THE gardens of England, from which the Colonial gardens of America drew their inspiration and character, were evolved gradually and not copied from any particular pattern or dominated by any well defined school. Those that were made in the seventeenth century embodied the principal features of English mediaeval gardens, although the embellishments of statues and figures were borrowed from Italy. The traditions of garden making were indigenous to the island and the florid Italian style was only a passing influence. The Renaissance gardens of Italy were closely copied from the descriptions of the ancient writers, and in them the use of pleached trees and shrubs was carried to extremes, as it was in the time of Pliny the Younger, when there was more excuse, for cultivated flowers were rare.
In England, in the seventeenth century, gardens became more important than they had ever been before and enormous sums of money were expended on their design and upkeep. The Italian fad was overdone in many instances, as most fads are, and when finally it died many of the inappropriate innovations were eradicated and only the most substantial and worthy retained. These were the terraces, the balustrades, the flights of steps and the fantastically clipped trees, which in time became identified with features that were developed from the mediaeval closes, such as the walls, the marking out by definite boundaries, the green walks, the alleys, the covered paths and knottes of flowers, the labyrinths, the mazes, fountains, etc., that are familiar sights in the English gardens of to-day.
The most striking thing about the English garden is its substantialness, its obliviousness to the march of Time. Fads of garden-making have come and gone, schools of designing have arisen, flourished and fallen, great masters of the art have become famous and been forgotten, yet gathering a little of the best from every influence and ascendency it has grown and bloomed serenely, secure in the fastnesses of its own most excellent traditions. One generation has planted a walk with Yews; another has built in a stairway or a wall, and still another, moved by the magnificence and grandeur of Le Notre has diverted a river from its course and led it through a parterre of flowers to frolic in a fountain; and all these inspirations have been absorbed and blended into an harmonious whole to which Time has only added perfection.
At one period the English garden was laid out on an enormous scale, often containing gardens within gardens; a park-like enclosure for flowers was considered necessary to uphold the dignity of a great house or castle. Although Le Notre is not known ever to have been in England, his teachings were for a time closely followed in the island across the channel; yet it is a fact, as Bloomfield * points out, that the formal garden of England did not need great space to be beautiful and effective. The lower garden of Haddon Hall is but a hundred and twenty feet square; the old walled-in garden at Brickwall, in Sussex, is two hundred feet by a hundred and sixty feet; the garden at Edzall Castle is but a hundred and seventy-five feet long by a hundred and thirty-five feet wide, and there is a beautiful garden at Stobhall, in Scotland, that covers only half an acre. The beauty of these gardens lies in the way they are planted, in the character and colours of the flowers that are used. They are carefully planned and the arrangement is carried out under the supervision of the proprietors, who would as soon think of leaving such an important function wholly to the gardener as they would of entrusting the hanging of their Gains-boroughs and Lelys to the cook.
The garden is considered to be one of the most important parts of the house, and it expresses the thoughts and sentiments of the master or mistress whose affectionate care and devotion are ungrudgingly lavished upon it.
* Reginald Bloomfield, M. A., F. S. A.: "The Formal Garden in England."
The best and most lasting effects that will not grow stale and become tiresome to the eye are generally obtained with comparatively few flowers. In England certain varieties are identified with certain gardens, and the traditions have been kept up for generations. Plants that do well in the natural soil and under normal climatic conditions are invariably chosen and developed to perfection. The natural temptation that comes to most gardeners to plant every flower that has an attraction, or that is new and pleasing to the eye is restrained, and only those that have paramount attractions and the plainest meanings are encouraged to grow. In the garden at Brickwall the flower and colour effect is got with Daisies, Lavender, Phlox, Poppies, Sweet William, white Mallow and Rudbeckia, yet the beds are not only interesting but brilliant enough to satisfy the most enthusiastic colourist. An analysis of the flower border of the old walled kitchen garden at Blyborough reveals Hollyhocks, for which the garden has long been famous, Phlox, Summer Daisies and a variety of Michaelmas Daisy; a rather simple collection yet one that is satisfying and beautiful. The forms and colours are intelligently and carefully combined and much thought is given to their mixing.
White Lilies, yellow Monkshood and delicate pink Phlox is the keynote of another garden; and purple and white Campanula of still another. At Ramscliff, Larkspurs of various heights and shades with Campanula and Pyrethrum form one of the principal themes, superseded later on by Orange Lilies and Monkshood. This latter combination seems to be a favourite in English gardens where Monkshood grows better than it does here; its poisonous quality, however, is a drawback which many people will not overlook. At Kellie Castle, Hollyhocks and Poppies run riot, the rather poorly furnished stalks of Althea being hidden by the delicate flowers of its companions. At Cleeve Prior, Dahlias, Sunflowers and Autumn Daisies, with Lavender, Michaelmas Daisies and sweet Herbs form an attractive September group. In all these gardens hardy herbaceous plants form the basis of the planting.
In the Garden; Mt. Vernon.