In a country where gardens are the exception rather than the rule, it is disappointing to find that the existing specimens are not always such as would inspire a man to acquire one of his own. There is either an unkempt riot of bloom or a melancholy severity that says "Keep off the grass" much more pointedly than any sign. There is the obvious love of display on the one hand, and the passion for growing things on the other, that will pay no attention to the selection of material.
The American garden, with, of course, many well-known exceptions, is frequently thrust under one's nose, so to speak, and, as the show-part of the estate, is given the most prominent position. The idea is not noticeably present that privacy and solitude are part of a garden's charm, and that the desire for seclusion alone may lead to the acquiring of a garden.
It is to such a garden-loving race as the English that we must go to find out what gardens can really do for a man and for his home. Nevertheless, an intelligent interest in gardens is daily growing stronger, and our gardens are not so few and far between or as unfortunately conceived as they were a few years ago.
Of course a garden may have a more or less public side, but if it is privately owned and possesses no privacy, a great chance for enjoyment and even for beauty of design is lost.
Garden design is one of the most interesting phases of landscape work, because it combines many features found separately in other fields of landscape design. The garden should be an intimate sort of thing, shutting one in more or less, and centralizing one's interest in the things which it contains. As already mentioned, there should be more privacy in a garden than in any other part of the estate. It may sometimes be used as an out-door room (Fig. 52), and in many cases where the climate permits a great deal of time is spent in the garden rather than in the house.
The great prevalence of gardens in England seems to be in the face of climatic conditions, so far as occupying them is concerned, but the enormous amount of wet weather is so well suited to the growing of all sorts of garden planting material that this fact must be accountable for the numerous gardens. Notwithstanding these drawbacks, they are so beautiful as to be inspiring and satisfactory though it may rain perpetually. The out-door room feature is always there, to be sure, and can be viewed from within, when it is impossible for one to be out of doors with any degree of comfort.
Garden design is probably one of the oldest forms of work in landscape gardening, and in its most formal aspect was very highly developed by the ancient Romans. It is known that the Greeks were the first to use bulbs in planting, and the Egyptian gardens, particularly those of Thebes, were famous. The younger Pliny in his writings described gardens with clipped box hedges and parterres cut into shapes of animals, displaying many of the fancies which many centuries later ran riot over Europe in topiary work.
The Roman garden was necessarily formal, because it generally occurred within the house itself (Fig. 1) as a central court laid out as a garden. This necessitated a rather rigid and architectural, though highly decorative, treatment of the plants used, and in Pliny's time the formal garden had attained a high degree of excellence.
Figure 51. A SECOND PLAN FOR A COUNTRY ESTATE.
The Renaissance gardens of Italy were laid out as far as possible on the lines of the old Roman gardens. In fact, Lanciani asserts that the famous gardens of the Villa Barberini at Castel Gondolfo are laid out almost precisely upon the lines of Domitian's villa. The great interest in antiquities which prevailed during the Renaissance led to the unearthing of all sorts of data concerning ancient gardens, and also to the use of antique sculpture as accent material (Fig. 5).
There is a great deal of talk nowadays about the uselessness and artificiality of formal gardens, and the necessity for "going back to nature" and copying gardens after the fields and woods. This point of view has been very ably attacked by Mr. Reginald Blomfield in his book "The Formal Garden in England." It is very well worth while reading for any one who wishes to make a careful study of the formal garden.
The fallacy of the nature-lovers, as pointed out clearly by Mr. Blomfield, is that nature is always harmonious and simple, and that it is a sacrilege to attempt to change her appearance; yet we frequently find that the very men who are insisting strongly upon copying nature are those who will change the whole face of the landscape if allowed to do so, introducing features of a sort which are entirely out of place, and transporting some "bit of nature" to a spot where it would never have occurred had nature herself been allowed to dictate.
The point that is missed by those who argue strongly against so-called "rules and regulations" in the designing of landscape, and indeed in all branches of the arts, is, that man's handiwork is of necessity unnatural-looking. For this very reason, if the planting about and in close connection with the house be absolutely naturalistic and unrestrained, the house will appear more unnatural and out of place than ever because of the insistence of the surroundings upon contrasting features. If the planting about the house-and this applies to gardens, because they are generally found in close proximity to the house-is planned carefully to show that natural objects have been used by man to express his ideas and to harmonize his house with the countryside, of which it is a part, by combining nature with design, the result is much more worth while than a tangle of naturalistic planting, however good that may be of itself and in its own place.