"Where a green, grassy turf is all I crave."
"A turf of dull, down-trodden grass Brings summer to my heart."
When people first take possession of the new suburban garden, be it ever so small or empty, three things are sure to be found in it; even the builder bestows as much as that upon them, though it may not be much to boast of either in quantity or quality. The three things are grass, ground, and gravel; grass for the tiny lawn, ground for the flower-beds, and gravel for the paths. Now, how are these to be apportioned? Some people crave for nothing but flowers and vegetables, so they are keenest about soil and ground; others desire to have a dry place always ready to walk about or sit in, cheap to keep up, and handy for their dog-kennels and other fancies. They are gravelites. Another set of folk are only to be made happy by grass, and I am of that number.
One of the most extraordinary things in the world is that so many garden-lovers who are kind enough to give advice about suburban plots seldom have a good word for grass. I always think it must be because they have never had to do without it themselves. The love of green turf is, I think, one of the most deeply rooted feelings of human nature; maybe it is a heritage from the days when pasture-land meant more to us than it does now, and the coming or withholding of the green blade spelled life or death. "The king himself is served by the field."
The restful charm of the grassy garden appeals to me so much, that with a tree or two, the simplest of flowers, and a rose- bush here and there, I could content myself with nothing else, so I (for once) cannot see eye to eye with Mrs. Earle when she says, "I am all for reducing lawns and turf except for paths in small gardens;" and elsewhere we are advised to have red gravel or a bricked or tiled square to sit on while we admire a wide border of flowers all round the edge. I should not like such a garden as this at all, and could never feel at home in it. Fancy no kindly turf to throw one's self down upon in the noonday heat, with a book in hand and a tree overhead, or if not a tree, a parasol. If we had no lawn to be cut and trimmed, where would be the sounds that most do "rout the brood of care, the sigh of scythe in morning dew," or the less poetical but still soothing monotone of the mowing-machine? And what a loss never to smell the fresh scent of the new-cut blades of grass as they are collected in box or barrow, and used to mulch the wilting flowers; nor to note the deliciously neat appearance of the well-rolled, carefully swept grass-plot, looking so much like a good child that has just been washed and dressed, and repays so fully for the sweet trouble it has given.
A writer on the subject of very diminutive gardens has described one that belonged to a small suburban villa. It captivated my fancy. Narrow was this tiny plot and very old, but it was grassed all over, and at one end a child's swing had been left standing, which was covered with a thick growth of Ivy. How quaint and cool and pleasant on a summer's day, and what a setting for a touch of white or scarlet! Any flower would look its best in such a garden.
Not long ago a contributor to Country Life wrote an article on English and Continental suburban gardens that interested me very much, but I am sorry to say there was no mention whatever in it of turf. Certainly there was not much room for grass in the plots that were described, and in some of them the gradients were too steep for grass-growing. The garden I liked best out of those mentioned was a mere strip about thirty yards long by about ten or eleven yards wide. In this small space (little more than a courtyard) was a border with vines and fruit trees and flowers, a broad brick path, and then a pleached alley of small Lime trees, the outer row close against the boundary wall. This is another of the small gardens I have read of that live in my memory and are a pleasure to think of.
Under the circumstances, it is difficult to see how its arrangement could have been improved upon. I am sure the owners, being people of taste, would have had turf also if possible, and I am still wondering what was done under the Lime avenue. The trees must have been sweet when in flower, but alas! Lime foliage falters and fells down with the first touch of frost, and then what a litter it makes. But no trees are more delightful in summer; the wind stirs so gently in the boughs, with eloquent soft speech of leaves.
It is now a good many years since it fell to my lot to plan and lay out a new suburban garden, fortunately not one of the smallest, and happily placed, inasmuch as the ground ran down to a railway cutting, at that period almost sylvan in its wildness, with scattered Birch and Fir trees and banks of Primroses. How many of this garden's inhabitants have been grateful since for the good broad stretch of turf that then was carefully put down and has gone on improving and mellowing with time and age. Blackbirds and thrushes have hopped about all over it, finding many a meal, and so have round-eyed robins, though not at the same moment; croquet and tennis have been played upon it, - first croquet, then tennis, then croquet again in the cycle of the made; dainty tea-cups' cheerful chink has softly sounded over it, and oft has it been dinted by childish feet. In the morning it has been dim with early dew, at noon a carpet all alive with shadows flung from leaves, and in the evening warm and smooth and barred by sunshine. The lawn has been as good as a sun-dial for telling the hours; the trees are the pointers, here a Willow and there an Oak, and the dial-plate is the grass itself.
Whether in shade or sunshine, the lawn is always soft to the foot and pleasant to the eye.
In this garden grass was made the keynote. Turf is the favourite bordering for the shrubbery - a good wide border, that makes a handsome edge and is pretty for flowers to tumble over; grass again where there is room for another little lawn, that can be given up to flowerbeds.
How much is said now about the dreadful practice of cutting up a lawn to stick flower-beds in it, "shrieking spots of colour set down here and there with little thought." An authority I revere says "a lawn is a place for grass; to spot bright beds all over it is to ruin it" I quite admit that to "spot," if there is only room for one lawn, is gross Vandalism, but I am quite as firmly convinced that no garden is complete without some flower-beds set in turf. What else shows the colours to so much advantage? Flower-beds in gravel, with a stiff edging of Box, do not please me at all; they are formal, and the effect is hard. Even these can be improved by a broad edging of grass to every bed. Herbaceous borders are delightful; we cannot live without them, but we do want beds too, they are so brilliant, so useful, and so well-behaved. "Bedders" are the good children of the garden, herbaceous plants the wayward. To manage them is like playing a game of croquet with Wonderland Alice's live flamingoes for hoops and mallets; the plants have the same habit of taking their way, not ours, and this puts us more than ever in conceit with our little plots of green enamel, set with coloured flowers like jewels.
A grass walk, where there is room for it, is another charming feature. In dry weather, when well kept, nothing is so pleasant to walk on. But no small suburban garden can hope for this luxury; it is only to be attained in large gardens, that have other walks for everyday wear and tear.
One of the gardens haunted by me as a child had a very long grass walk. There was a flower border on each side of it, and behind the borders there were trees. How we all delighted in this part of the garden-ground; how many were the friendships sworn along that silent scented pathway. It was said, moreover, that every engagement in the family dated from it.
Perhaps it is going too far to praise turf because it is healthy, and poetry is no argument; but Fuller, about 1620, said that "to smell to a turf of fresh earth is wholesome to the body." Ruskin in his best prose speaks lovingly of its "soft and countless peaceful spears," and Shakespeare simply revels in grass. The Bible, too, generally the first poem a child loves and is influenced by, may be responsible for some of the fascination of the green herb: "Like rain upon the mown grass;" "Thou shalt lead me in the green pastures;" "He maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains." No wonder one loves and even idealizes grass.