This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
ONE of the finest features in the country towns of America, is that almost every dwelling has its garden - small in many cases it may be, but still a garden, and capable of yielding many of the comforts and pleasures of gardening. The most active improvers of our day, the men who are really doing most for the diffusion of a taste for gardening, are the residents of country towns and villages, with their acre, half acre, and even quarter acre lots. Taking this view of the subject, we naturally regard the management of small gardens with much interest; and therefore propose, now and hereafter, to offer a few hints, in order if possible to establish more correct views in regard to the principles which should regulate their formation and treatment.
From pretty extensive observation, we have come to the conclusion that one of the most serious and prevalent errors in the management of small gardens, is attempting too much. This grows very naturally out of the desire that almost every man feels to gather around his residence the greatest possible variety of interesting scenes and objects; in other words, to make the most of his limited space. In laying out a garden, the design may be good, and it may, in the first place, be properly executed; but no sooner is this done than new trees or plants are fancied, and probably a neighbor's garden suggests some new walks or divisions - and thus one little alteration after another is introduced, until the original plan is effaced, and the whole becomes a piece of patchwork. We have seen many charming little front gardens utterly ruined in this way. Now, the beauty of a small garden, and the pleasure it may afford, lies not in a great variety of embellishments, but in simplicity and high keeping - few walks and few trees.
Numerous walks destroy the unity and extent of a small piece of ground, and add very materially to the cost of keeping; and as a regular gardener is seldom employed in such places, the walks become neglected, and grown over with grass and weeds, resembling more a cattle path than any thing else. The principle, therefore, should be rigidly adhered to, of having only such walks as are absolutely indispensable, and these to be kept in the best order, A good, well-kept walk, is not only a great beauty but a great comfort, whereas nothing is so useless and ill-looking as a bad or neglected one. In most cases a single walk, and that a foot walk, six or eight feet wide in proportion to the extent of the ground, will be quite enough.
The position of the entrance gate and the course of the walk must be determined by the shape of the grounds and the situation of the front door of the dwelling. If the space between the house and street be narrow - say twenty or thirty feet - and the front door be in the center of the building, the most convenient, and probably the best, arrangement is the common one - having the gate opposite the door, and the walk straight. It would be much better if houses of this kind were so constructed as to have the main entrance at one side, so that the ground in front of the principal rooms might be kept in a lawn, embellished with a few appropriate trees. This would be a more agreeable sight from the windows than a gravel walk, and persons approaching the house would not be directly in front of the windows. When the house stands back a sufficient distance, even if the front door be in the center facing the street, the walk should approach it by as easy curves as possible from one side, leaving the ground in front unbroken* A curved walk, however, is not only inconvenient, but obviously inconsistent, in a very limited space.
Box, and all other kinds of edgings, to walks that run through grass plots, are not only out of place, but add greatly to the expense of planting and keeping. Such things are only appropriate in flower gardens, to mark the outlines of walks and beds. Hedges of Privet, Red Cedar, or Arbor Vitae, are occasionally planted along the edges of walks, but are entirely superfluous, and have a bad effect, unless to screen a wagon road to out-buildings, or to separate a front garden or lawn from the kitchen garden, or such objects as it may be desirable to conceal. Such hedges have also a very good effect when placed immediately behind a low open front fence, forming, in that case, a background to the lawn, when viewed from the dwelling.
Planting, in most of our small gardens, is carried to such an excess as to convert them into miniature forests. There must be the universal row of Horse Chestnuts, or something else, within the fence; and then the interior is dotted over closely with all manner of shrubs and plants. A corner is probably cut up into something like a chilld's flower garden; small beds, filled with tall, straggling plants, lying over the Box edgings, covering the walks, and giving to the whole a neglected and confused appearance. Such management displays no taste, and gives no satisfaction.
We would discard these straight rows of trees, and convert the whole surface into as perfect a piece of lawn as could be made. This we would embellish with a few - very few - appropriate trees, mostly evergreens, having as great a variety among them as possible, both in regard to habit of growth and tint of foliage. The smallest plot, managed on this principle, may be made beautiful. A single tree, such as a Norway Spruce, a Deodar Cedar, a Hemlock Spruce, or any other fine evergreen - or even a deciduous tree, such as a Magnolia, a Tulip tree, a Linden, Horse Chestnut, or Mountain Ash - standing on a lawn, having ample space on all sides to develop its fair, natural habits and proportions, is always a beautiful object, and cannot fail, though a common tree, to attract attention and admiration; but plant three or four, or half a dozen, such trees where one should be, or crowd up the one with undershrubs and other objects, and you at once destroy the character and expression of the tree, and produce a confused mass, that can not fail to be disagreeable to every one whose taste has been even slightly cultivated.
Few people seem to appreciate fully the beauty of a piece of lawn - a beauty which is at once cheap and permanent Most of us desire to be economical; but what economy is there in cutting up small gardens into walks, flower borders, and beds, and in planting them all over with trees and plants! These walks and borders need constant care, or they soon become unsightly; they need a constant succession of flowering plants, to keep up a display. The culture of flowers along borders and among trees, is never successful or satisfactory. They must have a place allotted to themselves, where they can be tastefully grouped and receive proper attention. A very important point is the selection of suitable trees for small gardens. We very often see trees of the largest class planted where there is no room for them, simply because such trees are planted in every garden. The little front gardens of street houses in some of the English towns delight every one who sees them, by the appropriateness of their arrangement and ornaments.
A spot of bright green lawn, garnished with two or three Laurels or Rhododendrons, and some climbing Roses or Honeysuckles around the windows, and these all glittering with high polish, like a Dew coin from the mint - no cutting up into all manner of misshaped beds and borders, no entangled masses of trees and plants. We hope this matter matter will be considered, for a reform is greatly needed. We shall have more to say on the subject hereafter.