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.
Simple Desires, with every Desire well planned and well carried out, result in the best gardens. The garden must be pours; if it is another's it is not worth the while to you, a good garden is the one that gives its owner the most pleasure: he may grow orchids or thistles. The measure of success in the garden is the sensitive mind rather than the plants.
The home garden is for the affections. It is for quality. Its size is wholly immaterial if only it have the best. I do not mean the rarest or the costliest, but the best - the best geranium or the best lilac. Even the fruit garden and the vegetable garden are also for the affections: one can buy ordinary fruits and vegetables - it never pays to grow them in the home garden. When you want something superior, you must grow it, or else buy it at an advanced price directly from some one who grows for quality and not for quantity. If you want the very choicest and the most personal products, almost necessarily you must grow them: the value of these things cannot be measured in money. The commercial gardener may grow what the market wants, and the market wants chiefly what is cheap and good looking. The home gardener should grow what the market cannot supply, else the home garden is not worth the while.
A garden is a place in which plants are grown, and "plants" are herbs and vines and bushes and trees and grass. Too often do persons think that only formal and pretentious places are gardens. But an open lawn about the house may be a garden; so may a row of hollyhocks along the wall or an arrangement of plants in the greenhouse. Usually there is some central feature to a garden, a theme to which all other parts relate. This may be a walk or a summer-house or a sun-dial or a garden bed or the residence itself, or a brook falling down the sward between trees and bushes and clumpy growths. There are as many forms and kinds of gardens as there are persons who have gardens; and this is one reason why the garden appeals to everyone, and why it may become the expression of personality. You need follow no man's plan. The simplest garden is likely to be the best, merely because it is the expression of a simple and teachable life.
Grow the plants that you want, but do not want too many. Most persons when they make a garden order a quantity of labels. Fatal mistake! Labels are for collections of plants - collections so big that you cannot remember, and when you cannot remember you lose the intimacy, and when you lose the intimacy you lose the essence of the garden. Choose a few plants for the main plantings. These must be hardy, vigorous, sure to thrive whether it rains or shines. These plants you can buy in quantity and in large, strong specimens. Each clump or group or border may be dominated by one kind of plant - foxgloves, hollyhocks, spireas, asters. The odd and unusual things you may grow as incidents, as jewelry is an incident to good dress. Miscellaneous mixtures are rarely satisfactory. The point is that the character of the home garden should be given by the plants that are most sure to thrive. The novelties and oddities should be subjects of experiment: if they fail, the garden still remains.
Plantago Purshii, one of the western plantains. These are good "specimens," displaying the characteristics of the species to perfection.
A pyrola, one of the native shin-leafs or wintergreens. A good suggestion for the mass-planting or colonising of wild flowers.
The lawn should be the first care in any home ground. All effective planting has relation to this foundation. Homelikeness also depends upon it. Grass will grow anywhere, to be sure, but mere grass does not make a lawn. You must have a sod; and this sod must grow better every year. This means good and deep preparation of the land in the beginning, rich soil, fertilising each year, re-sowing and mending where the sod becomes thin.
Usually we water our lawns too much, making the grass shallow-rooted and causing it to fail early. Every inducement should be made for the grass roots to go down.
In very shady places, as under trees and wide eaves, it is very difficult to secure a good sod. In such cases we must rely on other plants for the carpet-cover. Of these other plants, the best for the North is the common running myrtle, or periwinkle. Sods of this make an immediate and persistent cover. Lily-of-the-valley also makes a fairly satisfactory ground-cover in some places. If the soil is damp, the moneywort may be tried, although it sometimes becomes a pest. Take note of the ground-cover in all shady places that you come across. You will get suggestions.
Put walks where they are needed - this is the universal rule; but be sure they are needed. In the beginning you will think you need more than you actually do need. How to get the proper curve? Perhaps you do not need a curve. There are two fixed points in every walk - the beginning and the ending. Some walks lack either one or the other of these points, and I have seen some that seemed to lack both. Go from one point to the other in the easiest and simplest way possible. If you can throw in a gentle curve, you may enhance the charm of it; and you may not. Directness and convenience should never be sacrificed for mere looks - for "looks" has no reason for being unless it is related to something.
For main walks that are much used, cement and stone flagging are good materials, because they are durable, and they keep down the weeds. There is no trouble in making a durable cement or "artificial stone" walk in the northern climates if the underdrainage is good and the cement is "rich." For informal walks, the natural loam may be good; or sharp gravel that will pack; or cinders; or tan-bark. For very narrow walks or trails in the back yard I like to sink a ten-inch-wide plank to the level of the sod. It marks the direction, allows you dry passage, the lawn-mower passes over it, and it will last for several years with no care whatever. In flower gardens, a strip of sod may be left as a walk; but the disadvantage of it is that it retains dews and the water of rainfall too long. Some of the most delightful periods for viewing the garden are the early morning and the "clearing spell" after a shower.