In this so-called "age of the child" a great deal of nonsense is being talked on all sides by more or less well-informed enthusiasts about the duty of the public to the rising generation. Amid a vast deal of sentimental and useless agitation no small amount of good has really been accomplished, notably in providing recreation parks and playgrounds and in making school grounds more attractive and useful.
It is essential that children should have plenty of air and sunlight and room for running about and playing active games (Fig. 44). The more attractive school grounds can be made, the more the children will use them, and will reflect the pleasant out-door atmosphere within the buildings themselves.
As in all planting schemes, school grounds have their esthetic and utilitarian features, and it is advantageous if the decorative planting can have an educational emphasis as well. There are many common and beautiful trees and shrubs which every one should know, and these ought to be used wherever possible, in order that the children may become familiar with them.
Utilitarian planting will take the place of the traditional ugly fence to divide the playgrounds into areas for little children, for the boys, and for the girls.
The best chance for ornamental planting is about the entrance to the grounds and close about the building. Playgrounds proper should not be shaded, as it is best for the children to play in the sunlight; but trees may well be used in other parts of the grounds to serve as a background, give shade for rest from active sports, shelter sand courts where the little children play, and provide contrast with the large open areas. Seats may be placed beneath the trees.
In planting modern school grounds the idea is not to have them useful during a few restricted hours of the day only, while the building is open and school is in session, but rather that they may, in a way, take the place of the old-time village green and be permanently attractive and serviceable. It will be seen that this point of view is quite directly opposed to that which prevailed only a few years ago, when to all outward appearances the school buildings were very like penal institutions. "Shades of the prison house" seemed to be their rightful atmosphere.
Grass may be used to advantage about the entrance and those portions of the grounds which are not devoted to play, but it is useless to attempt to keep turf in good condition under children's flying feet. Grass borders may nevertheless be used to good advantage about the boundary-edges of the play areas and shrub masses. Here they constitute a real decorative feature, being used as a strip of bright green color rather than as turf.
It will be impossible to get much variety into the economic planting, as trees and shrubs sufficiently thick and hardy to serve the purpose are few. The only chance for any variety will probably be in the massing and handling of shapes in a large way. Any flowers or flowering-shrubs should be used in the decorative portions of the planting, and as far away from the playgrounds as possible.
In connection with school grounds little garden plots are often laid out which are turned over to the children to cultivate, and the results are surprisingly satisfactory. The children in this way obtain a first-hand knowledge of plant growth, and often acquire information which is useful at home. More than anything else it teaches them to take a proper pride in the appearance of their surroundings. Wherever space permits, school gardens should be encouraged.
Greater attention can be paid to the decorative side of planting in institutions of higher learning, which presumably maintain more orderly conditions. Natural features are taken advantage of in many cases with charming results. Cornell and Vassar have beautiful campuses because they have utilized the natural topography to the best advantage.
Planting should be of the park-like variety, with some tree masses, in other places small groups, and single specimens of more highly specialized types. It is a mistake to use too great a variety in planting of this sort, for it destroys harmony; and since American institutions of higher learning are notoriously irregular, at least in so far as architecture is concerned, it is essential that there be some unifying element, which may well be the planting.
A general informality should characterize the planting unless the plan is symmetrical and the axes highly developed, in which case the formal type is more suitable. An arrangement of buildings like that at the Harvard Medical School calls for formal planting on account of its uniformity, while the Cornell campus would be ruined by a rigid formality.
Walks and drives about university grounds are often laid out in ludicrous fashion. With short intervals between classes, it is essential that students have access to the buildings by the most direct routes, and it is often amusing to find how studiously these routes appear to have been avoided by the walks in the majority of cases. Those who have been so careless as to lay out walks in a wandering "artistic" way, through a total misapprehension of the laws of beauty, take refuge in plastering "Keep-off-the-grass" signs about the campus. Of course they are cheerfully disregarded by the students, who realize that in this case at least their time is valuable, and consequently wear new paths along more sensible lines. Sometimes the authorities are astute enough to perceive the justice of the implied criticism, and construct paths along lines really necessary for convenient circulation. The result is always more pleasing than the tortuous scheme that existed before.
Another point to be observed in constructing walks on college campuses is the number of students who are to use them, and the amount of traffie that must pass when going in opposite directions. This will determine the width of the walks, and if the walks have not been laid out at the proper width the designer will be rewarded by having the turf worn away for a foot or two on each side of the walk.
The drives, if there are any, should be so constructed that visitors may see the entire institution, from the outside at least, without leaving their car or carriage. For this reason it is well to make the drives indirect, as they are for esthetic rather than for economic interest. If they were made straight, they would be utilized immediately as short cuts for heavy teaming and noisy motorcycles.
Flowers, except flowering-shrubs, are rather out of place in a scheme of this sort, although an occasional English border might add an unobjectionable accent. Too frequently in a problem of this kind masses of accent material are introduced, and circular flower-beds are permitted to dissect long stretches of beautiful turf, displaying occasionally hideous color combinations. These are entirely foreign elements, and it is not in keeping with the spirit of an educational institution to exhibit planting of such an ostentatious character. Where there is a chance to use a large stretch of turf it is well to take advantage of it.