IF you have not enough confidence to lay out the grounds and garden yourself, consult a garden architect of good reputation, one whose work You have seen and know to approach more or less to your ideal; but do not let him do more than offer a few suggestions at a time concerning the points about which you are most in doubt. Otherwise you will probably become inextricably confused and your garden will lose the individuality that should be absorbed directly from yourself, and lacking which it will become very much the same as ten thousand other gardens that have been turned out at so much the square foot or yard. The architect will be useful in suggesting the shape of the garden and the best materials to use for the enclosure, and he may be better able than you to see the possibilities of the natural features of the land, because his eye is trained to such work and is ever on the alert. Do not follow his suggestions about planting, however, but do that the first year at least yourself.
In a garden of the kind under consideration too much conventionality should be avoided. The formality will blend with the semi-wild planting of the garden in such a manner that it will be absorbed. Your own ideas of colour and material will have full play, just as in the furnishing of any other room of your house where the formal background of walls, windows, trim, mantelpiece and so forth, only serve as a setting for your individual taste in hangings, pictures, rugs and chairs, to say nothing of the minor ornaments. If the same room were left to a decorator to "do" in the style of Louis XV or of Charles I the result would doubtless be very correct, but it would also be very conventional, and you would never feel much at home in it, unless you were in a conventional mood and arrayed like Solomon in at least part of his glory. Such a room would really be out of place in the ordinary house, in any house of modest proportions.
A Well-framed Garden.
Architects, garden and otherwise have a way of talking their clients into doing or allowing them to do many things that the clients do not desire; it is part of their profession and the more languages they can use the more successful they are. Unless your own taste is entirely lacking it is well to have it reflected to a certain extent in your home. You may spend much time in explaining your ideas to an.architect, and he will listen attentively and say "just so;" and "I grasp your feeling exactly;" and then he will go off and carry out his own ideas for which you have to pay. In garden-making it is much better to be responsible for your own failures, to be able to take advantage of your own experiences. If you are not satisfied with the way the flowers look the first year, dig them up and start again. You will have twice as much fun and in the end the solidest sort of satisfaction.
Before planting trees and shrubs you should study every available position at different times of the day - in the fresh morning sunlight, in the glare of midday, in the softer lights of afternoon and at twilight, even in the light of the moon. Do not be in too much of a hurry to plant, even if trees and shrubs are conspicuous by their absence and your eyes are hungry for the cool, umbrageous green of rustling leaves; it is much better to make haste slowly. In the course of time you will come to know many places where you are sure that trees should be placed, and you will have decided upon the varieties that can be used to the best advantage. Stake out these spots, and after studying the locations from different points of your grounds in relation to adjoining conspicuous objects, such as the windmill of your neighbour or his stable or house, you will change the stakes many times, and stakes are much easier to transplant than trees. Note well the aspect of the surroundings in Winter, as well as in Spring when the leaves are beginning to burst from their buds and the quivering, pinkish green of the first awakening is in the air; and later on when Nature is more decorously clad in her high-neck Summer gown.
If one can afford to it is better to plant a few well-developed, shapely trees and shrubs than to bunch together a hundred or so insignificant nurselings that will take years to develop into any degree of perfection, and then will have to be moved. Of course it is more difficult and expensive to procure such material and to transplant it, but the trouble and expense are worth while, for your yard and garden will soon attain a distinction that is denied to the majority of parvenu villas.
The best trees to use for a groundwork of planting are those that are indigenous to that part of the country in which your estate lies, the trees that are identified with your particular locality or county. If your grounds are bare of large trees there will probably be some on the adjoining properties, or along the road, that will benefit you by framing your place in. Plant up to these and you will find that native trees look more at home and thrive better than exotics. Your greatest endeavour should be to make the house and grounds look as if they were meant to be lived in and enjoyed; that is the way even the smallest estates in England appear. Display should always be subservient to simplicity and common sense. Americans have learnt how to build livable houses; the art of building livable gardens will be appreciated in time, once the old, natural instincts are awakened.
Do not cut down any trees with which your grounds may be blessed until you have to, and guard zealously those near the house or they will be ruined by the builder. In fact it is safer to make some sort of contract with him concerning the trees, for otherwise he will not be interested in their welfare, and if a limb should so much as graze the face of one of his carpenters the fellow will be sure to chop it down, and you may go hang. The best way to do is to box them strongly as high up as the branches will allow Great care should be taken with the Cedars, for their picturesque beauty or the formality of their outlines can be utterly ruined by the loss of one or two branches; and Cedar trees cannot be replaced in a hundred years.
The most valuable trees are those that are beautiful in Winter as well as in Summer; those that show their character in their massive limbs and unrestrained habits of growth, that stand out against the melancholy skyline of November as pleasingly in their grey and brown habiliments as in Midsummer when swathed in the softest greens, those trees in fact that have particular features to recommend them and that are not in the least like shrubs.
In these days people spend much of their time in the country, and it is becoming customary for those owning houses out of the city to live in them until the New Year, and return to them early in the Spring. Trees are in full leaf for a comparatively few months so that a good deal of discrimination should be exercised in planting, more than was necessary a few years ago when the country house was only occupied from June until October. Looking at this proposition from a more practical side it will be seen that although many people build with the expectation of occupying their houses only a few months in the year, they will be very glad to let for the Winter. Grounds that are picturesque and cheerful, and livable in Winter naturally attract the househunter and hold him better than those that are obviously made only for Summer effect, that look as if they should be packed up and stored until Spring along with the piazza chairs.