"The size of a garden has very little to do with its merit, - it is the size of the heart and brain and the goodwill of the owner that will make his garden either delightful or dull." - G. Jekyll.
The small Suburban Garden - it is time some one said a good word for it. What other place has been so much abused, maligned? ft may, it does, in fact, go on improving with the march of time and the general up-waking of the gardening world ; but the ill name sticks, and will most likely continue to do so till the cult of the motor-car drives everybody out of the towns to live in the suburbs. Yet, if the truth were known, for the last thirty years at least the little garden spaces that skirt our towns have, for the room they occupy, given more pleasure and done more good than the like area in any other part of the King's dominions.
The suburbs of London are certainly looking up. Thanks partly to the motor-car, they are no longer the terra-incognita they used to be, for it is impossible for people to drive out in any direction without making acquaintance with them. Travelling by road in this way, one gets a much better idea of the capacities of the suburban garden than is possible from the windows of the railway-carriage. These, especially as we are just leaving London, show us only the pathetic garden of the flowerless kind, belonging mostly to the very poor; some with a stunted cabbage or two, other with a rabbit-hutch or a handful of dilapidated fowls, another with clothes hanging out to dry. Sometimes there will be a summer-house, but very seldom anybody sitting in it, nor does one often catch sight of children playing happily about; they prefer the more exciting street or the playground of their school.
In A Small Suburban Garden
But travelling by road, what do we see? Whether we steam along the great high-road to Acton and Ealing, or towards the hills of Highgate and Hampstead, or rattle through Richmond to Wimbledon, or vid Kingston's quaint old town to Surbiton and its precincts, it is always the same; hundreds and thousands of villas and small houses are met with, each of which is a castle to some Englishman. Interspersed with them are large gardens of older houses; but these, as a rule, are hidden from view by high walls and trees. They have a different story, are sometimes of great beauty, and do not belong at all to the class we are now considering.
Before every one of the small suburban houses, certainly before all that are detached, there is a little plot of ground with trees and shrubs. These plots are typically suburban, and are often very severely censured by careless critics for their monotony and gracelessness. Unjustly so, I think; it appears to me that, in most cases, pains have been taken to make the most of opportunities, and considering that in a whole row of small gardens every one has a different owner, and a different mind behind it, it is wonderful things are not more patchy than they are.
Let us look at some of these suburban highways on a smiling day of very early summer; it is a cheerful prospect. There will be flowering and foliage trees, neat gravel paths, and carefully kept shrubs. Lilacs, Syringas (properly called Mock-orange), Laburnums dropping fires, Rowan-trees that by-and-by will be brilliant with berries, bronze-brown Copper-beech trees, Guelder-roses tossing up their creamy balls, the White May and the rose-pink Double Thorn - all these are as common along the road as are the nursery-maids and perambulators upon the sidewalks and pavements. If our survey had been taken either earlier or a good deal later in the year, so far as the season would allow, the outlook would have been just as pleasing. We should have seen the Fire-thorn's splendid red, the Cotoneaster's softer crimson, the gold flowers of the Winter Jasmine, the bare-branched Almond trees kindled with rosy fire, or brick walls blazoned with yellow blooms of February's Forsythia, above borders brimming with the gallant Crocus. The people who live in the houses behind these fore-courts (if we may not call them gardens) are not very rich perhaps, but may be educated folk of taste and culture, doing their best to make beautiful their surroundings, though often but birds of passage who look forward to a time not far away, when the little home will be left for larger borders.
Many are presided over by the wives of barristers and other men of business or of law, who prefer renting a small house away from town to living in the whirl and dust of London; or sometimes by the widows and daughters of country clergymen, who do not possess too much of this world's goods, but cannot exist without some of their former favourites growing around them in their new suburban homes.
We are so much accustomed to the scenes I have described that we do not take much heed of them; they are a matter of course, but they do surprise the stranger that is within our gates. People I have met abroad, both in Germany and Switzerland, have told me that one of the things that struck them most in England was the beauty of London's outskirts, owing largely to the little gardens before each private house. We must hope the fashionable flat will not rob us wholly of this charm.
Whenever I see a pretty front suburban garden, a wild curiosity as to the back premises arises within me. Herein are opportunities for the most dreadful mistakes and the most wonderful successes; all depends on the presiding genius.
Corner houses are the luckiest; they get more room, and the gardens are of quainter shapes. But we will begin by considering the ordinary strip. It may be long, it is almost sure to be narrow - anyhow, no expansion is possible; we must make the best of what we have. A general consensus of opinion has decided on having a border for flowers all round the edge against the outer wall or paling, fronting this a gravel path; and the centre is turfed over and called the "lawn." In very small gardens it is difficult to improve on this plan, though other suggestions are made - such as gravelling the garden entirely, and having a large bed for flowers in the middle, and a bank at the end. In practice, this does not make a garden so comfortable to sit and to walk about in. One does want pathways, and to be able to get at the flowers easily.