Kellscraft Studio, 1999
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THE decorative material available for a yard is not large. At least, it should not be large in bulk, and it is not in variety. Passing a shop in the metropolis, the other day, I found along the walk before it huge capitals of columns, well-curbs from Italy, stone benches, marble lions and heraldic monsters, and observed that they were offered for sale as fitments for gardens. They will go to New Jersey and will help some rich man to pretend that a fine crop of Roman temples and Renaissance palaces has just gone to seed on his premises. We may advocate formality with a grace, for it is only humanness; but there are situations in which it is bombast, or hypocrisy, to strew our ground with what obviously belongs out of it. If we will have them in small spaces, then fonts, benches, termini, capitals, well-curbs, short columns, bases and their like are better than large figures, in-as-much as they dominate the ground less arrogantly, and the ground shows for itself.
suppose there is no law against the use of Italian
wells in American parks, any more than I suppose there is a lack of
who can design American wells for Italian parks, but these objects,
a ton or two--I am not speaking of the designers now, but of their
well-curbs--require large surroundings and backgrounds, not of
alone, but of stately trees; in short, the setting of a large
If we have an important tree in the city yard we shall always live in
shadow, for there will be no room for anything else. Yet a large oak,
even a maple, would be no more out of place on the spot where we are
to dry the clothes than a big piece of sculpture would be. A statue,
it is small and simply pedestaled, demands room. It subordinates to
a space of three times its greatest dimension. It can be exhibited in
squares and parked spaces with surroundings of flowers and ornate
indeed, it should have this footing in the natural-beautiful, so long
it is out of doors. In a small garden we can not dignify a work of art
floriculture to the degree it may deserve, for it must serve as a part
a decorative scheme; otherwise the surroundings will be such as to
a ridiculous contrast between the statue and the setting. Imagine, if
please, a marble Apollo or a bronze Mercury with a whitewashed fence
and the clothes hung to dry before it. Yet, if we removed the clothes
substituted a wall, which comported in solidity with the material of
statue, the effect would be beautiful, provided, to be sure, that in
composition we had subdued all to that statue: given an important
to it at the back or corner, massed flowers about it, arched it with
made reflections of it in a fountain-basin, maybe, led toward it with
and repeated its upright attitude in vines and potted trees, so that it
not stand stark and unsupported. Here is a scheme wherein the garden is
subordinated, yet as there are four points, either of which could be
focal, the figure might with equal fitness be placed at A, or B, or C,
D. If placed either at A or C, something might be added, for balance'
since the plan is formal, at the opposite side--a bench, a font, a small rockery: nothing
of exactly equal size, not anything
in kind, because two pieces of sculpture would be too many for a single
and it would be carrying formalism to monotony to repeat one corner in
In this device are two vistas, and we require something at the end of each. If the statue be placed at B, then the semilunes that flank it, and that end the paths, can be filled with flowering shrubs of some size and showiness, not forgetting that the statue itself will require greenery, for white and green make the one brisk contrast that is esthetic. Its pedestal will be high enough merely to lift it into view, a couple of feet sufficing for a life-size figure. Statuary is raised on lofty bases only when it is desired to make it "tell" at a distance. It would be the twelve-foot height of absurdity to put a twelve-foot pedestal under any figure with which we sought to ornament our yard. Mounted in that fashion its place would be the front of a capitol or city hall. And mind, I am rather insisting that while there may be a statuette there shall be no statue, unless there is a wall for a background, and we do not build many walls in this country. I can remember hardly a dozen on the island of Manhattan, that surround estates of consequence, though I do recall some ancient defenses of the sort in its upper districts, now gone to rack and ruin, through the cutting of new streets and subways, the building of elevated roads and viaducts, the appropriation of adjacent fields for tenements, and the incoming of that disturbing horde which defies the blandishments of soap. With such a canvas as any one of these estates offered in its best day, what pictures might not one create upon it! May I draw one here, of what I would have in this garden of my fancy? It is but rudely indicated in these lines, of course, but they will help to explain my meaning:
I will suppose the space, then, to be forty by a hundred feet. It shall be commanded by a house in which the architectural lines will not be extinguished by a mask of brick, but will show timber beams and braces, latticed windows and vines reaching above its first story. The wide, low windows giving on the yard shall often be left open, for the view, the perfume and the coolness. The ground shall be quite surrounded by a brick wall eight feet high, for this is my cloister of evening meditation. There is plenty of world outside, and I shall see it often, but here I withdraw from it. A brick wall is cold and trite? So it would be if we left it at that, merely; but there are to be a stone coping and borders of half bricks affording a strong and gritty edge to the construction; there is to be a paneled base; there are to be a dozen terra-cotta insets with conventional ornament, like an acanthus, leaf, or any such, while at C there is to be an alcove a foot or more deep and three feet high, to contain some rare exotic, or perhaps no more than an urn of stone. Should I have more land, the wall will be pierced at B by a gate leading, I hope, to fair acres and pleasing rambles; possibly to some quiet stream or wood of mystery. This gate should be of heavy wood, and either stained green, with hand-wrought iron hinges, or, if the wood were old enough to have taken on a ripe and quiet tone, it would be left of its natural color. The wall should be almost hidden by vines: sweet pea and morning-glory, where the sun shone, honeysuckle, clematis, woodbine, and at the back two or three trees should throw an afternoon shade over the ground. On top of the wall at a farther corner, or, better, built into the masonry, would be a bird-house where, if possible, some starlings should be domesticated and protected. I don't know whether these soft-voiced musicians eat bees or not, but if bees disagree with them there should be a hive somewhere among the shrubbery, near the back, that their tuneful hum might be added to the restful whispering of the leafage and the tinkle of water, which would spray from a little fountain in the pool at the center of the yard. The long beds on either side of the walk should be filled with flowers, perennials like roses and lilies, beside zinnias, marigolds, nasturtiums, Canterbury bells, foxgloves, pansies, dahlias, asters and chrysanthemums; and where the flowers assembled thickest, in the farther left corner, I would place my statue--an ancient bronze with a fine patina, in which the hue soberly yet richly varied through yellow green to purplish olive, but if I could not have my bronze, then a figure in marble, solid and restful in attitude, a pagan goddess or a Christian saint: no hurlers of spears, or wrestlers, or boxers, or martyrs, or dying soldiers, but a figure that stood its ground with the firmness of a caryatid. And it should not be the prettiness of yesterday, freshly polished in an Italian studio-shop, but an old piece from Pentelicus, its snow softened to cream, its hard shininess gone, its neat chiseling of draperies blunted by contact with a sometime admiring, sometime forgetful world. At the opposite end of the cross-walk would be an easy bench, not an affair of roots glued over a framework of carpentry, the product of a town factory, but an honestly fashioned seat of hewn timber, circling or half circling the tree trunk, if the tree were big enough to justify and support it. One thing this bench would not be, and that is, a cast-iron copy of a so-called rustic seat. A chair or bench might be made of iron, yet be artistic, therefore, honest, and it might fit into a garden scheme. Maybe if this were suggested to a Japanese designer he could produce one. But why should the iron pretend to be wood, any more than wood masquerade as iron ? Let us have homely frankness about us, rather than supposedly ornate sham--for, as a matter of fact, sham is seldom ornate. I do not admire those beds, designed for New York flats, that are folded up by day, when they pretend to be innocent ice-chests, pianos and sideboards. Every observer knows them for designing and insomnious frauds. I do not admire chromos that affect to be real oil-paintings, done by hand, nor Philadelphia rugs that make believe to have been woven in Shiraz, nor coffee that grew on chicory, nor wine composed of dye and vinegar, nor milk compounded of chalk and water, nor any other thing that goes through the form of being better than it is. Sand in its place is useful, even beautiful, but its place is not inside of the sugar-bowl. And so I would avoid in and about the garden all those pretenses in which we observe a gross and ridiculous disparity of material and appearance, or of function and effect. I would not, for example, suspend a gypsy kettle from three sticks and plant heliotrope therein, making believe to boil this herb over a slow fire which causes the blossoms to emerge, in place of smoke. It is quite permissible to string a hammock in the angle of the wall. Your naps and contortions will not be exhibited to the neighbors.
The arms of the Maltese cross, to which you will trace some likeness in the plan, are lawns, and these should be leveled by persistent rolling and kept as green, fresh and unmixed with anything other than grass and clover as sound seed, fresh water and a diligent war on weeds can make them. Every weed removed gives so much the more space for grass, and in time a carpet is formed into which interloping thistles, dandelions and ragweed find it increasingly hard to penetrate. For association's sake I would edge the gravel walks that intersect the ground with box, and keep it in borders not over twenty inches high, always neatly trimmed, and green all through the year. At the points of the lawns should be placed tubs of oak with iron handles,. for here is legitimate use of metal, and those vessels should contain thick-growing little trees or solid-looking bushes. If all the trees were hemlocks, yews and spruces, so much the better, as they repeat and intensify, yet harmonize, the upright lines of the statue and the house sides, and increase their altitude, if there are not too many of them; for an upright by itself is taller than in company, just as Niagara, because of its breadth, loses the height which would be readily apparent if we took any ten-foot span of the cataract, and closed it in with rock. And these tubbed trees should be darkly, serenely green, standing with an air of some fixity, like the statue and other fitments, and contrasting pleasantly with the large and fluent forms of the maples, magnolias, elms, lindens or gingkos that overhung the wall at the back. If these taller, rounder trees grew really outside of the Walls, it would be pleasanter than if they grew within, for the space is so small that it would be a hardship to sacrifice it, even for a tree, especially when all the picturesqueness of the latter could be effected without putting the stem on the hither side of our boundaries. The space indicated for trees in the plan could be filled by such bushes as the syringa, lilac, laurel, weigelia and the larger or taller growing roses. The pool should be of clearest water, led from a mountain spring, and containing a few lilies--only a few, because one would wish to look at the fish swimming beneath the pads, for if there were no fish there would be mosquitoes, unless there were a current so strong that those pests desisted from laying their eggs on the surface, in which case it would be too agitated for the successful raising of lilies, and the fish might grow discontented, also.
If there were no pool and no statue, a clump of tall, feathery grass, such as we have brought from the South American pampas, or an urn filled with the Kenilworth ivy, a fast and easy grower, would serve as decorative points--hubs for the radii of our composition. Or, at B we could train an arch of roses or other vines, preferably an arch of wood or bamboo, yet permissibly of wire net, for this wire tells what it is made of, and does not pretend to be porcelain, sandalwood or mahogany. And if there is a vase, let it be of stone or pottery, not of cement; this not alone for appearance' but for endurance' sake. Cement has its uses, as in the casing of the pool, but the making of gravestones, urns and statuary from this material is forbidden by the law of esthetics. Have you ever looked upon a statue of cement? If so, it is too solemn a spectacle to forget. Don't have anything in the garden that is molded by machinery, unless it may be drain-pipes. Let the work show the touch of the human hand, and let it be a duplicate of nothing that exists elsewhere. Yet, if there were a city ordinance that compelled me to have a statue in the yard, and I found after a search through my garments that I had not the price of a Venus of Milo in marble--a discovery sure to fill me with astonishment--I would doubtless buy a figure of plaster; for the Italians make faithful and artistic copies in this cheap medium. They are good enough for our museums and art schools, and ought, by that token, to be good enough for gardens. Hm! They are not rained on, in the art schools. But if you do set up a plaster image, paint it first, just to take off its raw whiteness. Use a cream-colored or yellow-brown pigment, or even a pale green, and if the figure is chipped, cover the chipped place with another touch of the color.
I think I have not mentioned Japanese lanterns as garden possibilities. They are alien enough, to be sure, yet they are quaint and decorative, and more modest than the importations from Italian palaces and convents with which so many owners of palaces try to foreignize the landscape of New York and Massachusetts. I am not speaking of those paper lanterns, gay and pretty ornaments, familiar to lawn-parties-luminous flowers of the night--but of the stone and metal inventions that are used in and about the temples of Japan. They stand on pedestals, somewhat like binnacles on shipboard, they have overhanging roofs like pagodas, and they may contain lamps or candles. Their little windows, softly shining through leaves, suggest the comforting lights of home. These devisements are works of art, and while there is a similarity in their construction, each is an individual conceit; that it is which makes them art. Much gilded, trifling, insincere ornament is made for garden use, but it behooves us to be content with simple things and let our walks through little kingdoms teach constancy and simplicity. My garden should have those things that are sweetly familiar, unexcitant, of conceded loveliness.
The best of the garden, however, is what you put into it, rather than what comes out of it. It is the satisfaction of your tastes, and the bettering of them, the thought and sentiment you express in planting and gathering, the innocence and quiet of mind that you take to the seeding, trimming and watering, that are the real rewards. In time the garden comes to mean a part of yourself, just as your pictures and your library are a part, and it will be modest or bombastic, delicate or vulgar, trivial or sincere, ingenuous or artificial, according as you possess those qualities. As it flourishes it may disclose a broad mind and generous nature, or it may prove in its dryness and ill feeding, a habit of pelf and a grudging of care. If it is worth while to have a garden at all, it is probably worth while to have one that will humble the neighbors; but this does not imply mere show: it implies content with your work and enjoyment of what you have. I often wonder if content is not one of the lost arts, at least, among the residents of towns. I believe it has a close relation to the art of gardening. I ought to have said, the craft of gardening, for if we look on this employment as an art, our pleasure in it may be the higher, yet I. fear it will be the narrower. We can treat the flower-bed as we would paint a picture or shape a statue; we can make it poetic and endow it with fine and sensitive qualities, and we should do so; but it is best as a broad and intimate human expression. We may not approve a garden, but if the motive in creating it has been sincere, if it indicates a love of the beautiful and a reverence for life, we must respect it, for in doing so we respect its maker.THE END Click the Web-Textures icon to return to the On-Line Books Content Page: