IN early New England days the residences of the government officials, and later the more pretentious mansions of the rich merchants were provided with gardens copied on a small and less elaborate scale from the gardens of England, for the homes of the better classes were generally situated in the heart of the town. The New England merchant when he retired from business was careful to remain in touch with civilization as he had always known it, and rarely isolated himself on a large and lonely estate in the depths of the country, which in those days, to be sure, was for the most part an untracked wilderness abounding in wild beasts and savages. His pleasure seems to have been derived principally from watching the struggles of his successors with the problems that he had met and conquered, rather than from an unlimited contemplation of nature, for which he had a certain amount of respect and perhaps regard, but rarely any intimate friendship.
The early gardens of New England were made when grandeur and magnificence were not much practised by the descendants of the most stern Puritans, when their resources were somewhat limited. They were maintained more as a link between the old and the new, between the past of bitter memory and the future fulsome with the hope that springs eternal in the human breast. Seeds of the old, well-loved flowers that had been gathered in sorrow and often wet with silent tears were carefully saved and transported with the household gods to the land of promise. There they were sown under the quickening rays of the dazzling sun, which like the pil ar of fire of the children of Israel had led them out of the wilderness into the flowery meads of freedom.
The fittest of these flowers survived and have come down to the garden makers of to-day, often hybridized and enlarged and not always improved, but still exhaling the perfumes of old that comforted the wanderers in a strange land, and brought welcome heartsease in time of sorrow. With them are linked memories of the days of our forefathers, around which such a halo of romance and mystery has always hung.
With the exception of a few rich merchants of Plymouth, Portsmouth and Salem, and a small number of prosperous planters in Rhode Island, the inhabitants of the New England colonies were not as well blessed with this world's goods as were their fellow countrymen in the South who lived in a land that literally flowed with milk and honey. And at no period of his career did the New Eng-lander of yore embrace the fashion of princely living as it is called to-day, for it was a fashion that was opposed to his teachings and against the precepts that had been bred in his bone for generations. Even though unwonted prosperity came eventually to dull his Puritan conscience he was quite content to lay out a modest garden adjoining his house, which was generally in town. This back yard, which in reality is what it was, he enclosed with a high fence or wall and used as the old Roman gardens or the gardens of the Renaissance were used, as a secluded room of his house in which to transact important business with privacy; as a sanctuary from the thousand and one worries of everyday life; as a retreat to which to repair in the heat of the day, or in which to recline beneath his own vine and fig tree when the sun was sinking below the tree-tops. There wine and cake were served to the guest upon arrival, or to the casual visitor even if he came within an hour of mealtime, as tea and toast are served to-day. There the members of his family foregathered from their various occupations when the shadows were lengthening and the hedge-sparrows nesting in the thicket.
English Labourer's Cottage.
After a time the yard became an adjunct of the house so that one was rarely planned without the other. The front-yard garden has been inseparable from the English cottage since before the time of Elizabeth, and it is from the cottage of England that the cottage of New England inherited its bed of simples and its garlands of bloom. It is found in some form in every class of dwelling, from the stately homestead of broad acres to the small, unpainted cottage of the farm labourer, and generally owes its particular charms to the ministrations of the women who, in days gone by, were associated in a more or less vague way in the mind of man with flowers, and credited with many of their attractive qualities.
This characteristic of the New England home is plainly in evidence as soon as the boundaries of that area are approached, in many instances its influences have overflowed beneficently into the adjoining counties of New York. When the homestead was built near the road, as it generally was for convenience sake, three or four trees whose genus varied with the section of country, but which were generally either White Pines, Maples or Elms, were planted for their shade in a row just outside or just inside the front fence. There on the turf that grew fine and velvety beneath their rustling leaves the inevitable rocking-chair was placed, and the women of the family rocked and read and sewed whenever their manifold duties would permit. These trees were the only formal notes of horticulture to be seen in the otherwise natural landscape; and their formality grew into stateli-ness year after year, generation after generation, until to-day they stand glorious monuments to the long dead hands that nursed them through their uncertain infancy, and placed them as pleasant punctuation points on the dusty highway.
Perhaps it was thus that the parlour fell into disrepute, for in Winter it was too cold to be inhabited; the door was kept tightly closed and locked. It was left to the dust and damp that in our minds are always associated with it, never disturbed except on those three momentous occasions that even in the most carefully regulated New England family are comparatively few and far between, the occasions of births, marriages, and deaths. A record of these was faithfully kept in the massive Bible that reposed upon the table which stood in the exact centre of this sombre room of rooms.
Roses and Lilies in an English Dooryard.