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MY GARDEN
 BY
 LOUISE BEEBE WILDER
  
The eye always asks for a definite boundary to a piece
of ornamental ground as it does for a frame to a picture.
                                                       — JOHN SEDDING

 ILLUSTRATED 
BY 
WILL SIMMONS
GARDEN CITY NEW YORK
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
1920

 Copyright, 1916, by
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
 
 

THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY
OF
MY MOTHER AND FATHER, MARY HARRISON
AND
CHARLES STUART BEEBE,
THROUGH WHOSE LOVE AND WISDOM
I FIRST OWNED A GARDEN.

 

 

 

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
 Colored drawing on wrapper. From a painting by Miss Winegar.  
 “A mosaic or tapestry-like effect does not seem to me what we want in our home gardens”
 “When down in the garden sweet Daffodil ‘unties her yellow bonnet,’ it is a ‘time o’ dreams’”
 “A grand burst of Paeonies usually celebrates the arrival of June”
 “Wherever the eye wanders is a lovely picture —  the gay throng of Foxgloves, Sweet Williams,
        Irises, Paeonies, Pinks, and old-fashioned Roses”
 “Hollyhocks are among the most pictorial of  plants, and it is very difficult to find anything
       else to take their place”
 “Groups of garnet-jewelled speciosum Lilies here and there in the borders lend a touch of
       elegance and distinction to the garden”
 “Many of these are roses of yesterday, old-fashioned, sweet-breathed, and simple”
 “When one sees the rainbow banners of the Iris unfurling along the borders in the sunshine it
    seems highly probable that the mantle of their namesake has fallen upon them”

 

  Bless me, what a delightful prospect is hero! And so it ought to be, for this garden was designed for pleasure — but for honest pleasure; the entertainment of the sight, the smell, and refreshment of the mind.
                                                                                     — ERASMUS.

 

A FOREWORD AND A PLEA

A garden is preeminently a place to indulge individual taste. So regardless of doctors, let me say that the best general rule that I can devise for garden-making is: put all the beauty and delightsomeness you can into your garden, get all the beauty and delight you can out of your garden, never minding a little mad want of balance, and think of the proprieties afterward.

John Sedding.

In gathering together these notes, I have no desire, nor am I competent, to undertake a dissertation upon styles or schools of gardening, to pose as an expert upon garden design or the science of horticulture, or to be understood as laying down the law upon any subject whatsoever. My wish is simply to answer for others some of the questions which sorely perplexed me in my early gardening days and to tell the story of my own experiences with this happy craft to those who may be treading the fragrant way a pace or two behind me, not that they may miss a single step in the fascinating path of personal experiment and achievement, but only that they may enjoy a sense of friendly fellowship without which no experience, however delightful, proves quite satisfying.

That we have opinions does not, or should not, mean that we expect others to espouse them immediately upon their recitation, and, if the ideas hereafter set forth are expressed with some fervour, the spirit actuating them is not dictatorial, not even argumentative, but wholly enthusiastic and sympathetic.

There is as much said nowadays, as there has always been, upon the styles of gardening, and each advocate claims for his especial school all the virtues, leaving for the rest none at all, so that it is a bit bewildering to know how so many different kinds of gardens can be so lovely; but the answer is, it seems to me, that styles and schools have little to do with the charm and beauty of a garden; that the vital secret lies much deeper — in the gardener himself, and is born of his artistic perception and his power to take infinite pains to adapt his means to an end, which end is loveliness. In gardening, as in other matters, the true test of our work is the measure of our possibilities.

Of the various schools, our garden would be termed formal, for there are the straight lines, the geometrical curves, the ordered design, the intention of man and the indication of his hand frankly confessed and plainly visible beneath the luxuriance — a sweet austerity dimly felt beneath the cajoleries of witching vine and creeper, of gay flowers rioting in their sun-bathed beds. And while I love best the “balanced beauty” “carefully parcelled out and enclosed” of this type of garden, I love, too, and am deeply interested in, all other kinds of gardens from the great and magnificent, with marble terraces and stairways, rare plants and many gardeners, to the narrow border beside the cottage path or the pot of flowers in the window of a tenement; for each has sprung from the desire of some one to express himself in beauty, and the simplicity of the medium matters not at all.

As quoted at the head of this chapter, “A garden is preeminently a place to indulge individual taste,” and whether one chooses to be Italian, English, Japanese, Colonial, or “natural” in one’s style, or a little of each, one does not achieve a lovable, livable, intimate garden until one has put one’s self into it — lived in it, worked in it, dreamed in it, studied it and brooded over it and woven into its warp of scientific knowledge a woof of sentiment and tenderness.

My first garden, of which the present is but the emancipated and further developed spirit, was a rectangular space twelve feet long by six feet wide, neatly enclosed in a fence of clothes pins and boasting in each corner, by way of embellishment, a fine pink conch, and in the centre a milk pan sunk to the level of the earth and edged with white pebbles — a shining pool! Near one end a shabby mulberry tree cast a beneficent shadow, and in season dropped its mussy fruit among the warring Zinnias and valiantly coloured Portulaca. Within this small plot my love of gardening was born — a lusty child — and it mattered not that there were years of leanness when Chicory and Buttercups must needs come in and hide neglect and failure; the child throve, until now, in its maturity, it is a companion that never pails, a friend that never fails, a never-ending source of refreshment, comfort, and entertainment.

It seems agreed that a hobby, not overridden, is a wise possession for every one, and it has grown on me,. during these gardening years, that no hobby is so safe and sane for a woman as a garden. It centres about the home; the children and other members of the family may have a part in it; friends enjoy it, and the influence of its beauty and sweetness reaches far and wide. In a book called “Rural Essays,” written some seventy years ago by Charles Downing, the “father of landscape gardening in America,” he asks: “What is the reason that American ladies don’t love to work in their gardens?” He says they like to “putter about” and sow a few China Aster seeds, and that a bouquet upon the centre table is a necessity to them, but, beyond this, they do not go; and then he draws very uncomplimentary comparisons between us and our English cousins. But this was seventy years ago, and I am sure, if Mr. Downing could return, he would admit that we have begun to take a good deal more than a “puttering” interest in our gardens, that we dare to go out of doors sensibly clad and dig in the ground, wheel a barrow and plant and reap and exult after the manner of our brothers and husbands, experiencing the delicious weariness caused by exercise of the muscles in the open air which is in no way akin to that heavy exhaustion which comes from much labour indoors.

I frequently see, in English gardening periodicals, advertisements by women desiring positions as head or under gardeners, and there seems to me no reason why this should not become one of the professions properly open to women. As far as the under-gardener’s work is concerned, it certainly requires no more physical strength and endurance than the work done by many women in domestic service, as trained nurses or in factories, besides having much to offer on the side of health. Of course to be a head-gardener would require both training and experience, but this would not, nowadays, be a difficult matter, and would become less so as the demand for such training grew. I do not wish to encroach upon the domain of man, but it would seem that many a woman, under the necessity of earning her own living, might find health and renewed youth in such an occupation, who now wears herself out and grows old before her time doing work of a more confining or nerve-wearing nature.

There is an ancient superstition, still in force, though less strong of late years, that it is not quite “nice” for a woman to be physically able to do manual labour out of doors, and if she is, she should keep quiet about it. When we first came to live in this neighbourhood, where there are many small and not very flourishing farms, my activities in the garden were looked upon decidedly askance by my neighbours, for in their world a woman’s social position is more or less determined by whether she works indoors or out. That a woman should, by choice, spend hours in outdoor work in all kinds of weather was inconceivable, and finally a neighbour, who discovered me weeding a bed of seedlings on a hot July day, found herself unable to keep silent upon the subject and said:

“There certainly ain’t many ladies would work as hard for their men as you do, Mrs. Wilder.” I tried to explain, but knew quite well that it was useless, and that she was certain that coercion was at the root of my labours. That was seven years ago and I am glad to say that the mystery has been cleared up for her for others, and it is a delight to me to see that more than one of these indoor workers is essaying a patch of flowers by her door and many missionarying roots and seeds find their way from here into this promising territory.

In the old world gardening is recognized not only as a science, but as a high art; here it is still largely a pastime and not a very general one at that, as any one may perceive who goes through any of our suburbs and notes the number of places that boast no more than a few beds of Salvia or Geraniums and a huddle of specimen shrubs in the corners of the lawns. Our men are too busy to give much time to this art, and while many may have the desire and willingly furnish the wherewithal to employ a landscape architect to order and beautify their grounds and men to keep them up, more than this is needed to endow a garden with enduring charm and individuality. Just as we wish to feel personality in a room, so do we want to feel it in a garden, and this is the reason why many a simple cottage garden, personally tended by its owner, will be far greater in its appeal than a handsome one possessing many attributes of beauty but left entirely to paid care. And I feel that if our gardens are to take their place beside those of the older countries it rests with the American women to place them there. A number of women have taken up landscape gardening as a profession, and this is hopeful, for they will seek to interest other women in their art; but it is a certainty that if every American woman who has a piece of ground under her control would spend upon it a small part of the taste, ability, and energy which she applies to the ordering and beautifying of her home, we should have the most beautiful gardens in the world. It seems to me, in my enthusiasm, that there could be no more uplifting and refining influence, not only upon the family life, but upon the nation at large.

It was John Sedding whose beautiful and appreciative book on “Garden Craft”1 I earnestly commend to all lovers of the subject, who speaks of the garden as a “sweetener of human existence,” and says: “Apart from its other uses, there is no spot like a garden for cultivating the kindly social virtues. Its perfectness puts people upon their best behaviour. Its nice refinement secures the mood for politeness. Its heightened beauty produces the disposition that delights in what is beautiful in form and colour. Its queenly graciousness of mien inspires the reluctant loyalty of even the stoniest mind. Here, if anywhere, will the human hedgehog unroll himself and deign to be companionable. Here, friend Smith caught by its nameless charm, will drop his brassy gabble and dare to be idealistic; and Jones, forgetful of the main chance and ‘bulls’ and ‘bears,’ will throw the rein of his sweeter self and reveal that latent elevation of soul and tendency to romance known only to his wife.”

  1 "Garden Craft, Old and New.”