Almost anybody likes flowers, whether he is willing to acknowledge his liking or not. The one who claims to care nothing for them may be influenced in his dislikes by arrangement, or lack of arrangement. Flowers in the wrong place or skimpy planting make a poor impression, but flowers in mass, quantities of them as one sees them by the roadside, or in an old field, or in the woods, nature's arrangement cannot fail to make a good impression.
1 Adapted from Flower Beds (mimeographed leaflet). Georgia State College of Agriculture.
The front yard is no place for a flower bed. The simplicity of a clear unbroken lawn always makes for beauty. The sweep of a large lawn is restful, cool and inviting. The smaller the lawn, the greater the reason for keeping it unbroken. It may be formal with straight walk and neat edging or with border and a formal planting at the base of the house, but there is never an excuse for breaking it with flower beds or specimen shrubs except one's own personal taste and, since the front of the house is necessarily public, one should keep to the privacy of the rear or side yard for the expression of one's personal likes.
The flower garden in the back or side yard may need to be formal because of little room. It may be laid out in any design one chooses and planted to the flowers one likes, in any combination. It is a personal matter and no one else's business. No outsider has a right to criticize. In the formal garden one may use sheared shrubs, but they are out of place in the front yard. Many a pretty group is spoiled because the individual plants that compose it are picked out by being sheared to some unnatural shape, thus calling attention to the individual rather than the mass, of which each plant is only a part: To use an athletic expression, "team work spoiled by star playing."
Straight lines are simpler and more easily kept than curved, and so may be said to be more restful. The beds may be raised or level with the walks as one prefers, but while a raised bed drains better than a flat one, it also dries out quicker. The beds may be edged with brick or stone or any other material that will hold its shape. An uneven edge made of stone or brick, set each overlapping another so that the corners stand up, is hard to keep neat, especially if grass surrounds the bed, and brick so set are forever getting out of place. A concrete edge is straight and smooth and permanent, but sometimes one wants to change the pattern of the garden and then one wishes the edging made of hard brick set on end well into the ground so they will hold their places until one wants to change them.
Some people plant for show and in trying to attract the attention of the outsider they neglect their own pleasure. The outsider is a transient, and while one wants him to find his surroundings attractive as he journeys past, one ought to consider that those who are inside are due the greater consideration, and so the place should be most attractive to the insider who stays and who sees it day after day and year after year.
Nature is lavish with the flowers, scattering informally without thought of color or size of growth, yet never making mistakes in her combinations.
Something of the natural may be attained even in the smallest yard by arranging the flowers along the border. Flowers show to best advantage against a background of some sort. That may be a fence or a building, but if it be a living background of trees or shrubs, so much the better.
Fig. 65. - Flowers often are planted at regular intervals with repetition of masses or a repetition of color. (Courtesy of House Beautiful magazine.)
The foliage of the woody plants contrasts favorably in texture and color with the flowers and foliage of the herbaceous plants, making a pleasing effect that is not gained otherwise. A well-trimmed grass plot in the back yard, surrounded by a screen of shrubs lined with beds of flowers, affords privacy and seclusion, a delightful place for quiet reading or an afternoon tea or an evening party, a place where one may dig and plant and weed unmolested and unseen by the passer-by.
There is no rule for the shape of the border beds, or for the choice of flowers, or for their arrangement or combinations. Some plants do better in full sun and others in shade or partial shade; some like moisture while others prefer a dry location, but all respond to good treatment in the form of a well-prepared fertile soil and many a surprise will be found in plants growing under conditions other than those of their native haunts. There are plenty of native flowers that are quite the equal of expensive exotics. Many of the natives are grown by seedsmen and the seeds listed in the catalogues. Others are still growing wild in profusion, and still others that are threatened with extermination as new ground is cleared and brought into cultivation. Some of them may be weeds in the field, but in the border they are not, and each fills its place satisfactorily. It is surprising how these wild things respond to good care, developing luxuriant foliage, larger blossoms and deeper colors.
The wild flowers may be taken up and reset at any time with reasonable success, if one is careful to get the roots and to protect them from drying. Then it is best to cut the tops to prevent too great a loss of moisture. Some of the plants will prove to be annuals and new plants may have to be gathered or seed gathered and sown. Others are biennial or perennial and will come each season from the roots or will reseed themselves. There is no danger of crowding; the law of the wild, the survival of the fittest, will take care of that, if the gardener's trowel does not accomplish the thinning; and, since the work of the garden is half the fun, the digging and thinning and weeding and transplanting, that is likely to be done. If the effect of color or size combination is not all that is desired this year, it can so easily be changed for next season, and with each change comes fresh interest in the garden.
Now add to that the interest in the wild things that one gains with the trips a-field, the pleasure of the hunt for new plants, and the joy of discovering, what more can one ask of the garden?
Flowers may be grouped according to size or color if one wishes. Tall growing plants may be at the back or may stand out to emphasize some feature. Small plants may be bedded in masses or may nestle under the taller ones, making a fringe about their feet. If by reason of one's enthusiasm the border becomes so deep that all parts cannot be reached easily from the grass plot, stepping stones may be laid to suit the convenience of the gardener.