"Out of the veins of the world comes the blood of me; The heart that beats in my side is the heart of the sea; The hills have known me of old, and they do not forget; Long ago was I friends with the wind; I am friends with it yet."
- Gerald Gould.
Whenever a piece of the land is to be set apart for a garden, two mighty rulers must be consulted as to the boundaries. When this earth child is born and flower garnished for the christening, the same two must be also bidden as sponsors. These rulers are the Sun and the Wind. The sun, if the matter in hand is once fairly spread before him and put in his charge, is a faithful guardian, meeting frankness frankly and sending his penetrating and vitalizing messengers through well-nigh inviolable shade. But of the wind, who shall answer for it or trust it? Do we really ever learn all of its vagaries and impossible possibilities?
If frankness best suits the sun, diplomacy must be our shield of defence windward, for the wind is not one but a composite of many moods, and to lure one on, and skilfully but not insultingly bar out another, is our portion. To shut out the wind of summer, the bearer of vitality, the uplifter of stifling vapours, the disperser of moulds, would indeed be an error; therefore, the great art of the planters of a garden is to learn the ways of the wind and to make friends with it. If the soil is sodden and sour, it may be drained and sweetened; if it is poor, it may be nourished; but when all this is done, if the garden lies where the winds of winter and spring in passing swiftly to and fro whet their steel-edged tempers upon it, what avails?
What does it matter if violet or pansy frames are set in a sunny nook, if it be one of the wind's winter playgrounds, where he drifts the snow deep for his pastime, so that after each storm of snow or sleet a serious bit of engineering must be undergone before the sashes can be lifted and the plants saved from dampness; or if the daffodils and tulips lie well bedded all the winter through, if, when the sun has called them forth, the winds of March blight their sap-tender foliage? Yet the lands that send the north winds also send us the means to deter them - the cold-loving evergreens, low growing, high growing, medium, woven dense in warp and woof, to be windbreaks, also the shrubs of tough, twisted fibre and stubborn thorns lying close to the earth for windbuffers.
Therefore, before the planting of rose or hardy herbs, bulbs or tenderer flowers, go out, compass in hand, face the four quarters of heaven, and, considering well, set your windbreaks of sweeping hemlocks, pines, spruces, not in fortress-like walls barring all the horizon, but in alternate groups that flank, without appearing to do so heavily, the north and northwest. Even a barberry hedge on two sides of a garden, wedge point to north, like the wild-goose squadrons of springtime, will make that spot an oasis in the winter valley of death.
A wise gardener it is who thinks of the winter in springtime and plants for it as surely as he thinks of spring in the winter season and longs for it! If, in the many ways by which the affairs of daily life are re-enforced, the saying is true that "forethought is coin in the pocket, quiet in the brain, and content in the heart," doubly does it apply to the pleasures of living, of which the outdoor life of working side by side with nature, called gardening, is one of the chief. When a garden is inherited, the traditions of the soil or reverence for those who planned and toiled in it may make one blind to certain defects in its conception, and beginning with a priori set by another one does as one can.
But in those choosing site, and breaking soil for themselves, inconsistency is inexcusable. Follow the lay of the land and let it lead. Nature does not attempt placid lowland pictures on a steep hillside, nor dramatic landscape effects in a horizonless meadow, therefore why should you? For one great garden principle you will learn from nature's close companionship - consistency!
You who have a bit of abrupt hillside of impoverished soil, yet where the sky-line is divided in a picture of many panels by the trees, you should not try to perch thereon a prim Dutch garden of formal lines; neither should you, to whom a portion of fertile level plain has fallen, seek to make it picturesque by a tortuous maze of walks, curving about nothing in particular and leading nowhere, for of such is not nature. Either situation will develop the skill, though in different directions, and do not forget that in spite of better soil it takes greater individuality to make a truly good and harmonious garden on the flat than on the rolling ground.
I always tremble for the lowlander who, down in the depth of his nature, has a prenatal hankering for rocks, because he is apt to build an undigested rockery! These sort of rockeries are wholly separate from the rock gardens, often majestic, that nowadays supplement a bit of natural rocky woodland, bringing it within the garden pale. The awful rockery of the flat garden is like unto a nest of prehistoric eggs that have been turned to stone, from the interstices of which a few wan vines and ferns protrude somewhat, suggesting the garnishing for an omelet.
Also, if you follow Nature and study her devices, you will alone learn the ways of the winds and how to prepare for them. Where does Spring set her first flag of truce - out in the windswept open?
No! the arbutus and hepatica he bedded not alone in the fallen leaves of the forest but amid their own enduring foliage. The skunk cabbage raises his hooded head first in sheltered hollows. The marsh marigold lies in the protection of bog tussocks and stream banks. The first bloodroot is always found at the foot of some natural windbreak, while the shad-bush, that ventures farther afield and higher in air than any, is usually set in a protecting hedge, like his golden forerunner the spice-bush.
If Nature looks to the ways of the wind when she plants, why should not we? A bed of the hardiest roses set on a hill crest is a folly. Much more likely would they be to thrive wholly on the north side of it. A garden set in a cut between hills that form a natural blowpipe can at best do no more than hold its own, without advancing.
But there are some things that belong to the never-never land and may not be done here. You may plant roses and carnations in the shade or in dry sea sand, but they will not thrive; you cannot keep upland lilies cheerful with their feet in wet clay; you cannot have a garden all the year in our northern latitudes, for nature does not; and you cannot afford to ignore the ways of the wind, for according as it is kind or cruel does it mean garden life or death!
"Men, they say, know many things; But lo, they have taken wings, - The arts and sciences,
And a thousand appliances; The wind that blows
Is all that anybody knows."