This section is from the book "Beautiful Gardens - How To Make Them And Maintain Them", by Walter P. Wright. Also available from Amazon: Beautiful Gardens: How To Make And Maintain Them.
By the time the average man is able to contemplate making himself a garden the age for ideals has apparently departed. He has "come to forty year," and tasted the bitterness of seeing the illusions of his youth pass away one by one. He finds himself hard put to it to take a gracious and charitable view of life. His outlook is grey.
To such a man the garden is fraught with immense possibilities. Wisely planned, prudently designed, it may conceivably fill that great and terrible void which so often appears at middle age. It may open the gates of a new and beautiful world - a world in which imagination and illusion play an allied part with all the vigour and abandon of youth.
The imaginative mind is, of all others, the one most likely to suffer rude shocks as age and experience increase. While imagination is sheltered by illusion there is always a chance of happiness, but when experience destroys illusion imagination is left naked and unprotected'. Stupid people may be happy in any walk of life. Riches are not necessarily a source of unhappiness, any more than poverty. The reason that millionaires are unhappy is not that they are millionaires, but that they are not stupid. Given a millionaire who was as stupid as a Suffolk ploughman, he would be equally happy. The millionaire is generally unhappy because his imagination has developed as his illusions have faded.
It is because the ideal garden provides so rich a field for imagination to roam in that it offers such boundless possibilities of happiness. Diocletian proved his profound wisdom when he voluntarily abandoned all the glories of the imperial purple to tend a Cabbage bed. The "Meditations" of Marcus Aurelius show how a powerful intellect is mellowed by a knowledge of plants. And there is comfort for the old in the declaration of Cicero that "the pleasures of husbandmen are narrowed by no age."
Writers so eminent, yet so diverse, as Epictetus and Petrarch, Luther and Machiavelli, Milton and Voltaire, Gibbon and Pope, Swift and Pepys, Addison and Rousseau, Francis Bacon and Congreve, Chesterfield and Horace Walpole, Cowley and Jonson, Gray and Shakespeare, Shenstone and Crabbe, have declared their joy in the garden. As to gentle John Evelyn, Tusser, Parkinson, Temple, Lawson, Tradescant, Gerarde, Ray, and, in more recent times, Kent, Loudon, Paxton, Blackmore, and Hole, we look upon them almost more as gardeners than garden writers - rather describers of the work they have done than of the abstract pleasures of the garden.
The hearts of thousands will go with Abraham Cowley when they read the words he wrote to Evelyn: "I never had any other desire so strong, and so like to covetousness, as that one which I have had always, that I might be master at last of a small house and a large garden. . . . But several accidents have disappointed me hitherto. ... I am gone out from Sodom, but I am not yet arrived at my little Zoar."
Out from Sodom - out from the world! Cowley had made one step on the road. He sighed, we see, for a large garden - a small house and a large garden. Is our Ideal Home Garden to be a large one, too? Shall our "little Zoar" run to many acres, or shall it be merely a few roods? We will glance at considerations of size in a practical way presently, but meanwhile let us lay to our souls the sweet assurance that it is not in size alone that garden pleasure lies. The garden will be the Ideal Garden when, and only when, it conforms to the means and the capacity of its proprietor. A garden is no ideal one which brings its owner to the verge of bankruptcy, or so overtaxes his physical powers as to make him prematurely worn and aged. It must be a beautiful garden and a fruitful one, and it must bear upon its face the clear impress of its maker's own handiwork, but it must be a garden of pleasure and peace, not of painful and anxious care.
Our Ideal Garden shall come close to the walls of the house, and linger lovingly there, as though it were indeed a part and parcel of our home. It shall caress the walls, lay tender fingers upon the windows, and spray itself across the threshold. It shall lie all about the dwelling, so that it is seen from every casement. There shall be no ugly gaps, unkempt corners, or bare walls. Where the house goes, there the garden shall follow. It shall surround us everywhere.
Fig. "The garden shall come close to the walls of the house."
Our Ideal Home Garden shall be a garden of perfume. There is nothing that recalls more swiftly and vividly a happy incident or scene of childhood or youth than a pleasant odour. When we merely think of that incident it appears faint and indeterminate; when it comes on the wings of fragrance it throbs with life. Modern rock-gardening does not give us full, rich garden odours. Many Alpine gems have perfume, it is true, but it is faint, and dispersed so imperfectly through the cold air of spring as to fail in sweetening the garden. We must have colonies of Violets, of Jonquils, of Lilies of the Valley and Wallflowers, of the scented Gardenia Narciss, for our spring fare; to be followed by Pinks, Cabbage Roses, Bergamot, Lavender, Jasmine, Carnations (not the scentless yellows), Heliotrope, Honeysuckle, Humea, Musk Mallow, Night-scented Stock, Mignonette, Sweet Peas, and Stocks.
Our Ideal Garden must be diversified and varied. Perhaps we shall make it a series of gardens within a garden, separated by Hawthorn, Privet, Sweetbrier, Myrobalan, Yew, and Holly hedges. If so, each garden must have its distinctive name and its own separate treatment. There will be constant charm in passing out of one into another, through wickets, or under arches. But even if it is only a small plot we must have diversity in it. A garden of desolating rectangles, with straight-up-and-down paths and borders, it shall not be.
It shall be a garden of cool and secluded places, for in it we are going to seek refuge from the glare and bustle of the workaday world. We may not manage a Pleached Alley like that at Hatfield, but the odds are that we can fashion a pergola, with a quiet seat at the end of its cool length. At the worst we can shape an arch, and, twining the shoots of a Crimson Rambler over it, form a pleasant Rose bower.
Fig. "It shall be a garden of cool and secluded places." A Rose Arch Near A Pool, Old Warden Park, Biggleswade
And our Ideal Garden shall be planted so that we have beauty all the year. Little colonies of yellow Winter Aconites, of Snowdrops, of Squills, of Glory of the Snow, of earliest Irises, shall precede our Daffodils, our Hyacinths, our early herbaceous flowers. Even winter shall have its colour in the leafage of Barberries, variegated Box, Golden Euonymuses, Hollies, Golden Arbor-Vitae, Golden Yew, Golden Privet, and feathery Cypresses; and in the blossoms of the sweet Winter Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima; the Winter Jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum; the Winter Heliotrope, Petasites (Tussilago) fragrans; and other things that snatch periods of bloom from the hostile calendar. Autumn, of course, will be rich with Michaelmas Daisies, hardy Chrysanthemums, Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofias), Sunflowers, and that generous sprinkling of lingering Roses which there will be if selected Teas and Hybrid Teas are grown.
In all, and through all, it shall be as much a part of our lives, as close to our hearts, as tightly bound up with our homes, as love itself is. Only in this holy intimacy shall we taste its pleasures to the full.