Among the nations of the world the United States is alone in its system of rural and suburban homes. The farmer, as soon as means permits, fits up a comfortable, and often beautiful home on his own land, and the business man and retired farmer plans a suburban home, often a palatial one, on his own land, with its well-kept lawn, trees, shrubs, and flowers. Even the thousands who flock to our shores from the Old World, as soon as able begin the work of home-making on their own land, and in no case attempt to revive the commune system of the old country.
But it cannot yet be said that the fitting-up of American homes is always in accordance with the principles of landscape gardening. As yet, a large proportion of our rural homes and suburban places show mistakes in planning and planting. In the selection of varieties and species, mistakes are too often made. The pictures and extravagant praise of new varieties of trees, shrubs, and flowers, by nurserymen in distant localities or States, often lead to the planting in prominent places of varieties and species wholly unsuited to the soil and climate. In the prairie States even, landscape gardeners often assume that varieties hardy at the East, or near the inland lakes, will do as well on prairie soil and in prairie climate. Another leading mistake is made by beginners in the way of planting evergreens, shade trees, and shrubs on the front lawn, which in a few years develop into a thicket. Even in south California, a few years ago, the plan of quite thick planting in front of the house soon developed thickets that gave trouble and expense, when observation led to the adoption of a more natural and beautiful system. As yet even the village and city parks and school grounds are often planted with straight rows and without a settled plan.
But near our larger cities the influence of example and the guidance of the landscape gardener have led to a more methodic system in the way of planting in such manner that the after-growth will form a picture in connection with the well-kept grass that is the canvas on which the picture is outlined.
If the purchase and fitting-up of a new place is contemplated, many tilings should be considered in advance. Other things being equal, the home site should have air-drainage and water-drainage (97. Air-drainage). This is desirable for health of family as well as the health of fruits and ornamentals. In a level region, such as is common in the prairie States, an elevation of only a few feet above the general level is desirable. The nearness to desirable neighbors, church, schoolhouse, and other social advantages should also be regarded where means permit. The quality of the water, nature of the soil and subsoil, and general outlook upon desirable views should also have consideration. In the prairie States, and over the Northern States, a south or east frontage is more desirable than a north or west one. When the site is selected, set the house back, if possible, far enough to give a desirable lawn in front.
After the building is completed and the first rough shaping of the grounds is finished, care should be taken in the final smoothing of the front lawn to enrich the soil with fine, well-rotted manure. While grass will grow on thin soil, the carpet of grass that makes a picture, when it has a frame of green foliage in the background angles and corners, can only be secured on a rich soil, with an abundant supply of fresh vegetable humus. The ordinary subsoil from cellar and well with only a thin covering of black soil will not give the needed thick carpet of grass. Before sowing the grass-seed, the trees and shrubs should be planted and the flower-beds made ready for planting. This gives a regular and smooth surface on which to start the grass. Prior to sowing the seed, it is also desirable to border the walks, tree groups, and shrub groups with a belting of sod pressed down low in the soft soil. This defines the borders, and grass-seed should not be sown inside the space allotted to groups or over the surface of flower-beds. In practice these outlining strips of sod are useful in fixing boundaries and in the way of securing established grass for clipping along roads and borders from the start. Until the sod is strong enough to support the mower in turning, the clipping should be done with the scythe.