smothering the house with verdure. If a few fine old trees should happily be growing near his building site he already possesses the most reconciling features he could have. One very charming house I know has a gnarled, picturesque old apple tree to shade a porch that would have covered and killed it had not a deep brick well been built around the trunk to let air, light and moisture down to its roots. The treatment gave it a new lease of life. A rocky part of the land on another side of this unconventional house was chiseled to form the very natural looking steps of approach to it. Wistaria blossoms festoon the largest rocks in May after white and lavender mats of creeping phlox have carpeted them with bloom. Columbines dance on airy stems along the rocky ledges and stately white spikes of Spanish bayonets shoot up from crowns of blade-like leaves that seem to grow out of the rocks themselves. The fiery poker plants set the slopes ablaze in September. A surging mass of fine shrubs -- Japanese barberry, mahonia, deutzias, spireas, white rugosa roses, and dwarf evergreens, break in waves against the foundation of that house which rises as if by a natural right from their midst. It is the foundation line which, in almost every case, should be planted out, no matter how much of the remainder of the house may be permitted to go bare.
A COLONY OF NARCISSUS. THESE BULBS DEMAND WELL-DRAINED SOIL,
HOWEVER NEAR WATER THEY MAY BE.
What are the special claims for the naturalistic treatment of our home grounds?
It accords with our racial temperament; therefore it is destined to become the dominant style of gardening here, for the same reason that the English language prevails on this continent over every other tongue. People of Latin blood have carried art to the very highest perfection, but our strong Teutonic strain predisposes us toward nature and naturalistic methods. A traveller in Italy can usually tell at a glance where English people are living in the villas there by the intrusion of landscape effects, with masses of shrubbery and herbaceous borders into the purely Italian plan of the estate. Features so entirely out of keeping with their environment have seriously marred the beauty of not a few fine old villas. But how fitting and altogether charming are the oaks and beeches that stretch their giant branches with picturesque abandon across the velvet of English lawns, the clumps of shrubbery that all but conceal the paths beyond its gently flowing curves, the irregular borders filled with old-fashioned perennials that are as characteristically English as Yorkshire pudding!
For the discerning few, who know when and how to apply Italian principles of garden design to some of our own problems, they must ever afford artistic satisfaction, which is not to say, however, that naturalistic treatment may not quite as thoroughly satisfy one's artistic ideals for other kinds of garden problems. But even where a house of classically severe architecture demands architectural planting immediately around it, formality should gradually emerge into more and more freedom of line, the farther away the planting recedes from the house until finally the naturalistic is lost in wild nature itself.
However great may be one's intellectual enjoyment of a faultless piece of formal garden composition, one is compelled to really love far better the little cottage garden where roses tangle over the doorway, hollyhocks peep in through the lattice, tawny orange lilies that have escaped through the white picket fence brighten the roadside, clematis festoons fleecy clouds of bloom over the unpruned bushes along a lichen-covered wall where chipmunks play hide and seek, and tall, unkempt lilacs send their fragrance through the kitchen door. Herrick was not the last Anglo-Saxon to approve of "erring sweetness" or to take "delight in disorder," which, he frankly admits,
"Do more bewitch me than when
Art is too precise in every part."
We Americans are an intensely practical people, and when we come to count the cost of our gardens, we happily find that the naturalistic treatment is the least expensive because it is permanent. Potted plants from the florist - and millions of geraniums and foliage plants are sold annually - give a quick, pyrotechnic display of flowers, it is true, but frost finishes them forever; whereas the price of these tender darlings of the gardener, if invested in a few good shrubs or hardy perennials, would yield far more real beauty and strike their roots into our home affections. Bedding plants mean money thrown away after a single season. Some gardeners change all the tender plants in a bed, not once, but several times in a summer to keep up a brilliant succession of bloom -- a senseless extravagance when a more artistic pageant might be arranged with hardy flowers. Not the least claim for the free, picturesque, naturalistic method of planting, is the comparatively small cost of taking care of a place where floral features do not have to be annually renewed.
Hardy trees, shrubs, vines, plants and bulbs rapidly compound their beauty and value year after year. Ten dollars wisely spent upon a hardy garden will produce more beautiful effects, more variety, interest, pleasure and artistic satisfaction than a hundred dollars invested in bedding plants could ever do.
The garden that is planted permanently soon overflows its beauty into an entire neighbourhood. As its loveliness increases, so do the owner's friends, who fall heirs to the offshoots and seedlings which, without thinning out, would soon choke one another to death or at least cause deterioration of the stock. The salvation of a garden, as of a character, often depends upon giving. No miser ever had a beautiful garden.
TAWNY ORANGE DAY LILIES NATURALIZED ALONG A DRIVE. THE DARK BACKGROUND
OF THE TREES HELPS EMPHASISE THE RICH COLOUR OF THE FLOWERS.
PERMANENT HARDY LILIES AND SHIRLEY POPPIES.
And since the first cost of the garden that is planted on naturalistic lines is the only cost beyond its easy maintenance, every cottager in this country, as in England, may hope to have his dooryard gay with hardy perennials, and a few shrubs and vines, at least, and oh, how sadly our working people's most unlovely homes need cheerful little gardens about them!
Handkerchiefs, slippers and neckties are not the only useful Christmas presents. Why do we so rarely give trees, shrubs, bulbs, vines and perennial flowers to our friends? Many a large steamer that leaves the port of New York carries an enormous value of perishable cut flowers heaped up in its dining saloon, and these are often more of a nuisance than a pleasure to the voyagers. Do friends care any less for one another because they stay at home?
One bride I know received a cheque to cover the cost of making and planting a garden around her new home, and it is certain that all the cut glass and bric-a-brac she received will not give her a tithe of the pleasure during the rest of her life. For a wooden wedding present a young couple who had recently moved into a raw, new place received two maples that taxed the capacity of the nearest nurseryman's big tree movers. Another couple give each other living Christmas trees every year. Their young daughter, when asked by her father to chose her own Christmas present, handed him a list of hardy hybrid tea roses. These could not be enjoyed except in her mind's eye until the following spring, it is true, but by that time she had studied how to care for them, and now there is not a morning from June until frost when she cannot pick a bud for her father's buttonhole, and roses for the library table.
The informal garden has the additional merit of not being made all at once, but of growing gradually, naturally, by small accretions, whenever one discovers the place where a favourite plant would feel at home or the colour of another is needed, or where a finer effect might be gained by introducing a new feature, or when one may afford a dissipation at the nursery. Every little excursion into the world is likely to yield some new treasure trove. In moving from a home whose garden was about to be swallowed up by the rapidly encroaching city, it was hardest to leave behind a sturdy maple tree, too big to transplant, that, as a tiny sapling, I had brought in the crown of my hat from the battlefield of Lexington. But I jealously removed to the new country home all the white phlox from my old garden. The casual observer sees only a snowy mass of flowers near my veranda, nothing more -- but at the sight of it there flashes on my inner eye a picture of Hawthorne's cottage at Lenox overlooking the Stockbridge Bowl, where his adorable young wife set out the ancestral plants of this very phlox under his study window. Years after her death, when the phlox that had survived the burning of the cottage, had overflowed to the roadside, I brought home in a pair of overshoes all the roots they would hold. Whoever owns a garden that is not as full of associations and of sentiment as it is of flowers, misses its finest joy.
DOUBLE ENGLISH DAISIES DISCARDED FROM FORMAL FLOWER BEDS MAY BE
NATURALISED LIKE THESE IN THE GRASS ON THE SUNNY BANK OF A POND.