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.
But what do I see, as the mist clears 1 A garden which, like a thousand others, has obeyed the command of imperious Fashion, - Away with your borders, your mounds, and your clumps ! Away with walks and with grottoes, nooks, corners, and light and shade. Down with your timber ! To the rubbish-heap with your Lilacs, Laburnums, and blossoming trees ! Stub, lay bare, level, and turf j then cover the whole by line and measure with a geometrical design. Do you require examples? - Copy your carpet, or the ornaments on your pork-pie. Then purchase or provide - for the spring, Bulbs by the sack; for the summer, Pelargoniums by the million; for the winter, baby Evergreens and infant Conifers - brought prematurely from the nursery into public life, like too many of our precocious children - by the waggon-load.
I am well aware that the geometrical system, especially when it is combined with terraces, staircases, balustrades, and edgings of stones, is very effective and appropriate around our palaces, castles, and other stately homes. For these it forms a beautiful floor and fringe. It prevents too sudden a transition from architecture to horticulture. With the pleasure-grounds around opening upon the park, and with the general landscape in the distance beyond, the amalgamation of art and nature is excellent. Nor do I deny for a moment that in all gardens, if introduced in modest and due proportion, it is the most becoming framework for our summer flowers; but my complaint is, that this giant Geometry has taken possession of our small gardens not as an ally, but as an autocrat - ejecting old tenants and dismissing old servants, like some heartless conceited heir, extruding them disdainfully, as the usurping cuckoo eggs from a sparrow's nest.
True art hides itself, and every man in laying out a garden should remember the precept, Ars est celare artem. He should, moreover, cause to be painted on his case of mathematical instruments, and printed largely on the cover of his sketch-book, those two lines, written by a true gardener and poet (must not every true gardener be a poet, though it may be of songs without words 1): -
"He wins all points, who pleasingly confounds, Surprises, varies, and conceals the bounds".
But what, it may be asked, has all this to do with the Rosary 1 And I answer, Everything, because nowhere is the formal, monotonous, artificial system of arrangement more conspicuously rampant. A dead level, a set pattern, stars and garters generally encircling the Rose Temple ! over which the disgusted Rose-trees invariably object to grow. It looks like a dismal aviary from which the birds have flown; but with a little bright paint and gilding externally, and a loud barrel-organ within, it might form a brilliant lucrative centre-piece for a merry-go-round at a fair.
When the Rose is grown for exhibition exclusively, the geometrical system in its simplest form, and minus the temple, is desirable, as being most convenient to him who purposely sacrifices beauty of arrangement as regards the general appearance, the tout ensemble, of his Rose-garden, that he may attain perfection as to size and colour in the individual flowers. He cannot afford space for numerous varieties, which, lovely, distinct, and indispensable in the general collection, are not suitable for the exhibition stage. He admires the Gallicas and Mosses, Chinas and Bourbons, earnestly, but has only room for these in his heart. He must have all his trees so disposed that they may be readily surveyed, approached, and handled. Specimens of the same variety must be planted together, that he may quickly compare and select. Time is most precious on the morning of a show, and returning to the boxes with a bloom in each hand and a couple between one's teeth, it is a sore hindrance to remember another tree at the furthest point of the Rosary which possibly carries the best bloom of all. Taste in arrangement consists with the exhibitor in the harmonious grouping of his Roses, not in the gracefulness of his ground or of his trees.
He appeals not to the general public, but to the connoisseur; not to the court, but to the judge.
In a Rose-garden not subject to any such restraint - not the drill-ground of our Queen's Body-Guard, but the holiday assemblage of her people - no formalism, no flatness, no monotonous repetition, should prevail. There should the Rose be seen in all her multiform phases of beauty. There should be beds of Roses, banks of Roses, bowers of Roses, hedges of Roses, edgings of Roses, pillars of Roses, fountains of Roses, vistas and alleys of the Rose. Now overhead and now at our feet, there they should creep and climb. New tints, new forms, new perfumes, should meet us at every turn. Here we come upon a bed of seedlings so full of interest and of hope. Here is the sunny spot where we gather, like Virgil's shepherd, the first Rose of spring, or "Rosa quo locorum Sera moretur," the last of autumn. Art is here as the meek admiring handmaid of Nature, gently smoothing her beautiful hair, checking only such growth as would weaken her flowing ringlets, but never daring to disfigure with shams and chignons - with pagodas, I mean, and suchlike tea-garden trumpery. Art is here to obey, but not to dictate - to work as one who counts such service its own reward and honour.
If before the Fall, before the earth brought forth Brier or Thorn, man was put into a garden to dress it and to keep it, with his will and with his might must he labour now in that plot of ground where he fain would realise his fond idea of Eden. He must work hard, but only as one who copies some great masterpiece - not as one who designs, but restores. He must keep order, but only as replacing an arrangement which he has himself disturbed. Thus and thus only he may hope to make himself a garden "Where order in variety we see, And where, though all things differ, all agree".
Were it my privilege to lay out an extensive Rose-garden, I should desire a piece of broken natural ground, surrounded on all sides but the south with sloping banks, on which evergreens above should screen and beautify by contrast the Roses blooming beneath; and in the centre I should have, at irregular intervals, mounds high enough to obstruct the view even of Arba, great among the Anakims, which would enable me to surprise, to vary, and to conceal, according to the golden rule which I have before quoted. On the level from which these mounds arose would be the beds and single specimens; at the corners my bowers and nooks. All the interior space not occupied by Roses should be turf - "nothing," writes Lord Bacon, "is more pleasant to the eye than green grass kept finely shorn" - and this always broad enough for the easy operations of the mowing-machine, and for the trailing garments (they don't trail now, but who can tell what; La Mode' may ordain next summer?) of those bright visitors, the only beings upon earth more beautiful than the Rose itself. And who can be jealous? Who can grudge them the universal homage which even in the queenly presence they always claim and win? More than once, I must confess, has a remonstrance risen to my lips which I have not dared to utter.
I remember sitting on a summer's eve contemplating my Roses in the soft light of the setting sun, and in the society of a sentimental friend, more than ever sentimental because a daughter of the gods, divinely fair, had just left us for the house. We sat still and pensive, until at last I broke a long silence with the involuntary exclamation, "Aren't they lovely?" "Lovely!" he replied; "I hate'em. She called that Due de Rohan a darling, and that Senna Tea Vaisse, or whatever his name is" (he knew it as well as I did), "a darling. I tell you what, old fellow, if either of these worthies could appear in the flesh, there is nothing in the world I should like so much as a tete-a-tete with him in a 24-foot ring. I flatter myself that I could favour him with a facer, which he couldn't obtain in France. As for that General Jacqueminot, shouldn't I like to meet him in action," here he pulled his mustache fiercely, "and to roll him over on Rupert?" - his charger. I bade him light a weed, and hope, but he didn't seem to relish hoping.
Towards the end of the next summer he came to see me again, with the daughter of the gods in his brougham, and on the opposite side, in the lap of its nurse, a new "duck," far dearer to his bride than any Rosebud on earth.
Although the inner walks should be grass, there must be an outer promenade of gravel, smooth and dry for the thinnest boots, when the turf is damp with rain or dew, and when the queen wears her diamonds of purest water, as in the days of Mary and Anna.
I would have the approaches to a Rosary made purposely obscure and narrow, that the visitor may come with a sudden gladness and wonder upon the glowing scene, as the traveller by rail emerges from the dark tunnel into the brightness of day and a fair landscape; or as some dejected whist-player, at the extremity of wretched cards, finds the ace, king, and queen of trumps!
Although water offered itself in a fair running stream for introduction into the Rose-garden, I should hesitate timidly as to its admission. Charming as it would be to see the Roses reflected, like Narcissus, in such a mirror - to muse upon beauty, like Plato beneath the planes, which grew by the waters of Ilissus - we should simultaneously strengthen the cruel power of our fiercest enemy, frost.
Let us now consider, collectively and individually, the various families of this our royal flower, that we may invite those members whom we may esteem most worthy to be guests at our feast of Roses.
S. Reynolds Hole.