This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
The pretty drawing of a rustic summer-house in the last Number of The Florist, and the invitation to those who may be inclined to offer suggestions on the subject, tempt me to make a few remarks upon this species of garden decoration, in which, as in other matters connected with horticulture, public taste has of late years made considerable advances. What absurdities, in the shape of castles, ruins, and grottoes, we can all of us remember! Revolving seats, in which the stranger was tempted to place himself, and after a sufficient number of rapid revolutions, turned out, to amuse the lovers of the practical joke; old Dutch summer-houses placed on the garden-wall, without shade or shelter; - these, and such-like eccentricities, have passed away; but others have succeeded them; and the severe critic may still find ample exercise for his craft upon the various forms and fashions of seats - from her most gracious Majesty's splendid summer-house in Buckingham Palace garden, adorned by the magic creations of Eastlake and Maclise, to the old post-chaise body stuck at the end of a little smoky allotment in the floricultural region of Bethnal Green. Every lover of his garden, however, will have his arbour; how gaily the poet Cowper describes the small summer-house in which so many of his inimitable letters and charming poems were written! He says: "I write in a nook that I call my boudoir; it is a summer-house, not much bigger than a sedan-chair, the door of which opens into the garden, that is now crowded with pinks, roses, and honeysuckles, and the window into my neighbour's orchard.
It formerly served an apothecary, now dead, as a smoking-room; and under my feet is a trap-door, which once covered a hole in the ground where he kept his bottles. At present, however, it is dedicated to sublimer uses; having lined it with garden-mats, and furnished it with a table and two chairs, here I write all that I write in summer time, whether to my friends or to the public." Rustic seats, such as that drawn in the last Number of The Florist, appear to be now the most popular form of the arbour; and I will therefore confine my remarks to their construction and situation, and to the plants best calculated to adorn them. It appears to me a great mistake to place the rustic seat in a damp, sunless corner of your garden - favourite haunt only of the snail and the toad. I like to see them in places not unvisited by the sun; for at no season of the year is an arbour more tempting than when it is rather too chilly to sit quite in the open air: in the hot days of summer we like moveable seats, and plant ourselves "Where'er the oak's thick branches stretch . A broader, browner shade, Where'er the rude and moss-grown beech O'er-canopies the glade;" but never creep into those musty recesses to which I have alluded.
Let the aspect of your seat, then, be south-east, south, or west, but by no means allow it to face the chilly north, or the biting northeast. As summer advances, your plants will make you a verdant and fragrant screen; but no flowers or flowering shrubs will enjoy themselves and dispense their odour in a corner facing the north. How pleasant it is, in May and June, to sit and listen to the blackcap and garden-warbler pouring forth their love-chants; or after sunset, if your situation is a fortunate one, to the passionate song of the nightingale in a bush hard by!
Now as to the construction. To begin with the ground: let an edging of small pebbles extend about a foot beyond the eaves' drip; this protects your pillars and the inside of the arbour from the dirt splashed up in heavy rains from the gravel path which I presume leads to your seat. To ensure durability, have a stone curb or step the whole extent of the front, and into this let the upright support or pillars be morticed; these should be of the trunks of old yew-trees, if you can get them; but if not, the beautiful grey mossy stems of the larch will answer the purpose. A good pavement may be made of large wood picked out of a baker's faggot-stack, cut into proper lengths, pointed, and then driven into the ground; by sorting these carefully as to size, a variety of patterns may be made on your floor. For the ornamental tracery between your arches, beware of the pretty peeled branches of oak, so generally used, but so soon doomed to decay; nothing is more durable or picturesque than the mossy knotty branches of an old apple-tree, and probably you have one that will be the better for thinning. The seat may be of hazel-rods, which produce a pretty light open effect; but if you prefer comfort to show, use a plain board, and cover it with matting.
The back of your arbour should be boarded, and then covered with ash or oak bark, the latter of which may always be procured from the tanners; and you may exercise your taste and patience to any extent in the panelling; three split hazel-rods to divide the panels have a pretty effect. Let your pillars not exceed seven feet in height, and thatch your roof with reeds, the flowery tops of which may be ornamentally disposed inside to form the ceiling.
Every man will follow his own taste in planting round his arbour. Milton describes our mother Eve's retreat as placed in the midst of "inwoven shade, Laurel and myrtle, and what higher grew Of firm and fragrant leaf; on either side Acanthus; and each odorous bushy shrub Fenc'd up the verdant wall; each beauteous flower, Iris all hues, roses, and jessamine, Rear'd high their flourish'd heads between, and wrought Mosaic: underfoot the violet, Crocus, and hyacinth, with rich inlay, Broider'd the ground".
By all means plant the Honeysuckle and Jasmine, and the Rosa ruga, on which you may bud all your favourite Roses: of climbing-plants, I would recommend the Cobsea, Maurandya, Eccremocarpus, Rhodochiton, and Clematis Sieboldii; and to provide for these, it will be well to leave a small bed with a considerable depth of rich mould at the base of each pillar, and at the corners of your arbour. I cannot do better for the general design than refer the readers of The Florist again to the beautiful woodcut in your last Number.
If you think the above loose remarks worthy of insertion, you will gratify A Sedentary Man.