This section is from the book "How To Make A Flower Garden", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques.
IT is the small home grounds of villages that offer the most favourable opportunities for a marked advance in civic improvement and in the broadening of the home life, this to be brought about by establishing upon the grounds compartments for various purposes as clearly defined as are those of the house and in some of which the same degree of comfort and privacy can be secured. In ordinary village lots such compartments would be the back yard, of which a part would be used for service requirements and a part turfed or cultivated, an area at the side of the house for garden, lawn or terrace, with direct access to the living-rooms, and the front lawn - a continuous, unfenced area maintained for the mutual benefit of the householder, his neighbours, and the public. The public may thus secure vistas over turf between street, trees, and houses. The center of the vistas should be kept open, and there should be, along and between the front lines of the houses, a nearly continuous but irregular belt of vines, shrubs, and herbs.
Such a belt, by the continuity of its greenness and its graceful drapery of foliage and stems, brings houses varying in style, size and colour into harmonious relations with each other, with the grounds, and with the surrounding landscape, and gives a relief to the rigidity of architectural lines. That part of the plantation extending from house to house will serve also to screen a garden or terrace from passers-by.
In assigning space to each compartment, provision should also be made for room upon which to establish the border plantations required to shut out unattractive and frame in attractive views, as seen from important viewpoints within house and grounds. In all this study regard should be had for the general composition - that is, the picture to be produced ultimately by the house, with its drapery of vines, its skirting of shrubs, and the trees that form its background and frame in its lawn areas.
Primarily, the architectural character, the general arrangement and location of the house, as well as the arrangement of the grounds, of which the garden, be it formal or informal, is a part, should be governed by the existing conditions. On a very rugged and picturesque site, where the surface is covered with an attractive growth of low, dense shrubs, an unsym-metrical house made to fit into and grow out of the surface with little injury to attractive rock formation and shrub growth would be fitting. Upon such a site a formal garden would be quite out of place, because the cost of construction and sacrifice of another type of beauty would be greater than the return. A distinctly informal garden, with the flower beds in pockets and valleys of deep soil, and where the native shrubbery already established on the thin soil of ridges and ledges is retained, will have a peculiar beauty of its own. A person having such a lot, who can appreciate the beauty of natural conditions, or one having an abandoned quarry or pit and who can take full advantage of such unusual situations, may excite the mild derision of his neighbours for buying a "rubbish hole" and saving "brush," but in the end he will turn derision into congratulation and emulation.
Except in a comparatively few localities, such sites are rare. Usually lots are so flat and bare that some type of the formal garden is the most feasible as well as the most logical thing, and it is for this reason that particular attention is given to such gardens at this time.
A bit of formal gardening - an incidental feature of the Stokes estate at Lenox.
An Italian garden at Brookline. Note the trellises covering the paths.
The successful plan for a formal garden must grow out of an independent study of conditions, not a study of ready-made plans. A good plan will be a reasonable thing - that is, there will be an obvious reason for every part of it. You will not put in walks, beds, dials, arbours, pools, etc., because they are pretty, or because you regard them as an essential part of the furnishing of such a garden, as you would regard a frying-pan an essential in the kitchen. Obviously, a pool or fountain without a constant and copious water-supply would be unsatisfactory, and a sun-dial in constant shade would be quite absurd. Now that all animate and inanimate things are given a voice by our story-writers, one should be somewhat cautious about statuary. Just imagine the protest of a nude figure in zero weather!
Hardy grasses as elements of formal gardening. Mr. Egan*s home at Highland Park, III.
Do not attempt to utilise discarded material or utensils which one would instantly associate with other uses - such as beer-bottles for the edging of beds, old kettles on tripods painted red and with imaginary fires of stone under them, and old earth-filled stoves with geraniums blazing out of the cover-holes, love-in-the-mist puffing out of the smoke flue, and a front draft exhaling "infant's breath."
A bed of dwarf flowering cannas as seen at the Pan-American Exposition.