THE last few decades of the present century have been strikingly characterised by perseverance, energy, and material progress. The commerce of nations, and of Britain in particular, has been developed and augmented until it has assumed proportions which the most clear-sighted and sanguine of prophets failed to anticipate thirty years ago. With this gradually rising flood of prosperity and wealth, many citizens have risen on the tide of their affairs from condition's of very limited means and dependence to be men of easy circumstances, and capitalists, and have provided themselves with country homes and country domains and gardens. Into their gardens and gardening they have brought the same energy and application by means of which they have placed themselves in the position of owners of gardens. To this class - the backbone of the country's greatness - horticulture owes much of the rapid development in which it has pretty well kept pace with material expansion. Those who are not acquainted with the vast extent to which our cotton and iron lords have embarked in horticulture, can form little idea of the gardening that is going on within a radius of twenty miles of our rich and great centres of commerce.

The places to which reference is now made have grown up with mushroom-like rapidity; and, as in commerce, the owners of such gardens are apparently never wearied of aspiring higher and higher, and extending into every branch of horticulture, in many cases regardless of expense.

Without depreciating in any way the gardens of the old and stately homes of England, or the measure of progress that has characterised their career, there cannot be a doubt that gardening, as it now exists, owes very much of what may be termed the judicious and good to gardens of somewhat modern creation, while they may at the same time be blamed for some features that are glaringly undesirable. Generally speaking, such gardens as are now more particularly referred to reveal a great amount of well-directed energy in the matter of good cultivation. Plenty of good Grapes, good Pines, and other fruits, judiciously selected and well-grown flowering-plants, as well as plant structures of the most substantial character, combined with every modern invention in their construction and working that renders them perfectly fitted for their purpose, are to be met with in such gardens. Beyond all question England's greatness in gardens owes much to such establishments. Some of them take rank in this respect with the very foremost of the gardens of England's ancestral halls and palaces; and all true lovers of horticulture must wish that their multiplication may go on unchecked, to yield as they do, their inexhaustible fund of interest and recreation to their toiling owners.

As in connection with progression in everything, there are questions which arise in connection with this widely spreading horticulture. In all this gardening bustle, and something like impatient progression and extension, are there not to be found blemishes, - signs of very questionable taste, or rather absurd violations of what has been recognised as good taste, that are often very strikingly apparent, especially in comparatively small grounds? To a certain extent it must be admitted that a proprietor has a right to do with his own whatever he chooses, so long as he does not impair the comfort or pleasure of his neighbours. It must also surely be admitted that this is a very narrow view of the case, and one which strikes entirely at the root of every standard and acknowledged rule in taste and the fitness of things.

This is opening up a wide field, and one which it might be difficult to wade through. But narrowing the question for the present, we would remark that from our standpoint, and after long observation, it occurs to us that one of the greatest evils by which the more recent gardens are characterised, speaking generally, is sameness, and the utter want in so many cases of recognising and acting on the distinctive natural capabilities of individual sites on which dwelling-houses are built and gardens laid out; but instead of this, a complete want of harmony between the natural position and the gardens themselves is produced. This in the first instance, and the complete obliteration of all repose in the grounds, by trying to crowd every known thing in gardening and garden design into a given space which may only be adapted for one or two properly carried out, is one of the greatest monstrosities of the present day. The trying to copy in a small garden what is only adapted for a large one, is productive of an abortion.

We heard this idea more completely floored by a single remark than could have been accomplished by a day's argument, in the case of a lady who, in the act of viewing a large garden and one of singularly varied yet harmonious features, which, in as far as they were artificial, the natural grounds had suggested, and all hemmed in by a magnificent range of wild wood and hills, said, "We must just imitate this as far as we can;" she was replied to by a gentleman who knew the utter folly of the attempt, "Yes, go home and put on a cart and get in the mountains." No remark could be more pithy and to the point, as telling against the absurdity of spoiling any garden-site by attempting those features in designing which natural position protests against.

Concentrating our remarks a little more, it appears to us that the most objectionable thing in relation to small gardens is the entire destruction of anything like repose in the attempt to crowd too much into small policies. This vain attempt to copy from other and quite opposite places every conceivable feature, where only one, or at most a few, would be appropriate, fritters out of existence that easy grace and repose which nothing else can make up for. From such gardens it is a great relief to escape to the open common or park, to look on a stately tree or graceful shrub standing free from some trumpery accompaniment which mars so much their beauty. Many illustrations could be given of grounds that might otherwise be massive and imposing, but which have been tortured into unmeaning mazes by a crowd of intricate and puerile designs and combinations. Perhaps no more striking illustration of the utter want of ease and repose in any one portion of a garden could be cited than the Royal Horticultural Gardens at South Kensington: viewed from any point that can be chosen, there is not one single feature of ease and repose. The space is besmeared all over with intricate designing, and it scarcely ranks in respect of merit with a modern cemetery.

In the centre of the Royal Botanic in the Regent's Park, and looking either to or from the large conservatory, there is, on the other hand, to be found that breadth and repose, surrounded by easy and graceful lines, which to our mind is worth a thousand gingerbread and misplaced designs. These remarks are principally applicable to the main features of a place. To a certain extent the same principle holds good in the minor details of a garden. As, for instance, in the laying down of a series of flower-beds in the close vicinity of perhaps some previously established features in the shape of a stately tree or graceful shrub, features which should be held far too sacred to be encroached upon or blurred by any paltry bed of evanescent flowers. Take as a public illustration of what we mean by this the long series of flower-beds which skirt Park Lane in Hyde Park. These beds form a far too crowded, continuous, and monotonous string of flower-beds, more like a nurseryman's trial ground than a flower-garden. To our mind the turfing up of half the beds here would improve its appearance very much, and give it some repose in the shape of more greensward.

But our special object in this case is to point out the " studied insult" which has been offered to the forest-trees in this bed-making in Hyde Park, by placing round their trunks small butter-pat circles of such as Alternantheras, Verbenas, and paltry succulents. It is to be regretted that here every place where there is room for a bed has been thus nibbled up, and it is a pity that any such misplaced beds as those round the base of the forest-trees should be exhibited in so public a place, to be perhaps copied by others. It is, however, so outrageous an insult to the majestic trees, that there is not much risk of its being largely copied. The spaces of green turf preserved round these trees would have given some repose where it is much wanted. This crowding of all natural features out of any given piece of ground by the everlasting fritter of tiny beds, is surely no sign of progress; on the contrary, it reveals a vitiated taste in gardening which should not be encouraged, and we mention this public exhibition of the thing as illustrative of what is undesirably common in laying out smaller places nowadays.

In making a garden on perhaps an acre or two, there can be no greater mistake or abuse of a subject than the attempt to have a lake because So-and-so has one, to have a hill because So-and-so has a hill, or to have a dell and a rockery because somebody else has a rockery and a dell, and attempt a chromatic display of whirligigs as well, and all this without taking into careful consideration the natural capabilities of the site itself.