THE most appropriate garden for a small house, or for a moderately large house on small grounds, no matter in what style of architecture it may be built, is one that can best be described as a cross between the formal garden of the South and the old New England yard, as it contains features of both judiciously blended. The formality consists of the hedge or fence enclosing it, the quite formal approach and the general plan of the paths; and to this is added in the way of planting the half-wild, unkempt freedom of the New England cottage-garden; and in a garden of this size the planting of the flowers, the filling in with colours is a very important part. Such a plan carefully carried out, even in the smallest details that seem unimportant to the casual eye, and under the supervision of the owner, will produce results that will more nearly approach in general sentiment the English garden of to-day, yesterday, a hundred years since.
In a short time such a garden will become a thing of beauty and will prove a joy forever to the worker therein, for it is to the intimate friend of the flowers that the joys of gardening are revealed, to whom the confidences of the Lily and the Rose are made. Its loveliness will increase from season to season as Time mellows it with his unapproachable touch, adding colour and fulness to it here and there, a touch which the hand of man cannot counterfeit. Flowers are so much more beautiful when growing amid congenial surroundings, so artificial and snobbish when cut and put in vases, or potted and placed in the corners of rooms or on tables for decoration. Tennyson would never pluck a flower and could not bear to see one plucked; such desecration produced a painful impression on his mind and upset him for days afterwards. He sought flowers in their own retreats, and perhaps better than any one who has written did he understand their language.
Looking down into the Garden.
Such a garden as I have endeavoured to describe looks neither new nor garish from the very beginning, neither does it ever appear ridiculous or top-heavy with cheap dignity that it never really possessed except on paper, or in someone's imagination. It will be neither a French garden nor a German, nor Dutch nor Italian nor even English, although it will show many influences of the latter. It will possess the best characteristics of American gardens, and if you will only keep the gardener out of it it will remain a garden for ever and a day.
Why do not people give more thought to their gardens? They build houses and go extensively into architecture especially into that particular style, or combination of styles, in which their own house is designed, yet they seem to think that a garden is just merely a garden, a miscellaneous collection of flowers and colours meant principally to pick and to wear, or to put in vases. A woman gives a great deal of thought to the decoration and furnishing of the rooms of her house, why not to the garden, which is also a room, although she can never be made to believe it? It should have, and generally does have, more importance in connection with the general effect of the house both outside and inside - for the impression one receives of the exterior is carried within and affects the imagination to a great extent - than any other room.
The garden is generally left until the house is nearly if not quite completed; or perhaps planned in a vague way. By that time the owner's patience is exhausted and his finances at a lower ebb than is compatible with good temper and peace of mind. The garden and the planting of it are left to the gardener, who on small estates is necessarily many other things besides, and although he may be very successful with Cauliflowers and Mangels he has little education or taste, and is no more capable of making the garden than furnishing the hall.
A woman will be dissolved in tears and indignation if the architect neglects to confer with her about the trim of the library or the colour of the border of the bathroom tiling, yet she will order her gardener offhand to plant the garden with Lilies and Roses and whatnots, and expect the result to be satisfactory without giving it further thought. The setting of the garden and the garden itself are as necessary to the house as a front porch, and a great deal more necessary than a porte-cochere. A garden is meant to be lived in; it can be made to reflect the character of the owner as much as a living room or boudoir. The refinement that Washington exhibited in laying out the numerous paths and parterres of Mt. Vernon and in planting the hedges and edgings, the love and care that he zealously bestowed upon his flowers and shrubs and the setting out of his trees, would seem to be the best inspiration that an amateur of to-day, who is anxious to make a garden, and to preserve the best traditions of American gardening, could seek or desire.
A New Garden; Spring.
The garden of Washington, however, is set in a frame that cannot be reproduced, no matter how many fortunes the designer may have at his command, - the house, the forecourt with its quaint gateway the numerous outbuildings unusual and picturesque in themselves, the connecting peristyles that match perfectly with pathetic simplicity the architecture of the main building, the location on a thickly wooded bank overhanging the noble river whose every wavelet lisps of the history of the neighbouring shores, the stately trees that have reached perfection of character and symmetry of form through the rounding out of many years, the shrubs that have become patriarchs of their families, and above all the serenity and repose that are natural to the wild-wood and foreign to thickly populated districts.
This park and the neighbouring park of Arlington, which is larger than that of Mt. Vernon and was planted on a much more liberal scale, are examples that every student of gardening should study unceasingly. At Arlington the planting of evergreen trees especially was most successfully accomplished and one may there learn the best uses to which such trees can be put. Nothing could be more beautiful than the grouping and the disposal of the groups. It is as if they had been literally painted in the wooded slopes and dells, so softly do their graceful forms and changing colours blend with the various shapes and shades of the deciduous trees among which they are set.
Flowering Almond in the Garden.
At Mt. Vernon the paths are enclosed with Box hedges and the parterres are edged with the same bitter-sweet shrub. After a century and more of growth and care these hedges and edgings have reached a perfection that is the envy and despair of every would-be gardener who views them for the first time.
The dominant note of the whole enclosure is Box. Its pungent odour, so disagreeable to some people, to others sweeter than all the perfumes of Araby, hangs ever on the air, permeates the farthermost nooks and corners with its memory-awakening spell. These hedges have an exasperating smoothness and softness of colouring that have been gradually absorbed from the suns and snows of many seasons which it would be useless to hope to reproduce in a few years.
As at Mt. Vernon, so the yards and gardens of New England were dominated by this matchless evergreen, as the gardens of England are dominated by the Yew. Planted under the front windows or along the most used paths it gave a welcome warmth of colour to the bleak landscape of a northern Winter, and in time crept into the honoured place of friend, unchanging, well-loved by every member of the family. Box is a familiar sight in the neighbourhood of New York where it was extensively used by the Dutch; and in Philadelphia by the English. It has been so prominent in gardens the world over that it should be cherished by garden-makers wherever it will grow, and no one should be deterred from planting it by the thought that it is slow of growth and uncertain, for it is uncertain in some climates and exposed positions. In every garden an altar of Box should be erected where the votaries of Flora may worship and lay their offerings of Rosemary and Bay.
Clipped and ornamental Box is as old as the Roman hills. During the first century it was used to enclose gardens, to edge walks and to cover alleys, for in the East and in the south of Europe it grew to the height of thirty feet. Pliny, writing to Apollinaris about his Tusculan villa, describes the terrace as bounded by a Box hedge, from whence there was an easy slope adorned with Box trees cut to represent various animals; and beyond, a circus ornamented in the middle with a Box tree, the whole framed in by a walk covered with Box rising by different stages to the top. The circus survives in our gardens to-day in the round bed placed at the intersection of two paths. Out of respect to Pliny let us ornament it in the middle with a Box tree!
Box Hedges at Mt. Vernon.
Could the abundance of Box during the early centuries account for the tricks its odour plays the memory now? It is said often to recall long-forgotten incidents of childhood vividly to mind in middle age; and wonderful tales have been related of the power of its perfume suddenly breathed to present to the mind of an individual of one generation events that had happened in the preceding one, and of which he had never heard. There is no doubt but that the associations of Box are mysterious and romantic and of a pleasing nature to those who are fond of flowers.
In Pliny's time the chief gardener, who was in reality a sculptor of trees, was known as the "topiarius," and under his supervision the scena of those elaborate retreats were planned, and eventually shaped by his skilful shears. The clipped screens and hedges were used as backgrounds for the sculptured shrubs which were the main features in those gardens where the cultivated flowers were few.