In making bold garden pictures, in working in harmony with beautiful landscapes, in creating the glamour of distant colour, in giving a definite meaning to space, in linking up the perspective of earth, horizon and sky, in calling up the peaceful and soothing influences of dew and shade - in these operations there is brought back some of the spirit of adventure, some of the buoyant imagery, which are often held to be the special prerogative of adolescence.
A true conception of the value of shrubs and trees is not gained by merely calculating their uses as screens, or even as belts of colour; it only comes when they are regarded as the media through which space is enchained, hill and vale put in bonds with the garden, shade held captive and a sense of the mystery of Nature retained even in the immediate surroundings of the home.
Considered from this wider point of view, the great class of plants which it is the object of the present work to consider attains a scope and dignity that no other can claim.
It is good to be able to recall that fervour of the high endeavour which imparts so strong a zest to youth, for it is accompanied by an inspiring and cheery optimism. One may get a taste of it in the building of a rockery, but it only comes back in full measure, so far as the garden is concerned, when the mind is given freer play in bold landscape gardening. Recognizing this, it is safe to predict, not only that garden-making will grow in favour as the years pass, but that the culture of shrubs and trees in particular will mount on an ever-swelling wave of popularity.
Fig. "The Pearly Tints Of An Horizon Arched Over The Curve Of A Hill." Rhododendrons massed in the foreground. Painted by Beatrice Parsons.
With judicious planting, shrubs and trees are not only beautiful in themselves, but form a connecting link with the landscape and even with the firmament. A bare knoll, unsatisfactory, even repellent, when it lies cold and pallid under a grey winter sky, takes life and character from a clump of Pines. The pearly tint of an horizon arched over the curve of a hill becomes firm and purposeful when seen through a woodland vista or through the tracery of leafless trees.
It does not follow that shrubs and trees - and particularly trees - are out of place in small enclosed gardens where considerations of landscape cannot operate. Shelter and shade remain to assert their claims. The demands of privacy are insistent in some cases. And above all, there is intrinsic grace and beauty. In the purposes which they serve, in the diversity of their habits, in the elegance of their forms, in the luxuriance of their foliage, in the large size and brilliant colours of their flowers, shrubs and trees provide material for almost every garden purpose. Certainly there is no garden, however small, in which they are incapable of playing an important part.
Fig. Slender Birch And Solid Yew. A successful grouping of Trees. Photo by R. A. Malby.
Fig. A View In The Water Garden At Aldenham House, Elstree, Showing Cytisus Semperflorens On The Right
There was a time when shrubs and trees were used almost entirely for shelter and shade, and this lasted long enough to spread common kinds, of no real beauty, far and wide. The nurseryman fell to propagating them in large numbers, and having stocked himself abundantly, he quoted cheaply, offering a strong temptation to people of limited means. A vicious circle was thus created and it still operates forcefully.
There is this danger about common shrubs - the amateur who considers himself justified in planting them for quick shelter does not always adopt the precaution of limiting strictly the area which they can usefully occupy, and almost before he realises what is happening they have encroached on space that is worthy of better things.
We have arrived at an epoch when shrubs and trees are valued for their intrinsic beauty, just like every other class of plants. Numerous ornamental kinds await the amateur's commands. More than ever, therefore, does it behove him to plant coarse sorts with restraint; and to watch their development with unceasing vigilance. He must guard his garden space jealously. If it be small, every foot is precious, and the more limited the area the more important the choice of plants.
One may sometimes see a line of Laurels planted with an eye to quick shelter on an exposed site in a new garden. The amateur argues, and rightly, that he cannot have a good garden until the force of strong, cold winds is broken. The nurseryman tells him, and truthfully, that Laurels will make a dense evergreen screen rapidly. There follows a cheap offer of plants. The Laurels are planted. They grow fast and soon afford appreciable shelter. But now weakness on the part of the amateur may supervene. Appreciating the sheltering power of the Laurels, and failing to realise that they are difficult to control when they have grown woody, he lets them get six, eight, ten feet high. Meantime, they are spreading laterally. Presently he realises that they are becoming somewhat of a nuisance, and talks of curbing them. A year or two later he begins the task. Alas ! the branches have grown thick and hard. Shears are of no use in pruning them. Tedious work with the knife has to be resorted to, and even with that, much care has to be exercised, or large "caves" are formed. The end often is that the attempt is given up in despair, and the Laurels are left master of the situation.
If a cheap shrub is brought into the garden to give shelter it is prudent to turn it into a hedge. Stiff though that may be, it is in character, and is far preferable to insolent and encroaching independence, which so often results in good shrubs being crowded out altogether, or if planted, overgrown and spoiled by rampageous neighbours. The Laurel, the Yew, the Holly, the Privet, the Hornbeam, the Beech, the Thorn - all of these are best turned into hedges if planted for shelter, because then strict bounds are set for them.
With the magnificent array of material at our command in these days it certainly must not be that our gardens become half filled with objects of no intrinsic beauty, even if they serve a definite purpose. We must be able to give good kinds all the conditions which they require for healthful and beautiful growth.
It is a common delusion that the more beautiful and sacred purposes of a garden - the capture of shade, the enchainment of seclusion, the suggestion of the spirit of mystery - can be fulfilled with a very meagre equipment of knowledge as to plants and their culture. There may even be found critics who, writing with the presumption which is only born of ignorance, suggest that what they may describe as "professionalism" is an actual bar to the attainment of these ends. It is only the garden-maker who fully realises the grossness of this error. The triumphs of modern gardening are due less to what is often spoken of vaguely as "artistic treatment" than to that thorough study of plants and their requirements which garden-lovers now give. It is, indeed, out of the study of plants that has arisen the capacity for making beautiful gardens. It is plants, not phrases, that make gardens. When the proper plants for particular purposes are chosen, and grown under the conditions that favour their development, there come naturally into being the results which the flower-lover set before himself at the outset. This may be called "professionalism," but it is none the less true art.
To choose the right plant, to put it in the right place, to grow it in the right way - this triune task is never so important as when the matter under consideration is that of shrubs and trees. Not only are errors more conspicuous when made with large than with small subjects, but they are more difficult and expensive to rectify.
It is for this reason that the reader is asked to repel that encouragement to make gardens out of phrases which leads to so much ineffective work, and to study the shrubs and trees which he sees around him - in Nature, in gardens, and at shows. Out of the knowledge which he acquires, garden-pictures will grow. He will see the soft and tender tints of young spring leafage, the snowy billows of fruit bloom, the great ivory hyacinths of towering Chestnuts, the sparkling garniture of spiked Thorns, the glittering wreaths of Mock Oranges, the glowing brasiers of Rhododendrons. His senses will be lulled by visions of shady paths and enveloping arbours; by smooth, soft lawns screened by banks of shrubs; by remote, tree-shaded walks; by cool vistas where the spirit of mystery lurks; by glimpses of shadowed water seen through a quivering heat-haze. And he will have the consciousness of reality about these things, for he will know that he has learned how to create them, and will proceed with confidence to the completion of a delightful task.
Fig. The Sparkling Garniture Of Spiked Thorns. Painted by A. C. Wyatt.