the average homeowner makes one great mistake when it comes to laying out his grounds in that he becomes over-enthusiastic, and goes in for flower-beds and planting which, after a year or two of growth, demand too much of his time to keep in order. It is one thing to lay out a flower-bed with a scalloped edge, and to turn over the earth and think how fine it will look when the flowers come up, but it is a different matter when you have to spend an hour and a half edging the bed and weeding around the stalks. Of course if you have a large place, and can afford a gardener, you have nothing to worry about, and you may indulge your tastes to your heart's content; but if you take care of your own grounds, simplicity and easy of upkeep should be your aim.
Most houses which are built on a modest lot of ground Will do very nicely with a clean-cut lawn, well-edged road and paths, and a few well-placed shrubs. You will find that even the simplest layout will take plenty of your time.
When it comes to cutting a lawn properly, the only necessary tool is a good lawn-mower. Lawn-mowers, as a rule, are self-sharpening, but if the blades should be nicked or dulled, they can be brought back to a good edge by using a fine file. The mower should be set up on a table or bench and blocked, so that it will not roll off. The blades can then be turned backwards freely, and you can sharpen each blade separately with ease. At the bottom of all lawn-mowers there is a stationary blade which is adjustable. By backing-off or setting-up small set screws at each end of this blade you can bring it closer or further away from the revolving blades. A properly adjusted mower is one where the revolving blades just "kiss" the stationary blade, and they should be sharp enough to neatly cut a piece of newspaper.
People make a great mistake in hanging a canvas bag on the back of a lawn-mower so as to catch the cut ends of the grass. These should be allowed to fall as they may on the lawn, because they will dry up, fall between the live blades of grass and make the most marvelous fertilizer for new growth.
When a lawn-mower needs oiling, the best thing to do with it is to remove the wheels by loosening the nut or screw in the center of each and swab the gears with ordinary vaseline. This will not dry out as oil will, and it also prevents any rusting of the gears if the machine is left out in the rain.
To edge a lawn properly requires only one tool, which is known as a "turf-edger" or cutter. This is a crescent-shaped steel blade on a long handle; and if you lay down a line and stretch it tight along the edge you want to cut, and you have a sharp edge on the tool, you can slice through the turf in a straight line as easily as you can cut through a loaf of bread. Turf-edgers can be sharpened by taking a fine file and filing down the blade on both sides so as to bring it to a keen edge.
Edging will be neat and clean if tool* are sharp and a line stretched tightly above the line of cut.
No one should attempt to edge without first driving two stakes and stretching a length of heavy white cord between them. A ball of mason's twine can be bought for twenty-five cents and will last you for five or ten years.
As far as planting goes, the simpler the layout the easier will be the maintenance. As a general thing, a medium-sized shrub on both sides of the road into the place is effective. The planting around the house, which is usually referred to as "foundation planting," should consist of a tall shrub at the corners and low, heavy, thick shrubs around the base of the building. No doubt you have seen houses which were overdone and where the shrubs were not properly selected, so that eventually they grew high, obscured the windows and rendered the interior of the house quite dark. Another point is that shrubs should be planted to allow for future spreading, and they should be kept so as to be at least a foot away from the walls of the house. When shrubbery is in contact with the wall, it keeps it damp, and paint will deteriorate and mortar joints will fail more rapidly than is the case when they are able to dry out.
It looks very attractive when the shrub border around the house is edged and weeded and the lawn not permitted to grow in the border; but it is a full day's job to edge, weed and rake smooth the bare sod. You will find that if you allow the lawn to grow right up to and under the shrubs, you will have a far shorter job in keeping the foundation planting looking well.
There is nothing at all the matter with clumps of shrubs on large lawns, but they should be treated in the same manner, as far as upkeep goes, as the foundation shrubs - namely, keep down the amount of work that has to be expended upon them. As a rule, one more or less tall shrub in the center, surrounded by low, thick shrubs, makes the most effective planting.
Cross-raking rather than lengthwise raking produces a better-looking job.
You frequently see grounds around a house where circles have been cut around the bases of trees, and the lawn is kept from growing in the circles. As long as it is edged, weeded and raked smooth, it looks well, but it involves quite an amount of work, and, besides, any professional tree expert will tell you that the trees will not flourish as well under this condition as they would if the lawn were permitted to grow right up to the trunks. One idea is artificial; the other is perfectly natural, and therefore better.
When you rake a road, it should never be raked from back to front, but should be raked from side to side. This also applies to paths. If you care to make the experiment, take twenty feet of your road and rake from front to back; stand away at the end of the road and look at the job. Now rake the road from side to side, starting at each curb and raking toward the center. Now stand off and look at this job, and you will hardly believe that it is the same road. The long raking shows every scratch and furrow; the cross-raking looks smooth and even.
While on the subject of smooth-looking jobs, you might try another experiment. Cut your lawn from front to back, in other words start near the road or street, and cut back in a straight line toward the house. Now go out on the road and look at it. You will see distinctly the lines made by the cutting. The next time you cut it, do the job at exact right-angles, in other words, cut across the lawn from side to side of your property. Go out on the road now and look at that job. You will see that the lawn looks about three times as smooth and even.
It is the small things such as these that the homeowner will learn. He will find out how to do things easily and to better effect, and before very long, he will work out a system which applies to his own property, so that he can get out in the morning at eight o'clock, and call it a day by eleven o'clock; leaving behind him a neat, well-groomed place.
Among the tiresome jobs to be found outdoors, is that of weeding the roads and paths. During the summer you will find that road-weeds grow as though by magic. As a matter of fact, if anything else were to grow as easily and quickly, we would be quite delighted. Using a weed-scraper, to scuff along the road and decapitate the weeds, is more or less useless, because they will be up again in a week. The best way in which to handle them is to buy a can of good weed-killer, dilute it in water according to instructions, and spray the road with it. One application usually takes care of the weeds for a season. You must use caution however in doing this work, because we have had the experience where we were too generous with the killer, and it soaked the edge of the lawn and killed the grass for about a foot inside of the border. Keep your liquid at least a foot away from any lawn edge, and you will not be* in any danger of burning the grass.
We have seen people spend hours at a time digging dandelions and crab-grass out of a lawn. Frankly we think that this is a waste of time, because when a lawn is cut once a week, it is bound to look well and to improve in thickness and body. The lawn-mower will take the heads off the dandelions, and the leafy part lies flat and is not unsightly.
When it comes to raking a lawn, we believe that a bamboo rake is the best implement because it does not tear at the roots of the grass. If you rake and rake a lawn, and bear down heavily with the rake, you will gradually expose the roots, and the next thing you know you will see brown patches appearing everywhere. This means that you have brushed the soil away from the roots and they are drying up.
Most suburban and country places develop what is known as "road trouble." As a rule this shows up in the spring after the snow has melted and after the heavy rains have set in. There is nothing more annoying than a rutted road, or soft spots in which your car mires down.
A good road is laid by excavating to a depth of about one foot, laying in a foundation of heavy stones, rock or broken-up concrete, covering that with cinders a depth of six inches, and topping off the surface with two or three inches of bluestone, gravel or prepared road-dressing. Of course in the average house you will not get any such job. Usually the speculative builder will be content to cut in a shallow roadway and top it with gravel or crushed stone. As a result you have the road in bad shape before many months of use.
The best remedy, short of rebuilding the road, is to continue patiently to fill holes and depressions as fast as they appear. Use stones that are about one or two inches in size, and that are rough. Round stones are no good because they never "bed," but continue to move and work around. Sharp, rough stones dig in and stay in place.
When you are dressing up a road, always make sure that you have drainage. In other words, build up a crown in the center so that water sheds off to the gutters and does not lay on the road and "jelly" it up into an emulsion.
The topping used as a finish for the road should be selected with more care than you may imagine, because of the dusting which some types give off. Ashes will dust badly in dry weather and eventually work into your house. Bluestone will grind up and dust after a year or two, although it packs beautifully and makes a hard road. In our opinion gravel makes the best topping, because it will sink into the base of the road for a certain distance and then stabilize. The surface can always be raked and smoothed with ease. Gravel will not stick to the soles of your shoes and be carried into the house. Gravel will not crush under use, and will never dust. After each rain-storm it will be clean and white.