This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Last month we made some remarks on the laying out of pleasure-grounds, referring more especially to those connected with the rapidly-increasing numbers of places of moderate dimensions. We then attempted to point out what we conceive to be the principles on which such grounds should be dealt with by the landscape-gardener, in order to convey as much as possible the impression of expanse and seclusion, instead of contracted intricacy; and have now a desire to supplement these remarks with a few others which naturally present themselves as a sequel to the same subject, and which have a bearing upon matters that we think of considerable importance to all who wish for as much enjoyment as can possibly be derived from the ownership of a garden.
While it may safely be recognised that the idea of extent and variety is natural to most minds, and that it cannot be otherwise than desirable that small grounds should if possible be so laid out as to be productive of the illusive effect of seeming to be larger than they really are, we may be considered paradoxical, if not bold, when we affirm our conviction that scarcely anything would tend so much to the improvement of gardening, and to the heightening of that enjoyment which is derivable from gardening, than that half the pleasure-grounds in the country should be absolutely reduced in area instead of increased. In taking this position, we raise no objections to mere extent; all other things being equal, the more extensive the better. There is, however, no getting rid of the conviction, that one acre of garden well laid out, and kept in first-rate order, is far better calculated to yield the highest pleasure and enjoyment than three acres indifferently laid out and badly kept. Order should be the first law of every garden from which pleasurable enjoyment is expected.
It matters not how much nature with her own peculiar beauty has done for a garden, how masterly have been the ideas of the landscape-gardener, or how thorough and high the cultivation in certain phases; if cleanliness, taste, and order in the keeping of the grounds be absent, there must, in the very nature of things, be present all that is calculated to grate and jar upon any well-regulated eye. Whenever it becomes manifest that there is a struggle between nature and art for the mastery - when a pleasure-garden ceases to be well kept and dressed - it ceases to be worthy of the name, and will most certainly fail to serve its end in the present economy of things, and, on the contrary, prove a source of dissatisfaction and annoyance to all concerned.
We feel confident that we are now contending for a principle which should never be lost sight of in determining how much of any policy should come under the designation of kept garden-ground. The extent should be fixed by the means which the proprietor is able or willing to devote to such a purpose; for it should always be borne in mind that a highly-kept garden presupposes one for which sufficient labour is allowed - for it not only requires a maximum of labour, but it demands it almost incessantly. It requires no evidence to prove that this is a point which owners of gardens far too often lose sight of; and the undue extension of such grounds as we are now treating of, is an error from which gardeners do not always steer clear. There can be no denying the fact that gardeners would go into their business with far more spirit and energy, and with satisfaction to both their employers and themselves, if they had sufficient labour force in all cases to keep the gardens under their care in the highest possible trim.
But far too often it is the other way; and there need be little hesitation in saying that it is difficult to point to anything else that would so much improve the whole aspect of gardens, and increase the pleasure and satisfaction of all related to them, as an adjustment of the grounds to be kept and cultivated to the means allowed for that purpose, - either the grounds to be reduced and brought down to the means, or that the means be augmented in proportion to the work required. We are not sure that it would matter much in the real interests of gardening which of these steps be taken to remedy the evil of disorder, and the want of those finer touches of keeping, without which it verges on a misnomer to apply the term "pleasure" to our grounds or gardens.
We consider this to be a point of great moment, and worthy of the attention of all who have in any way to do with flower-gardens or pleasure-grounds. An immense garden, in the very highest style of keeping, is an object from which few ever withhold their meed of praise and admiration; but a smaller garden in the same high order is far more fitted to delight the mind than the largest when deficient of order and high keeping. And we do not know of any one more truly-worthy of commiseration and sympathy than he who, with a naturally orderly mind, is called upon to attempt the extraction of pleasure by means of high keeping from any garden for which sufficient labour is not allowed. But this is not all, for we are persuaded that horticulture in all its ramifications could be generally vastly improved by the great majority of the present practitioners, if either some part of the grounds were allowed to merge into the wild, or if means in proportion were allowed to cultivate and keep it properly.
Then there is another point which perhaps deserves to be approached with more delicacy. It is, the attempts to crowd into gardens, however small, a little of everything that can be thought of, without consideration of adaptability of situation, soil, and climate. If the capabilities of a garden - as to what should be the leading features of horticulture which most befits its character, and which could be attempted with good hope of success - were more fully considered, it would be vastly better for horticulture generally than the introduction of so many features indiscriminately, where many of them can never be more than the veriest abortions. There are few reforms that would tend so much to advance gardening to a higher standard, as that individual places should be made celebrated for those particular branches of cultivation and decoration for which their peculiar characteristics render them well adapted. That certain places are superbly suited for one thing, while these same places afford the worst possible foundation for successful results in some other thing, is a self-evident fact. It might be asked, what it is that has so very much tended to superlative culture of one particular class or family of plants or trees, and our answer is not far to seek.
It is, that one cultivator has thrown the power of his resources, and turned the peculiarities of situation, soil, and climate into some particular branch of gardening, and has in consequence done vastly more towards its development and progress than if a heterogeneous multitude of subjects, for few of which the place might be suitable, had divided his attention and consumed his resources. This refers with equal force to superior culture and to improved varieties. We owe much to those who have taken to specialties for which their situations and predilections made them a name. It may not be out of place to recommend those who are about to lay out and plant for themselves gardens, in the first place to employ the best talent they can procure. It will be their cheapest and most satisfactory course in the end. To all such, a man who can give sound advice as to the capabilities of a garden, and direct what to avoid in one case and adopt in another, must be an invaluable adviser. If in nothing more than in the selecting of the varieties of fruits, shrubs, and trees that are likely to give satisfaction in different soils and situations and districts, the satisfaction of having been advised with discrimination is worth very much, to say nothing of the absolute gain.