Landscape architecture is a complex and profound art, serving not beauty alone but utility, and demanding the assistance and cooperation of architecture, engineering and horticulture. Landscape architecture is an art of design - the arrangement of buildings, drives, walks, gardens, lawns and plantings in the landscape. Planning is its most important function although too many persons consider it to be merely planting. Planting and the selection of plants is indeed an important part of the execution of the designs, but it is no more so than the proper placing of a walk or road and often of much less importance than the location of a building.....If the size and shape and arrangement of the rooms of a house are more fundamental considerations than the paper and paint, then surely the arrangement of the elements that make up the home grounds is of vastly more importance than the planting, most of which is merely a frame, a decoration, and aid to something else. The wallpaper and the plantings can be rather easily changed, but buildings, fences and walks will probably remain in their first location.
The fundamental purpose of all the arts is to give pleasure to the persons who see or use that which is created. From our knowledge of human psychology, we know that we are affected by everything about us. To see color, to hear a sound, involuntarily arouses the emotions and produces either pleasure or displeasure. Should we discover that the source of color is a bed of flowers or that the sound is a familiar melody, we receive even greater pleasure. Perhaps these flowers or this melody recall something we have seen or heard; perhaps they will arouse in our imagination beauties far beyond those that really exist. All these pleasures have been practically involuntary, differing, of course, with our training, our experience and our taste. Another source of pleasure to most persons and one that differs much with individuals is that obtained from reasoning or inquiring how the result was accomplished. The practical-minded person observes how the fence is made, how the steps or the walk is constructed and how the soil is improved for planting. He delights in good workmanship, in seeing a problem sensibly solved. As most of us are practical but yet have somewhere in our make-up an imaginative side, so must our landscape design, to give greatest pleasure, combine utility with beauty.
1 Adapted from The Design of Small Properties by permission of the Macmillan Company, publishers (New York: Macmillan Co., 1929), 1-19. This publication contains over sixty planting plans and diagrams - both formal and informal and suitable for the design of small grounds. These planting plans have been prepared for lots of various size and shape.
Planning for space is the chief consideration in small, city homes. The landscape development of small properties needs the attention of persons of good taste and training, and, above all, should be executed with restraint. If there is any place where too little is better than too much, it is in small yards
It should be understood in the beginning that a small place cannot be a large estate in miniature. The small yard must be simple. The size of human beings does not differ much, neither does the size of things they use. The furniture in a small living room has about the same dimensions as that in a large room; there is only less of it, each piece being in scale with man. Thus it becomes a fundamental consideration of small-property designs that they contain fewer features than larger places, but that each detail shall be "in scale."
In many respects, the design of small lots is different from that of larger home grounds, for the necessary parts, such as the driveway, garage, drying-yard and vegetable plot, take a much greater proportion of space. Small places, then, need even more careful planning than large ones for the best results; they are to be compared to small houses in which not an inch can be wasted. There the living rooms are given the maximum amount of space, the kitchen and sleeping quarters being reduced to a minimum; here the necessary drive and service parts will be made as small and compact as possible in order to give all the ground gained by planning to recreational or "living room" use. Spaciousness is the effect one tries to produce on the small property.
The problem of the small place is mainly one of planning, not planting. Planning should start even before the lot is purchased. Persons usually have fairly definite ideas about the style of house they will build. If they already own a lot, the house must be made to fit it in size and shape; if the house is chosen first, then a lot must be found suitable to its type and shape. Ideally both selections should go on together.
The similarity of shape and surface in most city and suburban lots does not suggest any particular scheme for development. The location and plan of the house and the position of the garage are the factors that usually determine the dispensation of the remainder of the property for use and beauty. Why, then, are both house and garage so often placed without any thought as to how they will affect the design of the yard? Why do most persons select house plans, for interior convenience only, when the convenience between inside rooms and their corresponding outdoor areas is fully as important? Surely, if home-owners realized the possibilities of greater use and enjoyment which can be obtained, they would plan the house and grounds together.
There should be nothing displeasing in the masonry foundations of buildings. It is true that many houses have been built too high above ground and concealment of this fault is attempted by continuous planting about the foundation. But one evil seldom cures another. If the grade line is too low, it should be raised by making a terrace about the front of the house. A good maxim is to use vegetation merely to soften, to enframe, or to add a touch of decoration. The eye is accustomed to seeing houses setting upon their foundations, and a stretch of the wall here and there is rather satisfying.
It is assumed that the average home-owner likes room for vegetables but does not care for a large garden. On deep lots, the vegetable plot placed across the rear cuts down an excessively deep lawn; on shorter wider properties, even on sixty-foot lots, this space is needed to make long attractive lawn lines and the vegetables may be along the side of the lot, just behind the garage or drying-yard. This vegetable garden may profitably be surrounded by grapes or currants or even black raspberries, and often the vegetables and flowers are combined into one larger garden across the rear of the property.
The ideal place for a small flower garden is at the side of the house adjoining the living room if the lot be wide enough. In the case of fifty-foot widths usually this is not possible.....Often a complete little flower garden may be in the rear, or if this space is needed for vegetables, a border of flowers may be made across the back or better along one side of the lawn. Whether the flowers are in a garden or bordering the lawn, the beds should be ample, not two or three feet wide as is often attempted, six feet being the minimum perhaps. Narrow beds, narrow paths, diminutive details in general make a fussy garden and reduce the scale of the entire property instead of increasing the feeling of extent so desirable on the small place.
For the best landscape development, it is important that the living room should overlook the side or rear lawn and have an exit to these areas. This opening may be from the living room or sun porch and enter directly into the open lawn or, better still, out upon a porch or terrace from which the lawns and gardens are accessible. To make the lawn and garden a real part of the house, there must be a direct connection between them and the inside. Too often the living room does not have even a view of the outside pleasure area. Why make it awkward for your guests and you to reach the garden? Why should it be necessary to take them out the front entrance and around the house or through the kitchen door? People like to be outside in pleasant surroundings; they will go into their own private outdoors often, if it is easy for them to get there.
Fig. 64. - An interesting treatment of a typical city lot with easy access from the living room to the garden. (Courtesy of M. L. Bottomley. Reprinted from Design of Small Properties [Macmillan].)
The rear lawn is the outdoor living room of the property - pleasant to look at from the house, a broad space for out-of-door life, a playground for the children, the dominating area in the whole composition. The seclusion of the entire rear yard is important, for unless privacy is secured in some degree, the use for which the lawn was intended is defeated. The smaller the lot the higher must be the boundary to secure seclusion and the narrower it must be to save space. On small lots, a wall, a lattice fence, a wire fence with vines growing over it are suggested as most economical of space. Next in usefulness is the trimmed hedge, then the un-trimmed or restrained hedge, and on the larger lots the shrub border planted in two staggered lines parallel to the property line and only wide enough at all points to secure privacy. The informal shrubbery border with its curved outline has been copied from larger estates and parks where a long straight line of planting becomes monotonous. No line is sufficiently long on the small place to be tiresome.
Straight lines emphasize long dimensions and express greater scale. For this reason, a hedge rather than a variety of plants is preferred as a background and boundary. Great variety of plants is not in good taste on a small area; objects of interest to be given prominence and to be enjoyed must be furnished with ample neutral framing material. Consequently, one type of plant or at least one type of foliage should predominate.
In the design of the rear lawn, not only the lines of the enclosure should be approximately parallel to the property line but, commonly, the lines of the other elements also. Whatever general arrangement is planned, the major part of the rear yard should be kept open and this open space should adjoin the living rooms. Cramped quarters next to the house on both sides of. the living room ruin the scale and feeling of spaciousness which is desired for the observer inside. Most of the detail can be introduced around the edges of the lawn and not materially reduce its size. All possible lawn area should be seen in this general view to give the feeling of extent, and yet the well-designed back yard must have features or areas wholly or partly hidden from the main line of sight - something held in reserve.
Mystery is a pleasing challenge to the individual, to investigate what is concealed from his first glance.
A garden, then, close to the house and enclosing the only view and exit from the living rooms is wrong. The appearance of the rear yard will seem as large as this garden; even though there be a lawn beyond, it is lost in the picture because interest is held by that which is more spectacular - the garden. If the lawn were next to the house and the garden beyond, it would serve as a part of the garden picture - the foreground to it. The whole yard would be larger; there would be an incentive to go out into the garden to see it more closely; the presentation of the garden from the house would be a general not a detailed picture. These results are all desirable.
In small yards there is a great advantage in an unsymmetrical arrangement - that balancing of one feature by a different one rather than repeating the same on both sides of the axis. A wide border of perennials on one side of a lawn may be balanced by a hedge, a fence, evergreens, a tree or an arbor that encroach little on the width of lawn but still effect balance with the ample flower border.
Some such asymmetrical scheme is better than dividing the flower border into two narrow beds too small for growing flowers well. The modern house with its living room on one side and service on the other usually calls for this unsymmetrical composition, as the axis from the living room or porch will not be in the center of the back yard. This does not mean that the symmetrical scheme for both house and grounds does not have a place. But on the whole, the balance secured without repetition is more suitable for the small property because it is more subtle; and there is little enough chance to be clever in such small space. But naturally, satisfactory balance in this unsymmetrical arrangement is more difficult to obtain. .