By far the best material to use for walls on a small place is brick, the ordinary, everyday brick that is made on Long Island or in the Hudson valley, not the smooth, weirdly red pressed brick that is used for chimney pieces and the fronts of houses. Harvard brick is a pretty good colour and texture, though a little dark, but if you use it eschew the black headers for they give a speckled, artificial effect that is out of place in a garden. The common brick ages rapidly; the red softens down and the lines lose their hardness. Near the coast where there is a great deal of moisture it looks antique in a year's time. It is soft and brittle, too, and wears and crumbles away in the most enchanting manner. It gives the needed colour to a garden in Winter, and most flowers look well growing against or near it; altogether it is most desirable if it can be used without appearing to strain for effect. Face a retaining wall with brick, or build brick piers at the corners of the garden between the hedges.
For making a flight of steps it is far and away ahead of stone; and it combines excellently with the materials that are most used in the construction of small houses, - brick, stucco, shingles or clapboards.
The best stone to trim brick with is marble, but unless marble is used in trimming the house it would be too conspicuous in the garden. Blue-stone is bad; never use it to cap brick walls or make steps of, especially dressed or cut bluestone. The best cap for a brick wall is what masons call a rowlock, bricks stood on their sides and overhanging the wall for two or three inches front and back. The rowlock cap was used extensively in the South where bricks were a favourite material in all construction. There are miles of beautiful walls in Annapolis, Maryland, capped this way, or with the round moulded cap which makes an attractive finish. You can get moulded bricks nowadays, but be sure that they are of the same character and colour as those used in the wall.
Another Wall with Picket Fence.
Walls under six feet in height are usually made one foot thick, but eight inches is sufficient if the wall is built in the right way, with three courses of stretchers and then one of headers, and the joints filled in with good mortar made of Portland cement. If you are afraid the rowlock cap will not withstand the weather, let the mason float three-eighths of an inch of Portland cement over it. This is a good precaution in Northern climates and does not detract much from the effect of the wall. The foundation for a wall should be at least three feet and a half deep, or down to solid rock; otherwise the frost will be sure to get under it and throw it.
Old Southern Wall with Moulded Brick Cap.
Above is a picture of an old Southern wall with a moulded cap; and on the next page can be seen a wall around the garden of a house near Baltimore that was built in 1773. Note how extremely well the house and wall combine. Never use tile, especially glazed tile, to cap a brick wall; no finish at all would be preferable.
The Southerners used a very good combination of brick wall and picket fence; there is such an enclosure on one side of the garden at Mt. Vernon. On page 174 there is a reproduction of this fence which has been built to make a forecourt for a house of Colonial design, and to shut off the kitchen garden from the lawn. The trees around it are very old, pyramidal-shaped Cedars, and there is a large Pin Oak at one end of it. They all look as if they had grown up together, the happiest of families. The fence combines so well with the house that it seems to be a part of it, and the whole effect is decorative and old fashioned. The gate of the fence is a slight modification of the gate at Mt. Vernon. The rounded pickets of the fence are used in the top panels instead of the square, pointed ones of the original; otherwise it is a faithful reproduction. It is a good rule when copying old forms to stick to the originals as closely as possible, and make them fit into the surroundings. On page 176 there is another example of this style of fence with long and short pickets morticed into the rails.
Old Brick Wall with Moulded Cap.
Brick Retaining Wall.
The drawing shows a retaining wall built of stone and faced with brick. Such walls are inexpensive to build and are very effective. The one illustrated was placed in a small garden that is a little below the level of the lawn. A straight path between Privet hedges leads from the front porch to a flight of brick steps, and along the top of the wall a low Privet hedge has been planted. It forms a charming background for Hollyhocks, and Lilies and Larkspur, and although only four years old it has become soft and subdued.
Old English Gate.
The handgate shown here is a simple one and could be reproduced with good effect; do not use elaborate gates for they do not belong to this period, or style of wall. The picket fence that is used on a brick wall should always be painted white. Whitewash gives a better colour if you can make it so that the first shower will not wash it off, a thing that I have never been able to do. Powdered rice is mixed with it to make it stick. If whitewash is to be used, the posts and pickets should be made of rough, unplaned wood.
Entrance to Forecourt; Mt. Vernon.
The most charming results were produced in the South with bricks, the people seeming to understand their possibilities there better than in any other part of the country. But the South was more prosperous then than New England, and bricks were an expensive material; for some years they had to be imported from England.