If the garden is long enough, it is a very good plan to turf quite up to the wall or paling, on the shady side, and have a bank raised across the middle of the garden about halfway down it. A path may then be carried all round the remainder of the plot where we can walk on firm, dry ground. Behind the bank we can revel in Currant and Gooseberry bushes and fruit trees, and grow Violets and Crocusses underneath them, and Parsley and all manner of herbs that love the partial shelter of the bush. Near where the bank comes, a Willow tree may be planted. The common Weeping-willow grows faster than anything, and will soon give enough shelter for enjoyment. I much prefer the loose growth of the common Willow to the tight little tents made by some Willow trees that are considered more choice. Under the shadow of a simple tree like this, father, mother, and little ones may sit and enjoy the beauty of the sun-flecked turf and leaf-entangled sunbeams, as well as if they were in the grandest gardens that could be imagined.
It is often objected that turf does not do well in suburban gardens. Turf does not do well anywhere, unless it is looked after, and put down carefully in the first place. People seem to think grass has no roots. I have seen the jobbing gardener, as well as the amateur, lay his squares of new turf on anything that came first! This is to court disaster. Turf wants feeding as much as anything else. It is, of course, useless to expect it to do well right under the shadow of a house, or under most trees; but I love grass so much that I consider it indispensable even in the smallest garden, and would not begrudge the trifling expense of laying down fresh turves, where wanted, every season. We should not hesitate to spend the same sum on a book or a theatre-ticket; why refuse it to the garden which we shall very likely be looking at and living in the summer through?
If one ever has a chance of viewing a roadful of back suburban gardens when their owners are not there to distract attention, nothing could be more entertaining. Through the medium of a friendly railway-track, I once enjoyed this treat. Houses looked pretty much alike, but the gardens were strikingly dissimilar. In some cases the minds of the owners were pleasingly reflected in their gardens; in others one saw nothing but the tracks of the jobbing gardener; in none, except the empty and ownerless, did one see neglect - so much must be said for all of them.
One or two things that were noticed were worthy of remark. It was abundantly clear that the best results came about where owners themselves had personally shared in the gardening work; it is quite easy to pick out those cases where mere neatness ended, and mind came in, and taste.
One garden (by no means among the largest) was particularly attractive. Nothing much was attempted in it, but the little that was attempted was so well done. The turf was of the finest, like dark green velvet, soft to the foot. Only a few kinds of flowers, but all of the very best. Choice Roses clustered against the west wall - not nailed to the wall, but trained carefully on wood against it; in front of these grew dwarf standard Rose trees, and before them again stretched a long border of Carnations, ready to bloom when their turn came. The grey-green spears were beautiful already, and a pleasure to see, even before a bud among them was unfolded, because so well kept and so healthy. Massed richly in one corner near the house the still bright foliage of the Lily of the Valley showed what a wealth of these flowers must have made the garden sweet in June. A tree or two at the far end (I was peeping through them) gave the shelter and comfort no garden should be without. This little strip, small as it was, deserved the lovely name of "garden."
One could not help observing with amusement that in some cases back and front gardens did not match; like goods in a shop-window front, the best had been put out for the public. The public is very much obliged for the show, but how about the family, if there is one? No pretty flowers for them, no comfortable nooks, no pleasant sward, no borders of white Pinks nor clumps of Mignonette. Next door, perhaps would be seen the other extreme - too much fussing, too much detail, too many rustic shelters, even the flowers too much crowded together; but to gardens that err in this way much may be forgiven, for much they have been loved.
There is nothing like individuality for making a small garden attractive. Few gardens are too small for the careful cultivation of one particular flower or series of flowers. A sunny little patch entirely given up to rock and wall plants would be an interest and education to one's neighbours as well as to one's self; or a system of tubs and tubes might result in a pond-garden for many kinds of water-flowers; or one might have a Carnation garden, or a garden where all the Starworts had a chance - there are now so many varieties that well repay for cultivation; or there could be a collection of the best violas, Sweet-peas or Columbines; - any of these would afford the sort of hobby that occupies and makes content the man of leisure as much as it refreshes him who has to work.
Miniature rock and water gardens are among the latest and most pleasing developments (it would be unfair to call them fashions) of the gardening world, though for obvious reasons they are not well represented at our flower-shows. To begin with, it is impossible to cart about the kind of plants that belong to them, and they are never suitable for exhibition; unlike the placid Roses and smart Orchids, who are used to being stared at, and appear to like it. But we can enjoy the "Rockies" and the Water-plants at home. One gentleman of my acquaintance - by profession a man of law, by taste a gardener and engineer - has so arranged his small suburban plot with rills and fountains that in it Pond-weeds and Water-lilies are waving and lolling. No Joseph Paxton ruling the length and breadth of the Crystal Palace grounds could be more content than he is with his small domain.
It is strange how the owners of small suburban gardens, where every inch is of importance, idealize the gardens or their country cousins. Did they but know it, these are often nothing but disappointments. What opportunities are lost for want of enterprise! Instead of all that might and could be done in them, nothing is done. Bushes and trees and shrubberies are allowed to overgrow; poultry are considered of more importance than Peonies, or any other flowers, and are allowed to get through hedges and scrape about among the borders. The troublesome things are hustled away, after a fashion, but are under no real control, and two or three eggs are supposed to atone for the severest damage. The old herbaceous plants that have been growing and spreading for years attain to any age and size, which does not improve their shapes or blossoms. The country garden is lovely sometimes of its own sweet wayward will, but its owner might frequently do worse than take a lesson in up-to-date gardening from the proprietor of the small suburban patch.
A writer who always says the things I wanted to say first, has just confided to the public the particulars of the arrangement of his own small garden near a town, and seems astonished at himself to find how fond he gets of it. It would not astonish me. We all get more fond of small gardens than we do of large ones - great lawns and shrubberies are for the crowd - the brilliant crowd; we crave a niche in which to work and live, a little corner of our very own, to plan, to perfect, and to stamp with our own impress. So if we happen to have "grounds" instead of gardens, why, then, to put things right, we make a garden within a garden, and it is in this small spot we feel at home ; it is familiar, and it fits us, like the old friend or the long-worn glove, and in our eyes it is beautiful as Corisande's own garden when she picked the Rose. As to beauty, either real or fancied, it is lucky that size is not everything. Here are a few words I found the other day in a book called "Art out of Doors." It was not meant for the suburban garden, but well applies to it:
"Two trees and six shrubs, a scrap of lawn, and a dozen flowering plants, may form either a beautiful little picture, or a huddled disarray of forms and colours."
On our own taste it depends whether the little garden is to be the "picture" or the "disarray." Perhaps if it is the latter we shall not be aware of it, for love is blind ; anyhow, even bad players may enjoy the game, and, happily, like chess, the gardening game is one that can be played, and played well too, with little pieces on a tiny board.