THE AMATEUR GARDEN
GEORGE W. CABLE
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
NEW YORK: MCMXIV
Copyright, 1914, by
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Published October, 1914
MY OWN ACRE 1
THE AMERICAN GARDEN 41
WHERE TO PLANT WHAT 79
THE COTTAGE GARDENS OF NORTHAMPTON 107
THE PRIVATE GARDEN'S PUBLIC VALUE 129
THE MIDWINTER GARDENS OF NEW ORLEANS 163
"That gardening is best ... which best ministers to man's felicity with least disturbance of nature's freedom" Frontis
"... that suddenly falling wooded and broken ground where Mill River loiters through Paradise" 6
"On this green of the dryads ... lies My Own Acre" 8
"The beautiful mill-pond behind its high dam keeps the river full back to the rapids just above My Own Acre" 12
"A fountain ... where one,—or two,—can sit and hear it whisper" 22
"The bringing of the grove out on the lawn and the pushing of the lawn in under the grove was one of the early tasks of My Own Acre" 24
"Souvenir trees had from time to time been planted on the lawn by visiting friends" 26
"How the words were said which some of the planters spoke" 28
"'Where are you going?' says the eye. 'Come and see,' says the roaming line" 34
"The lane is open to view from end to end. It has two deep bays on the side nearest the lawn" 36
"... until the house itself seems as naturally ... to grow up out of the garden as the high keynote rises at the end of a lady's song" 48
"Beautiful results may be got on smallest grounds" 52
"Muffle your architectural angles in foliage and bloom" 52
Fences masked by shrubbery 64
After the first frost annual plantings cease to be attractive 72
Shrubbery versus annuals 72
Shrubs are better than annuals for masking right angles. South Hall, Williston Seminary 74
"... a line of shrubbery swinging in and out in strong, graceful undulations" 74
"However enraptured of wild nature you may be, you do and must require of her some subserviency about your own dwelling" 84
"Plant it where it will best enjoy itself" 86
"... climaxes to be got by superiority of stature, by darkness and breadth of foliage and by splendor of bloom belong at its far end" 94
"Some clear disclosure of charm still remote may beckon and lure" 96
"... tall, rectangular, three-story piles ... full of windows all of one size, pigeon-house style" 100
"You can make gardening a concerted public movement" 112
"Plant on all your lot's boundaries, plant out the foundation-lines of all its buildings" 122
"Not chiefly to reward the highest art in gardening, but to procure its widest and most general dissemination" 122
"Having wages bigger than their bodily wants, and having spiritual wants numerous and elastic enough to use up the surplus" 138
"One such competing garden was so beautiful last year that strangers driving by stopped and asked leave to dismount and enjoy a nearer view" 138
"Beauty can be called into life about the most unpretentious domicile" 148
"Those who pay no one to die, plant or prune for them" 148
"In New Orleans the home is bounded by its fences, not by its doors—so they clothe them with shrubberies and vines" 174
"The lawn ... lies clean-breasted, green-breasted, from one shrub-and-flower-planted side to the other, along and across" 174
"There eight distinct encumbrances narrow the sward.... In a half-day's work, the fair scene might be enhanced in lovely dignity by the elimination of these excesses" 176
"The rear walk ... follows the dwelling's ground contour with business precision—being a business path" 178
"Thus may he wonderfully extenuate, even ... where it does not conceal, the house's architectural faults" 180
"... a lovely stage scene without a hint of the stage's unreality" 182
"Back of the building-line the fences ... generally more than head-high ... are sure to be draped" 184
"... from the autumn side of Christmas to the summer side of Easter" 184
"The sleeping beauty of the garden's unlost configuration ... keeping a winter's share of its feminine grace and softness" 186
"It is only there that I see anything so stalwart as a pine or so rigid as a spruce" 192
MY OWN ACRE
A lifelong habit of story-telling has much to do with the production of these pages.
All the more does it move me because it has always included, as perhaps it does in most story-tellers, a keen preference for true stories, stories of actual occurrence.
A flower-garden trying to be beautiful is a charming instance of something which a storyteller can otherwise only dream of. For such a garden is itself a story, one which actually and naturally occurs, yet occurs under its master's guidance and control and with artistic effect.
Yet it was this same story-telling bent which long held me back while from time to time I generalized on gardening and on gardens other than my own. A well-designed garden is not only a true story happening artistically but it is one that passes through a new revision each year, "with the former translations diligently compared and revised." Each year my own acre has confessed itself so full of mistranslations of the true text of gardening, has promised, each season, so much fairer a show in its next edition, and has been kept so prolongedly busy teaching and reteaching its master where to plant what, while as to money outlays compelled to live so much more like a poet than like a prince, that the bent for story-telling itself could not help but say wait.
Now, however, the company to which this chapter logically belongs is actually showing excellent reasons why a history of their writer's own acre should lead them. Let me, then, begin by explaining that the small city of Northampton, Massachusetts, where I have lived all the latter three-fifths of my adult years, sits on the first rise of ground which from the west overlooks the alluvial meadows of the Connecticut, nine miles above South Hadley Falls. Close at its back a small stream, Mill River, coming out of the Hampshire hills on its way to the Connecticut, winds through a strip of woods so fair as to have been named—from a much earlier day than when Jenny Lind called it so—"Paradise." On its town side this wooded ground a few hundred yards wide drops suddenly a hundred feet or so to the mill stream and is cut into many transverse ravines.
In its timber growth, conspicuous by their number, tower white-pines, while among them stand only less loftily a remarkable variety of forest trees imperfectly listed by a certain humble authority as "mostly h-oak, h-ellum, and h-ash, with a little 'ickory."
Imperfectly listed, for there one may find also the birch and the beech, the linden, sycamore, chestnut, poplar, hemlock-spruce, butternut, and maple overhanging such pleasant undergrowths as the hornbeam and hop-hornbeam, willows, black-cherry and choke-cherry, dogwood and other cornels, several viburnums, bush maples of two or three kinds, alder, elder, sumach, hazel, witch-hazel, the shadblow and other perennial, fair-blooming, sweet-smelling favorites, beneath which lies a leaf-mould rife with ferns and wild flowers.
From its business quarter the town's chief street of residence, Elm Street, begins a gently winding westerly ascent to become an open high-road from one to another of the several farming and manufacturing villages that use the water-power of Mill River. But while it is still a street there runs from it southerly at a right angle a straight bit of avenue some three hundred yards long—an exceptional length of unbent street for Northampton. This short avenue ends at another, still shorter, lying square across its foot within some seventy yards of that suddenly falling wooded and broken ground where Mill River loiters through Paradise. The strip of land between the woods and this last street is taken up by half a dozen dwellings of modest dignity, whose front shade-trees, being on the southerly side, have been placed not on the sidewalk's roadside edge but on the side next the dwellings and close within their line of private ownership: red, white and post-oaks set there by the present writer when he named the street "Dryads' Green." They are now twenty-one years old and give a good shade which actually falls where it is wanted—upon the sidewalk.
On this green of the dryads, where it intercepts the "avenue" that slips over from the Elm Street trolley-cars, lies, such as it is, my own acre; house, lawn, shrubberies and, at the rear, in the edge of the pines, the study. Back there by the study—which sometimes in irony we call the power-house—the lawn merges into my seven other acres, in Paradise. Really the whole possession is a much humbler one than I find myself able to make it appear in the flattering terms of land measure. Those seven acres of Paradise I acquired as "waste land." Nevertheless, if I were selling that "waste," that "hole in the ground," it would not hurt my conscience, such as it is, to declare that the birds on it alone are worth more than it cost: wood-thrushes and robins, golden orioles, scarlet tanagers, blackbirds, bluebirds, oven-birds, cedar-birds, veeries, vireos, song-sparrows, flycatchers, kinglets, the flicker, the cuckoo, the nuthatch, the chickadee and the rose-breasted grosbeak, not to mention jays or kingfishers, swallows, the little green heron or that cock of the walk, the red squirrel.
Speaking of walks, it was with them—and one drive—in this grove, that I made my first venture toward the artistic enhancement of my acre,—acre this time in the old sense that ignores feet and rods. I was quite willing to make it a matter of as many years as necessary when pursued as play, not work, on the least possible money outlay and having for its end a garden of joy, not of care. By no inborn sagacity did I discover this to be the true first step, but by the trained eye of an honored and dear friend, that distinguished engineer and famous street commissioner of New York, Colonel George E. Waring, who lost his life in the sanitary regeneration of Havana.
"Contour paths" was the word he gave me; paths starting from the top of the steep broken ground and bending in and out across and around its ridges and ravines at a uniform decline of, say, six inches to every ten feet, until the desired terminus is reached below; much as, in its larger way, a railway or aqueduct might, or as cattle do when they roam in the hills. Thus, by the slightest possible interference with natural conditions, these paths were given a winding course every step of which was pleasing because justified by the necessities of the case, traversing the main inequalities of the ground with the ease of level land yet without diminishing its superior variety and charm. And so with contour paths I began to find, right at my back door and on my own acre, in nerve-tired hours, an outdoor relaxation which I could begin, leave off and resume at any moment and which has never staled on me. For this was the genesis of all I have learned or done in gardening, such as it is.
My appliances for laying out the grades were simple enough: a spirit-level, a stiff ten-foot rod with an eighteen-inch leg nailed firmly on one end of it, a twelve-inch leg on the other, a hatchet, and a basket of short stakes with which to mark the points, ten feet apart, where the longer leg, in front on all down grades, rested when the spirit-level, strapped on the rod, showed the rod to be exactly horizontal. Trivial inequalities of surface were arbitrarily cut down or built up and covered with leaves and pine-straw to disguise the fact, and whenever a tree or anything worth preserving stood in the way here came the loaded barrow and the barrowist, like a piece of artillery sweeping into action, and a fill undistinguishable from nature soon brought the path around the obstacle on what had been its lower side, to meander on at its unvarying rate of rise or fall as though nothing—except the trees and wild flowers—had happened since the vast freshets of the post-glacial period built the landscape. I made the drive first, of steeper grade than the paths; but every new length of way built, whether walk or road, made the next easier to build, by making easier going for the artillery, the construction train. Also each new path has made it easier to bring up, for the lawn garden, sand, clay, or leaf-mould, or for hearth consumption all the wood which the grove's natural mortality each year requires to be disposed of. There is a superior spiritual quality in the warmth of a fire of h-oak, h-ash, and even h-ellum gathered from your own acre, especially if the acre is very small and has contour paths. By a fire of my own acre's "dead and down" I write these lines. I never buy cordwood.
Only half the grove has required these paths, the other half being down on the flat margin of the river, traversed by a cart-road at least half a century old, though used by wheels hardly twice a year; but in the three acres where lie the contour paths there is now three-fifths of a mile of them, not a rod of which is superfluous. And then I have two examples of another kind of path: paths with steps; paths which for good and lawful reasons cannot allow you time to go around on the "five per cent" grade but must cut across, taking a single ravine lengthwise, to visit its three fish-pools.
These steps, and two short retaining walls elsewhere in the grove, are made of the field stones of the region, uncut. All are laid "dry" like the ordinary stone fences of New England farms, and the walls are built with a smart inward batter so that the winter frosts may heave them year after year, heave and leave but not tumble them down. I got that idea from a book. Everything worth while on my acre is from books except what two or three professional friends have from time to time dropped into my hungry ear. Both my ears have good appetites—for garden lore.
About half a mile from me, down Mill River, stands the factory of a prized friend who more than any other man helps by personal daily care to promote Northampton's "People's Institute," of whose home-garden work I have much to say in the chapters that follow this one. For forty years or more this factory has been known far and wide as the "Hoe Shop" because it makes shovels. It has never made hoes. It uses water-power, and the beautiful mill-pond behind its high dam keeps the river full back to the rapids just above my own acre. In winter this is the favorite skating-pond of the town and of Smith College. In the greener seasons of college terms the girls constantly pass upstream and down in their pretty rowboats and canoes, making a charming effect as seen from my lawn's rear edge at the head of the pine and oak shaded ravine whose fish-pools are gay by turns with elder, wild sunflower, sumach, iris, water-lilies, and forget-me-not.
This ravine, the middle one of the grove's three, is about a hundred feet wide. When I first began to venture the human touch in it, it afforded no open spot level enough to hold a camp-stool. From the lawn above to the river road below, the distance is three hundred and thirty feet, and the fall, of fifty-five feet, is mostly at the upper end, which is therefore too steep, as well as too full of varied undergrowth, for any going but climbing. In the next ravine on its left there was a clear, cold spring and in the one on its right ran a natural rivulet that trickled even in August; but this middle ravine was dry or merely moist.
Here let me say to any who would try an amateur landscape art on their own acre at the edge of a growing town, that the town's growth tends steadily to diminish the amount of their landscape's natural water supply by catching on street pavements and scores and hundreds of roofs, lawns and walks, and carrying away in sewers, the rain and melting snows which for ages filtered slowly through the soil. Small wonder, I think, that, when in the square quarter-mile between my acre and Elm Street fifty-three dwellings and three short streets took the place of an old farm, my grove, by sheer water famine, lost several of its giant pines. Wonder to me is that the harm seems at length to have ceased.
But about that ravine: one day the nature of its growth and soil, especially its alders, elders, and willows and a show of clay and gravel, forced on my notice the likelihood that here, too, had once been a spring, if no more. I scratched at its head with a stick and out came an imprisoned rill like a recollected word from the scratched head of a schoolboy. Happily the spot was just at the bottom of the impassably steep fall of ground next the edge of the lawn and was almost in the centre of those four acres—one of sward, three of woods—which I proposed to hold under more or less discipline, leaving the rest—a wooded strip running up the river shore—wholly wild, as college girls, for example, would count wildness. In both parts the wealth of foliage on timber and underbrush almost everywhere shut the river out of view from the lawn and kept the eye restless for a glint, if no more, of water. And so there I thought at once to give myself what I had all my life most absurdly wished for, a fish-pool. I had never been able to look upon an aquarium and keep the tenth Commandment. I had never caught a fish without wanting to take it home and legally adopt it into the family—a tendency which once led my son to say, "Yes, he would be pleased to go fishing with me if I would only fish in a sportsmanlike manner." What a beautifully marked fish is the sun-perch! Once, in boyhood, I kept six of those "pumpkin-seed" in a cistern, and my smile has never been the same since I lost them—one of my war losses.
I resolved to impound the waters of my spring in the ravine and keep fish at last—without salt—to my heart's content. Yet I remembered certain restraining precepts: first, that law of art which condemns incongruity—requires everything to be in keeping with its natural surroundings—and which therefore, for one thing, makes an American garden the best possible sort of garden to have in America; second, that twin art law, against inutility, which demands that everything in an artistic scheme serve the use it pretends to serve; third, a precept of Colonel Waring's: "Don't fool with running water if you haven't money to fool away"; and, fourth, that best of all gardening rules—look before you leap.
However, on second thought, and tenth, and twentieth, one thought a day for twenty days, I found that if water was to be impounded anywhere on my acre here was the strategic point. Down this ravine, as I have said, was the lawn's one good glimpse of the river, and a kindred gleam intervening would tend, in effect, to draw those farther waters in under the trees and into the picture.
Such relationships are very rewarding to find to whoever would garden well. Hence this mention. One's garden has to do with whatever is in sight from it, fair or otherwise, and it is as feasible and important to plant in the fair as to plant out the otherwise. Also, in making my grove paths, I had noticed that to cross this ravine where at one or two places in its upper half a contour grade would have been pettily circuitous and uninteresting, and to cross it comfortably, there should be either a bridge or a dam; and a dam with water behind it seemed pleasanter every way—showed less incongruity and less inutility—than a bridge with no water under it.
As to "fooling with running water," the mere trickle here in question had to be dragged out of its cradle to make it run at all. It remained for me to find out by experience that even that weakling, imprisoned and grown to a pool, though of only three hundred square feet in surface, when aided and abetted by New England frosts and exposed on a southern slope to winter noonday suns, could give its amateur captor as much trouble—proportionately—as any Hebrew babe drawn from the bulrushes of the Nile is said to have given his.
Now if there is any value in recording these experiences it can be only in the art principles they reveal. To me in the present small instance the principle illustrated was that of the true profile line for ascent or descent in a garden. You may go into any American town where there is any inequality of ground and in half an hour find a hundred or two private lawns graded—from the house to each boundary line—on a single falling curve, or, in plain English, a hump. The best reason why this curve is not artistic, not pleasing, but stupid, is that it is not natural and gains nothing by being unnatural. All gardening is a certain conquest of Nature, and even when "formal" should interfere with her own manner and custom as slightly as is required by the necessities of the case—the needs of that particular spot's human use and joy. The right profile and surface for a lawn of falling grade, the surface which will permanently best beguile both eye and foot, should follow a double curve, an ogee line. For, more or less emphasized, that is Nature's line in all her affable moods on land or water: a descent or ascent beginning gradually, increasing rapidly, and concluding gently. We see it in the face of any smooth knoll or billow. I believe the artists impute to Praxiteles a certain ownership in this double curve. It is a living line; it suggests Nature conscious and astir as no single curve or straight line can.
I admit that even among amateurs this is rather small talk, but it brings me to this point: in the passage of water down a ravine of its own making, this line of Nature astir may repeat itself again and again but is commonly too inaffable, abrupt, angular, to suggest the ogee. In that middle part of it where the descent is swift it may be more or less of a plunge, and after the plunge the water is likely to pause on the third turn, in a natural pool, before resuming its triple action again. And so, in my ravine, some seasons later, I ventured to detain the overflow of my first pool on a second and a third lingering place, augmenting the water supply by new springs developed in the bottoms of the new pools. The second pool has a surface of a thousand square feet, the third spans nineteen hundred, and there are fish in all three, hatched there—"pumpkin-seed" included, but also trout—among spontaneous bulrushes, pond-lilies, flags, and dainty water-weeds; and sometimes at night, when the reflected glory of a ten-o'clock full moon shines up from it to the stone exedra on the lawn, I seem to have taken my Praxitelean curves so directly from Nature that she thinks she took them herself from me and thanks me for the suggestion.
Please observe that of great gardens, or of costly gardens whether great or only costly, we here say nothing. Our theme is such a garden as a householder may himself make and keep or for which, at most, he needs professional advice only in its first planning, and for its upkeep one gardener, with one occasional helper in pressing seasons or in constructional work.
Constructional work. Dams, for example. In two of my dams I built cores of concrete and thus made acquaintance with that interesting material. Later I pressed the acquaintanceship, made garden and grove seats, a table or two, a very modest fountain for a single jet of water in my highest, smallest fish-pool, and even a flight of steps with a pair of gaine-shaped pedestals—suggested by a sculptor friend—at their top. The exedra I mentioned just now is of concrete. The stuff is a temptation to be wary of. The ordinary gray sort—I have touched no other—is a humble medium, and pretentious designs in humble materials are one of the worst, and oldest, of garden incongruities. In my ventures with concrete I have studied for grace in form but grace subordinated to stability, and have shunned embellishment. Embellishment for its own sake is the easiest and commonest sin against good art wherever art becomes self-conscious. It is having a riotous time just now in concrete. I have rarely seen a commercial concrete garden-seat which was not more ornate than I should want it for my own acre. I happen to have two or three articles in my garden which are a trifle elaborate but they are of terra-cotta, are not home-made and would be plainer could I have found them so.
A garden needs furniture only less than a house, and concrete is a boon to "natural" gardening, being inexpensive, rustic, and imperishable. I fancy a chief reason why there is such inconsiderate dearth of seats and steps in our American amateur gardens is the old fashion—so well got rid of at any cost—of rustic cedar and hickory stairs and benches. "Have none of them," was Colonel Waring's injunction; "they are forever out of repair."
But I fear another reason is that so often our gardens are neither for private ease nor social joy, but for public display and are planned mainly for street exhibition. That is the way we commonly treat garden fountains! We make a smug show of unfenced, unhedged, universal hospitality across a sidewalk boundary which nevertheless we hold inviolate—sometimes by means of a painted sign or gas-pipe—and never say "Have a seat" to the dearest friend in any secluded nook of our shrubberies, if there is such a nook. How many of us know a fountain beside an embowered seat where one,—or two,—with or without the book of verses, can sit and hear it whisper or watch the moonlight cover it with silent kisses? In my limited experience I have known of but two. One is by the once favorite thought-promoting summer seat of Augustus Saint-Gaudens on his own home acre in Vermont; the other I need not particularize further than to say that it is one of the things which interlock and unify a certain garden and grove.
The bringing of the grove out on the lawn and the pushing of the lawn in under the grove was one of the early tasks of my own acre. When the house was built its lot and others backed up to a hard, straight rear line where the old field had halted at its fence and where the woods began on ground that fell to the river at an angle of from forty to fifty degrees. Here my gifted friend and adviser gave me a precept got from his earlier gifted friend and adviser, Frederick Law Olmsted: that passing from any part of a pleasure-ground to any part next it should be entirely safe and easy or else impossible. By the application of this maxim I brought my lawn and grove together in one of the happiest of marriages. For I proceeded, by filling with earth (and furnace ashes), to carry the lawn in, practically level, beyond the old fence line and under the chestnuts and pines sometimes six feet, sometimes twelve, until the difficult and unsafe forty or fifty degrees of abrupt fall were changed to an impassable sixty and seventy degrees, and every one's instinctive choice of way was the contour paths.
At the same time this has preserved, and even enhanced, the place's wildness, especially the wild flowers and the low-nesting birds. Sometimes a few yards of retaining-wall, never cemented, always laid up dry and with a strong inward batter, had to be put in to avoid smothering the roots of some great tree; for, as everybody knows and nearly everybody forgets, roots, like fishes, must have air. In one place, across the filled head of a ravine, the wall, though but a scant yard high, is fifty feet long, and there is another place where there should be one like it. In this work no tree was sacrificed save one noble oak done to death by a youth who knew but forgot that roots must have air.
Not to make the work expensive it was pursued slowly, through many successive seasons; yet before even its easy, first half was done the lawn was in under the grove on an apparently natural, irregular crest line. Moreover the grove was out on the lawn with an even more natural haphazard bordering line; for another operation had been carried on meantime. Trees, souvenir trees, had from time to time been planted on the lawn by visiting friends. Most of them are set close enough to the grove to become a part of it, standing in a careful irregularity which has already obliterated, without molesting, the tree line of the ancient fence.
Young senators among their seniors, they still have much growth to make before they can enter into their full forest dignity, yet Henry Ward Beecher's elm is nearly two feet through and has a spread of fifty; Max O'Rell's white-ash is a foot in diameter and fifty feet high; Edward Atkinson's is something more, and Felix Adler's hemlock-spruce, the maple of Anthony Hope Hawkins, L. Clark Seelye's English ash, Henry van Dyke's white-ash, Sol Smith Russell's linden, and Hamilton Wright Mabie's horse-chestnut are all about thirty-five feet high and cast a goodly shade. Sir James M. Barrie's elm—his and Sir William Robertson Nicoll's, who planted it with him later than the plantings aforementioned—has, by some virtue in the soil or in its own energies, reached a height of nearly sixty-five feet and a diameter of sixteen inches. Other souvenirs are a horse-chestnut planted by Minnie Maddern Fiske, a ginkgo by Alice Freeman Palmer, a beech by Paul van Dyke, a horse-chestnut by Anna Hempstead Branch, another by Sir Sidney Lee, yet another by Mary E. Burt, a catalpa by Madelaine Wynne, a Colorado blue spruce—fitly placed after much labor of mind—by Sir Moses Ezekiel, and a Kentucky coffee-tree by Gerald Stanley Lee and Jennette Lee, of our own town. Among these should also stand the maple of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but it was killed in its second winter by an undetected mouse at its roots. Except Sir Moses, all the knights here named received the accolade after their tree plantings, but I draw no moral.
Would it were practicable to transmit to those who may know these trees in later days the scenes of their setting out and to tell just how the words were said which some of the planters spoke. Mr. Beecher, lover of young trees and young children, straightened up after pressing the soil about the roots with hands as well as feet and said: "I cannot wish you to live as long as this tree, but may your children's children and their children sit under its shade." Said Felix Adler to his hemlock-spruce, "Vivat, crescat, floreat"; and a sentiment much like it was implied in Sol Smith Russell's words to the grove's master as they finished putting in his linden together—for he was just then proposing to play Rip Van Winkle, which Joseph Jefferson had finally decided to produce no more: "Here's to your healt', undt der healt' of all your family; may you lif long undt brosper."
We—the first person singular grows tiresome—we might have now, on our acre, a tree planted by Joseph Jefferson had we thought in time to be provided with a sapling, growing, in a tub. Have your prospective souvenir tree already tubbed and waiting. This idea I got from Andrew Carnegie, with whom I had the honor to plant an oak at Skibo Castle and from whom I, like so many others, have had other things almost as good as ideas. Have your prospective souvenir tree tubbed and the tub sunk in the ground, of course, to its rim. Then the dear friend can plant it at any time that he may chance along between March and December. But let no souvenir tree, however planted, be treated, after planting, as other than a living thing if you would be just to it, to your friend, or to yourself. Cultivate it; coax it on; and it will grow two or three or four times as fast as if left to fight its daily battle for life unaided. And do not forbear to plant trees because they grow so slowly. They need not. They do not. With a little attention they grow so swiftly! Before you know it you are sitting in their shade. Besides Sir Arthur's maple the only souvenir tree we have lost was a tulip-tree planted by my friend of half a lifetime, the late Franklin H. Head.
So much for my grove. I write of it not in self-complacency. My many blunders, some of them yet to be made, are a good insurance against that. I write because of the countless acres as good as mine, in this great, dear America, which might now be giving their owners all the healthful pastime, private solace, or solitary or social delights which this one yields, yet which are only "waste lands" or "holes in the ground" because unavailable for house lots or tillage.
And now as to the single acre by measure, of lawn, shrubs, and plants, close around my house; for the reason that it was and is my school of gardening. There was no garden here—I write this in the midst of it—when I began. Ten steps from where I sit there had been a small Indian mound which some one had carefully excavated. I found stone arrow chips on the spot, and one whole arrow-head. So here no one else's earlier skill was in evidence to point my course or impede it. This was my clean new slate and at that time I had never "done a sum" in gardening and got anything like a right answer.
It is emphatically an amateur garden and a book garden: a garden which to me, as to most of us, would have been impossible in any but these days when the whole art of gardening has been printed in books and no amateur is excusable for trying to garden without reading them, or for saying after having read them that he has planned and worked without professional advice. The books are the professional advice, with few drawbacks and with the great advantage that they are ours truly and do not even have to be "'phoned." I should rather have in my library my Bailey's "American Cyclopedia of Horticulture," than any two garden periodicals once a month. These, too, I value, but, for me, they are over-apt to carry too much deckload of the advice and gentle vauntings of other amateurs. I have an amateur's abhorrence of amateurs! The Cyclopedia knows, and will always send me to the right books if it cannot thresh a matter out with me itself. Before Bailey my fount of knowledge was Mr. E. J. Canning, late of Smith College Botanic Gardens; a spring still far from dry.
As the books enjoin, I began my book-gardening with a plan on paper; not the elaborate thing one pays for when he can give his garden more money than time, but a light sketch, a mere fundamental suggestion. This came professionally from a landscape-architect, Miss Frances Bullard, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who had just finished plotting the grounds of my neighbor, the college.
I tell of my own garden for another reason: that it shows, I think, how much can be done with how little, if for the doing you take time instead of money. All things come to the garden that knows how to wait. Mine has acquired at leisure a group of effects which would have cost from ten to twenty times as much if got in a hurry. Garden for ten-year results and get them for next to nothing, and at the same time you may quicken speed whenever your exchequer smiles broadly enough. Of course this argument is chiefly for those who have the time and not the money; for by time we mean play time, time which is money lost if you don't play. The garden that gives the most joy, "Joyous Gard," as Sir Launcelot named his, is not to be bought, like a Circassian slave; it must be brought up, like a daughter. How much of life they can miss who can buy whatever they want whenever they want it!
But I tell first of my own garden also because I believe it summarizes to the eye a number of primary book-rules, authoritative "don'ts," by the observance of which a multitude of amateur gardeners may get better results than it yet shows. Nevertheless, I will hardly do more than note a few exceptions to these ground rules, which may give the rules a more convincing force. First of all, "don't" let any of your planting cut or split your place in two. How many a small house-lot lawn we see split down the middle by a row of ornamental shrubs or fruit-trees which might as easily have been set within a few feet of the property line, whose rigidity, moreover, would have best excused the rigidity of the planted line. But such glaring instances aside, there are many subtler ones quite as unfortunate; "don't" be too sure you are not unwittingly furnishing one.
"Don't" destroy the openness of your sward by dotting it with shrubs or pattern flower-beds. To this rule I doubt if a plausible exception could be contrived. It is so sweeping and so primary that we might well withhold it here were we not seeking to state its artistic reason why. Which is, that such plantings are mere eruptions of individual smartness, without dignity and with no part in any general unity; chirping up like pert children in a company presumably trying to be rational.
On the other hand, I hope my acre, despite all its unconscious or unconfessed mistakes, shows pleasantly that the best openness of a lawn is not to be got between unclothed, right-angled and parallel bounds. The more its verdure-clad borders swing in and out the longer they look, not merely because they are longer but also because they interest and lure the eye. "Where are you going?" says the eye.
"Come and see," says the roaming line.
"Don't" plant in stiff lines except in close relation to architectural or legal bounds. A straight horizontal line Nature scarcely knows save in her rocks and on a vaster scale than we here have to do with. Yet straight lines in gardening are often good and fine if only they are lines of real need. Where, when and in what degree it is good to subordinate utility to beauty or beauty to utility depends on time, place and circumstance, but when in doubt "don't" pinch either to pet the other. Oppression is never good art. Yet "don't" cry war, war, where there is no war. A true beauty and a needed utility may bristle on first collision but they soon make friends. Was it not Ruskin himself who wanted to butt the railway-train off the track and paw up the rails—something like that? But even between them and the landscape there is now an entente cordiale. I have seen the hand of Joseph Pennell make beautiful peace with billboards and telegraph-poles and wires.
The railway points us to the fact that along the ground Nature is as innocent of parallel lines, however bent, as of straight ones, and that in landscape-gardening parallels should be avoided unless they are lines of utility. "Don't" lay parallel lines, either straight or curved, where Nature would not and utility need not. Yet my own acre has taught me a modification of this rule so marked as to be almost an exception. On each side of me next my nearest neighbor I have a turfed alley between a continuous bed of flowering shrubs and plants next the division line, and a similar bed whose meanderings border my lawn. At first I gave these two alleys a sinuous course in correspondence with the windings of the bed bordering the lawn—for they were purely ways of pleasure among the flowers, and a loitering course seemed only reasonable. But sinuous lines proved as disappointing in the alleys as they were satisfying out on the lawn, and by and by I saw that whereas the bendings of the open lawn's borders lured and rewarded the eye, the same curves in the alleys obstructed and baffled it. The show of floral charms was piecemeal, momentary and therefore trivial. "Don't" be trivial!
But a cure was easy. I had to straighten but one side of each alley to restore the eye's freedom of perspective, and nothing more was wanting. The American eye's freedom of perspective is one of our great liberties.
Oh, say, can you see—?
I made this change, of course, on the side nearest the straight, property-division bound, where ran an invisible wire fence. Thus the bed on that side was set between two straight parallels, while the bed on the lawn side remained between waving parallels. This gave the best simplicity with the least artificiality. And thus the two lanes are open to view from end to end, yet each has two deep bays on the side nearest the lawn, bays which remain unseen till one actually reaches them in traversing the lane. In such a bay one should always have, I think, some floral revelation of special charm worthy of the seclusion and the surprise. But this thought is only one of a hundred that tell me my garden is not a finished thing. To its true lover a garden never is.
Another sort of bay, the sort resulting from a swift retreat of a line of shrubberies pursued by the lawn and then swinging round and returning upon the lawn in a counter pursuit, I thought I had learned from books and Miss Bullard and had established on my own acre, until I saw the college gardens of Oxford, England, and the landscape work in Hyde Park, London. On my return thence I made haste to give my own garden's in-and-out curves twice the boldness they had had. And doubling their boldness I doubled their beauty. "Don't" ever let your acre's, or half or quarter acre's, ground lines relax into feebleness or shrink into pettiness. "Don't" ever plan a layout for whose free swing your limits are cramped.
"Don't" ever, if you can help it, says another of my old mistakes to me, let your acre lead your guest to any point which can be departed from only by retracing one's steps. Such necessities involve a lapse—not to say collapse—of interest, which makes for dulness and loss of dignity. Lack what my own acre may, I have it now so that by its alleys, lawns and contour paths in garden and grove we can walk and walk through every part of it without once meeting our own tracks, and that is not all because of the pleasant fact that the walks, where not turfed, are covered with pine-straw, of which each new September drops us a fresh harvest.
A garden, we say, should never compel us to go back the way we came; but in truth a garden should never compel us to do anything. Its don'ts should be laid solely on itself. Those applicable to its master, mistress, or guests should all be impossibilities, not requests. "Private grounds, no crossing"—take that away, please, wherever you can, and plant your margins so that there can be no crossing. Wire nettings hidden by shrubberies from all but the shameless trespasser you will find far more effective, more promotive to beauty and more courteous. "Don't" make your garden a garden of don'ts.
For no garden is quite a garden until it is "Joyous Gard." Let not yours or mine be a garden for display. Then our rhododendrons and like splendors will not be at the front gate, and our grounds be less and less worth seeing the farther into them we go. Nor let yours or mine be a garden of pride. The ways of such a garden are not pleasantness nor its paths peace. And let us not have a garden of tiring care or a user up of precious time. That is not good citizenship. Neither let us have an old-trousers, sun-bonnet, black finger-nails garden—especially if you are a woman. A garden that makes a wife, daughter or sister a dowdy is hardly "Joyous Gard." Neither is one which makes itself a mania to her and an affliction to her family. Let us not even have, you or me, a wonder garden—of arboreal or floral curiosities. Perhaps because I have not travelled enough I have never seen a garden of exotics that was a real garden in any good art sense; in any way, that is, lastingly pleasing to a noble spirit. Let your garden, and let mine, be the garden of joy. For the only way it can be that, on and on, year in, year out, is to be so good in art and so finely human in its purposes that to have it and daily keep it will make us more worth while to ourselves and to mankind than to go without it.
THE AMERICAN GARDEN
Almost any good American will admit it to be a part of our national social scheme, I think,—if we have a social scheme,—that everybody shall aspire to all the refinements of life.
Particularly is it our theory that every one shall propose to give to his home all the joys and graces which are anywhere associated with the name of home. Yet until of late we have neglected the art of gardening. Now and then we see, or more likely we read about, some garden of wonderful beauty; but the very fame of it points the fact that really artistic gardening is not democratically general with us.
Our cities and towns, without number, have the architect and the engineer, for house and for landscape, for sky-scrapers and all manner of public works; we have the nurseryman, the florist; we have parks, shaded boulevards and riverside and lakeside drives. Under private ownership we have a vast multitude of exactly rectilinear lawns, extremely bare or else very badly planted; and we have hundreds of thousands of beautiful dames and girls who "love flowers." But our home gardens, our home gardeners, either professional or amateur, where are they? Our smaller cities by scores and our towns by hundreds are full of home-dwellers each privately puzzled to know why every one of his neighbors' houses, however respectable in architecture, stares at him and after him with a vacant, deaf-mute air of having just landed in this country, without friends.
What ails these dwellings is largely lack of true gardening. They will never look like homes, never look really human and benign, that is, until they are set in a gardening worthy of them. For a garden which alike in its dignity and in its modesty is worthy of the house around which it is set, is the smile of the place.
In the small city of Northampton, Massachusetts, there has been for many years an annual prize competition of amateur flower-gardens. In 1913 there were over a thousand homes, about one-fourth of all the dwellings in the town, in this pretty contest. Not all, not half, these competitors could make a show worthy the name of good gardening, but every one of these households stood pledged to do something during the year for the outdoor improvement of the home, and hundreds of their house lots were florally beautiful. If I seem to hurry into a mention of it here it is partly in the notion that such a recital may be my best credentials as the writer of these pages, and partly in the notion that such a concrete example may possibly have a tendency to help on flower-gardening in the country at large and even to aid us in determining what American flower-gardening had best be.
For the reader's better advantage, however, let me first state one or two general ideas which have given this activity and its picturesque results particular aspects and not others.
I lately heard a lady ask an amateur gardener, "What is the garden's foundation principle?"
There was a certain overgrown pomp in the question's form, but that is how she very modestly asked it, and I will take no liberty with its construction. I thought his reply a good one.
"We have all," he said, "come up from wild nature. In wild nature there are innumerable delights, but they are qualified by countless inconveniences. The cave, tent, cabin, cottage and castle have gradually been evolved by an orderly accumulation and combination of defences and conveniences which secure to us a host of advantages over wild nature and wild man. Yet rightly we are loath to lose any more of nature than we must in order to be her masters and her children in one, and to gather from her the largest fund of profit and delight she can be made to yield. Hence around the cottage, the castle or the palace waves and blooms the garden."
Was he not right? This is why, in our pleasant Northampton affair, we have accepted it as our first rule of private gardening that the house is the climacteric note.
This is why the garden should never be more architectural and artificial than the house of which it is the setting, and this is why the garden should grow less and less architectural and artificial as it draws away from the house. To say the same thing in reverse, the garden, as it approaches the house, should accept more and more discipline—domestication—social refinement, until the house itself at length seems as unabruptly and naturally to grow up out of the garden as the high keynote rises at the end of a lady's song.
By this understanding of the matter what a fine truce-note is blown between the contending advocates of "natural" and of "formal" gardening! The right choice between these two aspects of the art, and the right degree in either choice, depend on the character of the house. The house is a part of the garden. It is the garden's brow and eyes. In gardening, almost the only thing which costs unduly is for us to try to give our house some other house's garden. One's private garden should never be quite so far removed from a state of nature as his house is. Its leading function should be to delight its house's inmates (and intimates) in things of nature so refined as to inspire and satisfy their happiest moods. Therefore no garden should cost, nor look as if it cost, an outlay of money, time or toil that cramps the house's own ability to minister to the genuine bodily needs and spiritual enlargements of its indwellers; and therefore, also, it should never seem to cost, in its first making or in its daily keeping, so much pains as to lack, itself, a garden's supreme essential—tranquillity.
So, then, to those who would incite whole streets of American towns to become florally beautiful, "formal" gardening seems hardly the sort to recommend. About the palatial dwellings of men of princely revenue it may be enchanting. There it appears quite in place. For with all its exquisite artificiality it still is nearer to nature than the stately edifice it surrounds and adorns. But for any less costly homes it costs too much. It is expensive in its first outlay and it demands constantly the greatest care and the highest skill. Our ordinary American life is too busy for it unless the ground is quite handed over to the hired professional and openly betrays itself as that very unsatisfying thing, a "gardener's garden."
Our ordinary American life is also too near nature for the formal garden to come in between. Unless our formal gardening is of some inexpensive sort our modest dwelling-houses give us an anticlimax, and there is no inexpensive sort of formal gardening. Except in the far south our American climate expatriates it.
A very good practical rule would be for none of us to venture upon such gardening until he is well able to keep up an adequate greenhouse. A formal garden without a greenhouse or two—or three—is a glorious army on a war footing, but without a base of supplies. It is largely his greenhouses which make the public gardener and the commercial florist so misleading an example for the cottager to follow in his private gardening.
To be beautiful, formal gardening requires stately proportions. Without these it is almost certain to be petty and frivolous. In the tiny gardens of British and European peasants, it is true, a certain formality of design is often practised with pleasing success; but these gardens are a by-product of peasant toil, and in America we have no joy in contemplating an American home limited to the aspirations of peasant life. In such gardening there is a constraint, a lack of natural freedom, a distance from nature, and a certain contented subserviency, which makes it—however fortunate it may be under other social conditions—wholly unfit to express the buoyant, not to say exuberant, complacencies of the American home. For these we want, what we have not yet quite evolved, the American garden. When this comes it must come, of course, unconsciously; but we may be sure it will not be much like the gardens of any politically shut-in people. No, not even of those supreme artists in gardening, the Japanese. It will express the traits of our American domestic life; our strong individuality and self-assurance, our sense of unguarded security, our affability and unexclusiveness and our dislike to high-walled privacy. If we would hasten its day we must make way for it along the lines of these traits.
On the other hand, if in following these lines we can contrive to adhere faithfully to the worldwide laws of all true art, who knows but our very gardening may tend to correct more than one shortcoming or excess in our national character?
In our Northampton experiment it has been our conviction from the beginning that for a private garden to be what it should be—to have a happy individuality—a countenance of its own—one worthy to be its own—it must in some practical way be the fruit of its householder's own spirit and not merely of some hired gardener's. If one can employ a landscape-architect, all very well; but the most of us cannot, and after all, the true landscape-architect, the artist gardener, works on this principle and seeks to convey into every garden distinctively the soul of the household for which it springs and flowers.
"Since when it grows and smells, I swear, Not of itself but thee."
Few American householders, however, have any enthusiasm for this theory, which many would call high-strung, and as we in Northampton cannot undertake to counsel and direct our neighbors' hired helps, we enroll in the main branch of our competition only those who garden for themselves and hire no labor. To such the twenty-one prizes, ranging from two dollars and a half up to fifteen dollars, are a strong incentive, and by such the advice of visiting committees is eagerly sought and followed. The public educative value of the movement is probably largest under these limitations, for in this way we show what beautiful results may be got on smallest grounds and with the least outlay. Its private educative value, too, is probably largest thus, because thus we disseminate as a home delight a practical knowledge of aesthetic principles among those who may at any time find it expedient to become wage-earning gardeners on the home grounds of the well-to-do.
The competing gardens being kept wholly without hired labor, of course our constant advice to all contestants is to shun formal gardening. It is a pity that in nearly all our cities and towns the most notable examples of gardening are found in the parks, boulevards, and cemeteries. By these flaring displays thousands of modest cottagers who might easily provide, on their small scale, lovely gardens about their dwellings at virtually no cost and with no burdensome care, get a notion that this, and this only, is artistic gardening and hence that a home garden for oneself would be too expensive and troublesome to be thought of. On the other hand, a few are tempted to mimic them on a petty scale, and so spoil their little grass-plots and amuse, without entertaining, their not more tasteful but only less aspiring neighbors. In Northampton, in our Carnegie prize contest—so called for a very sufficient and pleasant reason—our counsel is to avoid all mimicry in gardening as we would avoid it in speech or in gait. Sometimes we do not mind being repetitious. "In gardening" we say—as if we had never said it before—"almost the only thing which costs unduly—in money or in mortification—is for one to try to give himself somebody else's garden!" Often we say this twice to the same person.
One of the reasons we give against it is that it leads to toy gardening, and toy gardening is of all sorts the most pitiful and ridiculous. "No true art," we say, "can tolerate any make-believe which is not in some way finer than the reality it simulates. In other words, imitation should always be in the nature of an amiable condescension. Whatever falseness, pretension or even mere frailty or smallness, suggests to the eye the ineffectuality of a toy is out of place in any sort of gardening." We do not actually speak all this, but we imply it, and we often find that the mere utterance of the one word, "toy gardening," has a magical effect to suggest all the rest and to overwhelm with contrition the bad taste and frivolity of many a misguided attempt at adornment. At that word of exorcism joints of cerulean sewer-pipe crested with scarlet geraniums, rows of whited cobbles along the walk or drive like a cannibal's skulls around his hut, purple paint-kegs of petunias on the scanty door-steps, crimson wash-kettles of verbenas, ant-hill rockeries, and well-sweeps and curbs where no wells are, steal modestly and forever into oblivion.
Now, when we so preach we try also to make it very plain that there is not one set of rules for gardening on a small scale of expense in a small piece of ground, and another set for gardening on a larger scale. For of course the very thing which makes the small garden different from the large, the rich man's from the poor man's, the Scotch or Italian peasant's from the American mechanic's, or the public garden from the private, is the universal and immutable oneness of the great canons of art. One of our competitors, having honestly purged her soul of every impulse she may ever have had to mimic the gardening of the cemeteries, planted her dooryard with a trueness of art which made it the joy of all beholders. Only then was it that a passing admirer stopped and cried: "Upon me soul, Mrs. Anonyma, yir gyairden looks joost loike a pooblic pairk!" He meant—without knowing it—that the spot was lovely for not trying to look the least bit like a public park, and he was right. She had kept what it would be well for the public gardeners to keep much better than some of them do—the Moral Law of Gardening.
* * * * *
There is a moral law of gardening. No garden should ever tell a lie. No garden should ever put on any false pretence. No garden should ever break a promise. To the present reader these proclamations may seem very trite; it may seem very trite to say that if anything in or of a garden is meant for adornment, it must adorn; but we have to say such things to many who do not know what trite means—who think it is something you buy from the butcher. A thing meant for adornment, we tell them, must so truly and sufficiently adorn as to be worth all the room and attention it takes up. Thou shalt not let anything in thy garden take away thy guest's attention without repaying him for it; it is stealing.
A lady, not in our competition but one of its most valued patronesses, lately proposed to herself to place in the centre of a wide, oval lawn a sun-dial and to have four paths cross the grass and meet there. But on reflection the query came to her—
"In my unformal garden of simplest grove and sward will a sun-dial—posing in an office it never performed there, and will never again be needed for anywhere—a cabinet relic now—will a posed sun-dial be interesting enough when it is arrived at to justify a special journey and four kept-up paths which cut my beautiful grass-plot into quarters?"
With that she changed her mind—a thing the good gardener must often do—and appointed the dial to a place where one comes upon it quite incidentally while moving from one main feature of the grounds to another. It is now a pleasing, mild surprise instead of a tame fulfilment of a showy promise; pleasing, after all, it must, however, be admitted, to the toy-loving spirit, since the sun-dial has long been, and henceforth ever will be, an utterly useless thing in a garden, only true to art when it stands in an old garden, a genuine historical survival of its day of true utility. Only in such a case does the sun-dial belong to the good morals of gardening. But maybe this is an overstrict rule for the majority of us who are much too fond of embellishments and display—the rouge and powder of high art.
On the other hand, we go to quite as much pains to say that though a garden may not lie nor steal, it may have its concealments; they are as right as they are valuable. One of the first steps in the making of a garden should be to determine what to hide and how most gracefully to hide it. A garden is a house's garments, its fig-leaves, as we may say, and the garden's concealments, like its revelations, ought always to be in the interest of comfort, dignity, and charm.
We once had a very bumptious member on our board of judges. "My dear madam!" he exclaimed to an aspirant for the prizes, the underpinning of whose dwelling stood out unconcealed by any sprig of floral growth, "your house is barefooted! Nobody wants to see your house's underpinning, any more than he wants to see your own!"
It is not good to be so brusque about non-penitentiary offences, but skilful and lovely concealments in gardening were his hobby. To another he whispered, "My dear sir, tell your pretty house her petticoat shows!" and to yet another, "Take all those shrubs out of the middle of your lawn and 'plant out' with them every feature of your house which would be of no interest to you if the house were not yours. Your house's morals may be all right, but its manners are insufferable, it talks so much about itself and its family." To a fourth he said: "In a gardening sense your house makes too much noise; you can hear its right angles hit the ground. Muffle them! Muffle your architectural angles in foliage and bloom. Up in the air they may be ever so correct and fine, but down in the garden and unclothed they are heinous, heinous!"
Another precept we try to inculcate in our rounds among the gardens, another commandment in the moral law of gardening, is that with all a garden's worthy concealments it should never, and need never, be frivolous or be lacking in candor. I know an amateur gardener—and the amateur gardener, like the amateur photographer, sometimes ranks higher than the professional—who is at this moment altering the location of a sidewalk gate which by an earlier owner was architecturally misplaced for the sole purpose of making a path with curves—and such curves!—instead of a straight and honest one, from the street to the kitchen. When a path is sent on a plain business errand it should never loaf. And yet those lines of a garden's layout which are designed not for business but for pleasure, should never behave as though they were on business; they should loiter just enough to make their guests feel at ease, while not enough to waste time. How like a perfect lady, or a perfect gentleman, is—however humble or exalted its rank—a garden with courtly manners!
As to manners, our incipient American garden has already developed one trait which distinguishes it from those beyond the Atlantic. It is a habit which reminds one of what somebody has lately said about Americans themselves: that, whoever they are and whatever their manners may be, they have this to their credit, that they unfailingly desire and propose to be polite. The thing we are hinting at is our American gardens' excessive openness. Our people have, or until just now had, almost abolished the fence and the hedge. A gard, yard, garth, garden, used to mean an enclosure, a close, and implied a privacy to its owner superior to any he enjoyed outside of it. But now that we no longer have any military need of privacy we are tempted—are we not?—to overlook its spiritual value. We seem to enjoy publicity better. In our American eagerness to publish everything for everybody and to everybody, we have published our gardens—published them in paper bindings; that is to say, with their boundaries visible only on maps filed with the Registrar of Deeds.
Foreigners who travel among us complain that we so overdo our good-natured endurance of every public inconvenience that we have made it a national misfortune and are losing our sense of our public rights. This obliteration of private boundaries is an instance. Our public spirit and out imperturbability are flattered by it, but our gardens, except among the rich, have become American by ceasing to be gardens.
I have a neighbor who every year plants a garden of annuals. He has no fence, but two of his neighbors have each a setter dog. These dogs are rarely confined. One morning I saw him put in the seed of his lovely annuals and leave his smoothly raked beds already a pleasant show and a prophecy of delight while yet without a spray of green. An hour later I saw those two setter dogs wrestling and sprawling around in joyous circles all over those garden beds. "Gay, guiltless pair!" What is one to do in such a case, in a land where everybody is expected to take everything good-naturedly, and where a fence is sign of a sour temper? Of course he can do as others do, and have no garden. But to have no garden is a distinct poverty in a householder's life, whether he knows it or not, and—suppose he very much wants a garden?
They were the well-to-do who began this abolition movement against enclosures and I have an idea it never would have had a beginning had there prevailed generally, democratically, among us a sentiment for real gardening, and a knowledge of its practical principles; for with this sentiment and knowledge we should have had that sweet experience of outdoor privacy for lack of which we lose one of the noblest charms of home. The well-to-do started the fashion, it cost less money to follow than to withstand it and presently the landlords of the poor utilized it.
The poor man—the poor woman—needs the protection of a fence to a degree of which the well-to-do know nothing. In the common interest of the whole community, of any community, the poor man—the poor woman—ought to have a garden; but if they are going to have a garden they ought to have a fence. We in Northampton know scores of poor homes whose tenants strive year after year to establish some floral beauty about them, and fail for want of enclosures. The neighbors' children, their dogs, their cats, geese, ducks, hens—it is useless. Many refuse to make the effort; some, I say, make it and give it up, and now and then some one wins a surprising and delightful success. Two or three such have taken high prizes in our competition. The two chief things which made their triumph possible were, first, an invincible passion for gardening, and, second, poultry-netting.
A great new boon to the home gardener they are, these wire fencings and nettings. With them ever so many things may be done now at a quarter or tenth of what they would once have cost. Our old-fashioned fences were sometimes very expensive, sometimes very perishable, sometimes both. Also they were apt to be very ugly. Yet instead of concealing them we made them a display, while the shrubbery which should have masked them in leaf and bloom stood scattered over the lawn, each little new bush by itself, visibly if not audibly saying—
"You'd scarce expect one of my age——"
etc.; the shrubs orphaned, the lawn destroyed.
If the enclosure was a hedge it had to be a tight one or else it did not enclose. Now wire netting charms away these embarrassments. Your hedge can be as loose as you care to have it, while your enclosure may be rigidly effective yet be hidden from the eye by undulating fence-rows; and as we now have definite bounds and corners to plant out, we do not so often as formerly need to be reminded of Frederick Law Olmsted's favorite maxim, "Take care of the corners, and the centres will take care of themselves."
Here there is a word to be added in the interest of home-lovers, whose tastes we properly expect to find more highly trained than those of the average tenant cottager. Our American love of spaciousness leads us to fancy that—not to-day or to-morrow, but somewhere in a near future—we are going to unite our unfenced lawns in a concerted park treatment: a sort of wee horticultural United States comprised within a few city squares; but ever our American individualism stands broadly in the way, and our gardens almost never relate themselves to one another with that intimacy which their absence of boundaries demands in order to take on any special beauty, nobility, delightsomeness, of gardening. The true gardener—who, if he is reading this, must be getting very tired of our insistent triteness—carefully keeps in mind the laws of linear and of aerial perspective, no matter how large or small the garden. The relative stature of things, both actual and prospective; their breadth; the breadth or slenderness, darkness or lightness, openness or density, of their foliage; the splendor or delicacy of their flowers, whether in size or in color; the season of their blooming; the contour of the grounds—all these points must be taken into account in determining where things are to stand and how be grouped. Once the fence or hedge was the frame of the picture; but now our pictures, on almost any street of unpalatial, comfortable homes, touch edge to edge without frames, and the reason they do not mar one another's effects is that they have no particular effects to be marred, but lie side by side as undiscordantly as so many string instruments without strings. Let us hope for a time when they will rise in insurrection, resolved to be either parts of a private park, or each one a whole private garden.
In our Carnegie prize contest nothing yields its judges more pleasure than to inculcate the garden rules of perspective to which we have just referred and to see the blissful complacency of those who successfully carry them out. I have now in my mind's eye a garden to which was awarded the capital prize of 1903. A cottage of maybe six small rooms crowns a high bank on a corner where two rural streets cross. There are a few square yards of lawn on its front, and still fewer (scarcely eight or ten) on the side next the cross-street, but on the other two sides there is nearly a quarter of an acre. On these two sides the limits touch other gardens, and all four sides are entirely without fencing. From the front sward have been taken away a number of good shrubs which once broke it into ineffectual bits, and these have been grouped against the inward and outward angles of the house. The front porch is garlanded—not smothered—with vines whose flowers are all white, pink, blue or light purple. About the base of the porch and of all the house's front, bloom flowers of these same delicate tints, the tallest nearest the house, the lesser at their knees and feet. The edges of the beds—gentle waves that never degenerate to straightness—are thickly bordered with mignonette. Not an audacious thing, not a red blossom nor a strong yellow one, nor one broad leaf, nor any mass of dense or dark foliage, comes into view until one reaches a side of the dwelling. But there at once he finds the second phase in a crescendo of floral colors. The base of the house, and especially those empty eye-sockets, the cellar windows, are veiled in exultant bloom, yellows predominating. Then at the back of the place comes the full chorus, and red flowers overmaster the yellow, though the delicate tints with which the scheme began are still present to preserve the dignity and suavity of all—the ladies of the feast. The paths are only one or two and they never turn abruptly and ask you to keep off their corners; they have none. Neither have the flower-beds. They flow wideningly around the hard turnings of the house with the grace of a rivulet. Out on the two wider sides of the lawn nothing breaks the smooth green but a well-situated tree or two until the limits of the premises are reached, and there, in lines that widen and narrow and widen again and hide the surveyor's angles, the flowers rise once more in a final burst of innumerable blossoms and splendid hues—a kind of sunset of the garden's own.
When this place, five seasons ago, first entered the competition, it could hardly be called a garden at all. Yet it was already superior to many rivals. In those days it seemed to us as though scarcely one of our working people in a hundred knew that a garden was anything more than a bed of flowers set down anywhere and anyhow. It was a common experience for us to be led by an unkept path and through a patch of weeds or across an ungrassed dooryard full of rubbish, in order to reach a so-called garden which had never spoken a civil word to the house nor got one from it. Now, the understanding is that every part of the premises, every outdoor thing on the premises—path, fence, truck-patch, stable, stable-yard, hen-yard, tennis or croquet-court—everything is either a part of the garden or is so reasonably related to it that from whatever point one views the place he beholds a single satisfactory picture.
This, I say, is the understanding. I do not say that even among our prize-winners anybody has yet perfectly attained this, although a few have come very near it. With these the main surviving drawback is that the artistic effect is each season so long coming and passes away so soon—cometh up as a flower and presently has withered.
One of our most gifted literary critics a while ago pointed out the poetic charm of evanescence; pointed it out more plainly, I fancy, than it has ever been shown before. But evanescence has this poetic charm chiefly in nature, almost never in art. The transitoriness of a sunset glory, or of human life, is rife with poetic pathos because it is a transitoriness which cannot be helped. Therein lay the charm of that poetic wonder and marvel of its day (1893) the Columbian Exposition's "White City"; it was an architectural triumph and glory which we could not have except on condition that it should vanish with the swiftness of an aurora. Even so, there would have been little poetry in its evanescence if, through bad workmanship or any obvious folly, it had failed to fulfil the transient purpose for which it was erected. The only poetic evanescence is the evanescence that is inevitable. An unnecessary evanescence in things we make is bad art. If I remember the story correctly, it was to a Roman lady that Benvenuto Cellini took the exquisite waxen model of some piece of goldsmithing she had commissioned him to execute for her. So delighted was she with this mere model that she longed to keep it and called it the perfection of art, or some such word. But Benvenuto said, No, he could not claim for it the high name of art until he should have reproduced it in gold, that being the most worthy material in which it would endure the use for which it was designed.
Unless the great Italian was in error, then, a garden ought not to be so largely made up of plants which perish with the summer as to be, at their death, no longer a garden. Said that harsh-spoken judge whom we have already once or twice quoted—that shepherd's-dog of a judge—at one of the annual bestowals of our Carnegie garden prizes:
"Almost any planting about the base of a building, fence or wall is better than none; but for this purpose shrubs are far better than annual flowers. Annuals do not sufficiently mask the hard, offensive right-angles of the structure's corners or of the line whence it starts up from the ground. And even if sometimes they do, they take so long to grow enough to do it, and are so soon gone with the first cold blast, that the things they are to hide are for the most of the year not hidden. Besides which, even at their best moments, when undoubtedly they are very beautiful, they have not a sufficiently substantial look to be good company for the solid structure they are set against. Sweetly, modestly, yet obstinately, they confess to every passer-by that they did not come, but were put there and were put there only last spring. Shrubs, contrariwise, give a feeling that they have sprung and grown there in the course of nature and of the years, and so convey to the house what so many American homes stand in want of—a quiet air of being long married and a mother of growing children.
"Flowering shrubs of well-chosen kinds are in leaf two-thirds of the year, and their leafless branches and twigs are a pleasing relief to the structure's cold nakedness even through the winter. I have seen a house, whose mistress was too exclusively fond of annuals, stand waiting for its shoes and stockings from October clear round to August, and then barefooted again in October. In such gardening there is too much of love's labor lost. If one's grounds are so small that there is no better place for the annuals they can be planted against the shrubs, as the shrubs are planted against the building or fence. At any rate they should never be bedded out in the midst of the lawn, and quite as emphatically they should never, alone, be set to mark the boundary lines of a property."
It is hoped these sayings, quoted or otherwise, may seem the more in place here because they contemplate the aspects likely to characterize the American garden whenever that garden fully arrives. We like largeness. There are many other qualities to desire, and to desire even more; but if we give them also the liking we truly owe them it is right for us to like largeness. Certainly it is better to like largeness even for itself, rather than smallness for itself. Especially is it right that we should like our gardens to look as large as we can make them appear. Our countless lawns, naked clear up into their rigid corners and to their dividing lines, are naked in revolt against the earlier fashion of spotting them over with shrubs, the easiest as well as the worst way of making a place look small. But a naked lawn does not make the premises look as large, nor does it look as large itself, as it will if planted in the manner we venture to commend to our Northampton prize-seekers. Between any two points a line of shrubbery swinging in and out in strong, graceful undulations appears much longer than a straight one, because it is longer. But, over and above this, it makes the distance between the two points seem greater. Everybody knows the old boast of the landscape-architects—that they can make one piece of ground look twice as large as another of the same measure, however small, by merely grading and planting the two on contrary schemes. The present writer knows one small street in his town, a street of fair dwellings, on which every lawn is diminished to the eye by faulty grading.
For this he has no occasion to make himself responsible but there are certain empty lots not far from him for whose aspect he is answerable, having graded them himself (before he knew how). He has repeatedly heard their depth estimated at ninety feet, never at more. In fact it is one hundred and thirty-nine. However, he has somewhat to do also with a garden whose grading was quite as bad—identical, indeed—whose fault has been covered up and its depth made to seem actually greater than it is, entirely by a corrective planting of its shrubbery.
One of the happiest things about gardening is that when it is bad you can always—you and time—you and year after next—make it good. It is very easy to think of the plants, beds and paths of a garden as things which, being once placed, must stay where they are; but it is shortsighted and it is fatal to effective gardening. We should look upon the arrangement of things in our garden very much as a housekeeper looks on the arrangement of the furniture in her house. Except buildings, pavements and great trees—and not always excepting the trees—we should regard nothing in it as permanent architecture but only as furnishment and decoration. At favorable moments you will make whatever rearrangement may seem to you good. A shrub's mere being in a certain place is no final reason that it should stay there; a shrub or a dozen shrubs—next spring or fall you may transplant them. A shrub, or even a tree, may belong where it is this season, and the next and the next; and yet in the fourth year, because of its excessive growth, of the more desired growth of something else, or of some rearrangement of other things, that spot may be no longer the best place for it.
Very few shrubs are injured by careful and seasonable, even though repeated, transplanting. Many are benefited by one or another effect of the process: by the root pruning they get, by the "division," by the change of soil, by change of exposure or even by backset in growth. Transplanting is part of a garden's good discipline. It is almost as necessary to the best results as pruning—on which grave subject there is no room to speak here. The owner even of an American garden should rule his garden, not be ruled by it. Yet he should rule without oppression, and it will not be truly American if it fails to show at a glance that it is not overgardened.
Thus do we propose to exhort our next season's competitors as this fall and winter they gather at our projected indoor garden-talks, or as we go among them to offer counsel concerning their grounds plans for next spring. And we hope not to omit to say, as we had almost omitted to say here, in behalf of the kind of garden we preach, that shrubs, the most of them, require no great enrichment of the soil—an important consideration. And we shall take much care to recommend the perusal of books on gardening. Once this gentle art was largely kept a close secret of craftsmen; but now all that can be put into books is in books, and the books are non-technical, brief and inexpensive; or if voluminous and costly, as some of the best needs must be, are in the public libraries. In their pages are a host of facts (indexed!) which once had to be burdensomely remembered. For one preoccupied with other cares—as every amateur gardener ought to be—these books are no mean part of his equipment; they are as necessary to his best gardening as the dictionary to his best English.
What a daily, hourly, unfailing wonder are the modern opportunities and facilities by which we are surrounded! If the present reader and the present writer, and maybe a few others, will but respond to them worthily, who knows but we may ourselves live to see, and to see as democratically common as telephones and electric cars, the American garden? Of course there is ever and ever so much more to be said about it, and the present writer is not at all weary; but he hears his reader's clock telling the hour and feels very sure it is correct.
WHERE TO PLANT WHAT
Often one's hands are too heavily veneered with garden loam for him to go to his books to verify a quotation. It was the great Jefferson, was it not, who laid into the foundations of American democracy the imperishable maxim that "That gardening is best which gardens the least"? My rendition of it may be more a parody than a quotation but, whatever its inaccuracy, to me it still sounds Jeffersonian—Joseph Jeffersonian.
Whether we read it "garden" or "govern," it has this fine mark of a masterful utterance, that it makes no perceptible effort to protect itself against the caviller or the simpleton; from men, for instance, who would interpret it as meaning that the only perfect government, or gardening, is none at all. Speaking from the point of view of a garden-lover, I suppose the true signification is that the best government is the government which procures and preserves the noblest happiness of the community with the least enthralment of the individual.
Now, I hope that as world-citizens and even as Americans we may bear in mind that, while this maxim may be wholly true, it is not therefore the whole truth. What maxim is? Let us ever keep a sweet, self-respecting modesty with which to confront and consort with those who see the science of government, or art of gardening, from the standpoint of some other equally true fraction of the whole truth. All we need here maintain for our Jeffersonian maxim is that its wide domination in American sentiment explains the larger part of all the merits and faults of American government—and American gardening. It accounts for nearly all our American laws and ordinances, manners, customs, and whims, and in the great discussion of Where to Plant What (in America) no one need hope to prevail who does not recognize that this high principle of American democracy is the best rule for American gardening. That gardening is best, for most Americans, which best ministers to man's felicity with least disturbance of nature's freedom.
Hence the initial question—a question which every amateur gardener must answer for himself. How much subserviency of nature to art and utility is really necessary to my own and my friends' and neighbors' best delight? For—be not deceived—however enraptured of wild nature you may be, you do and must require of her some subserviency close about your own dwelling. You cannot there persistently enjoy the wolf and the panther, the muskrat, buzzard, gopher, rattlesnake, poison-ivy and skunk in full swing, as it were. How much, then, of nature's subserviency does the range of your tastes demand? Also, how much will your purse allow? For it is as true in gardening as in statecraft that, your government being once genuinely established, the more of it you have, the more you must pay for it. In gardening, as in government, the cost of the scheme is not in proportion to the goodness or badness of its art, but to its intensity.
This is why the general and very sane inclination of our American preferences is away from that intense sort of gardening called "formal," and toward that rather unfairly termed "informal" method which here, at least, I should like to distinguish as "free-line" gardening. A free people who govern leniently will garden leniently. Their gardening will not be a vexing tax upon themselves, upon others, or upon the garden. Whatever freedom it takes away from themselves or others or the garden will be no more than is required for the noblest delight; and whatever freedom remains untaken, such gardening will help everybody to exercise and enjoy.
The garden of free lines, provided only it be a real garden under a real government, is, to my eye, an angel's protest against every species and degree of tyranny and oppression, and such a garden, however small or extensive, will contain a large proportion of flowering shrubbery. Because a garden should not, any more than my lady's face, have all its features—nose, eyes, ears, lips—of one size? No, that is true of all gardening alike; but because with flowering shrubbery our gardening can be more lenient than with annuals alone, or with only herbaceous plants and evergreens.
So, then, our problem, Where to Plant What, may become for a moment, Where to Plant Shrubbery; and the response of the free-line garden will be, of course, "Remember, concerning each separate shrub, that he or she—or it, if you really prefer the neuter—is your guest, and plant him or her or it where it will best enjoy itself, while promoting the whole company's joy." Before it has arrived in the garden, therefore, learn—and carefully consider—its likes and dislikes, habits, manners and accomplishments and its friendly or possibly unfriendly relations with your other guests. This done, determine between whom and whom you will seat it; between what and what you will plant it, that is, so as to "draw it out," as we say of diffident or reticent persons; or to use it for drawing out others of less social address. But how many a lovely shrub has arrived where it was urgently invited, and found that its host or hostess, or both, had actually forgotten its name! Did not know how to introduce it to any fellow guest, or whether it loved sun or shade, loam, peat, clay, leaf-mould or sand, wetness or dryness; and yet should have found all that out in the proper blue-book (horticultural dictionary) before inviting the poor mortified guest at all.
"Oh, pray be seated—anywhere. Plant yourself alone in the middle. This is Liberty Garden."
"It is no such thing," says the tear-bedewed beauty to herself; "it's Anarchy Garden." Yet, like the lady she is, she stays where she is put, and gets along surprisingly well.
New England calls Northampton one of her most beautiful towns. But its beauty lies in the natural landscape in and around it, in the rise, fall, and swing of the seat on which it sits, the graceful curving of its streets, the noble spread of its great elms and maples, the green and blue openness of grounds everywhere about its modest homes and its highly picturesque outlook upon distant hills and mountains and intervening meadows and fields, with the Connecticut winding through. Its architecture is in three or four instances admirable though not extraordinary, and, as in almost every town in our vast America, there are hardly five householders in it who are really skilled flower-gardeners, either professional or amateur.
As the present century was coming in, however, the opportunity, through private flower-gardening, to double or quadruple the town's beauty and to do it without great trouble or expense, yet with great individual delight and social pleasure, came to the lively notice of a number of us. It is, then, for the promotion of this object throughout all our bounds, and not for the perfection of the art for its own sake, that we maintain this competition and award these "Carnegie" prizes. Hence certain features of our method the value and necessity of which might not be clear to the casual inquirer without this explanation.
May I repeat it? Not to reward two or three persons yearly for reaching some dizzy peak of art unattainable by ordinary taste and skill, nor to reward one part of the town or one element of its people for gardening better than another, nor to promote the production of individual plants or flowers of extraordinary splendor, nor even to incite children to raise patches of flowers, is our design; but to make the modest and democratic art of Where to Plant What (an art, nevertheless, quite beyond the grasp of children) so well known and so valued that its practical adoption shall overrun the whole town.
To this end we have divided our field into seven districts, in each of which the number of gardens is about the same. In each of these seven districts only three prizes (out of twenty-one) may be taken in any one season. Consequently three prizes must fall to each district every year. Yet the best garden of all still carries off the capital prize, the second-best may win the second, and cannot take a lower than the third, and the lowest awards go into the district showing the poorest results. Even this plan is so modified as further to stimulate those who strive against odds of location or conditions, for no district is allowed to receive two prizes consecutive in the list. The second prize cannot be bestowed in the same district in which the first is being awarded, though the third can. The third cannot go into the same district as the second, though the fourth may. And so on to the twenty-first. Moreover, a garden showing much improvement over the previous season may take a prize, as against a better garden which shows no such improvement. Also no garden can take the capital prize twice nor ever take a prize not higher than it has taken before. The twenty-one prizes are for those who hire no help in their gardening; two others are for those who reserve the liberty to employ help, and still another two are exclusively for previous winners of the capital prize, competing among themselves. In each of the five districts a committee of ladies visits the competing gardens, inspecting, advising, encouraging, sometimes learning more than they teach, and reporting to headquarters, the People's Institute. At these headquarters, on two acres of ground in the heart of the city, we have brought gradually into shape, on a plan furnished by Frederick Law Olmsted's Sons, Landscape Architects, of Boston (Brookline), a remarkably handsome garden of flowers and shrubbery designed as a model for the guidance of those in the competition who seek to combine artistic beauty with inexpensiveness. From time to time we have given at these headquarters winter courses of lectures on practical flower-gardening.
As a result we have improved, and are still improving, the aspect of entire streets and are interesting the whole city.
But to return to our discussion. Here is a short story of two ladies. They are not in our competition, though among its most ardent well-wishers. A friend had given one of them a bit of green, woody growth some two feet high and half an inch thick. She had a wee square bit of front grass-plot something larger than a table-cloth, but certainly not large enough for a game of marbles. In the centre of this bit of grass she planted her friend's gift. Then came our other lady, making a call, and with her best smile of humorous commendation, saying:
"My dear, you have violated the first rule of gardening. You've planted your bush where you wanted it."
The delighted gardener went in the strength of that witticism for forty weeks or at least until some fiend of candor, a brother, like as not, said:
"Yes, truly you have violated the first rule of gardening, for you have put your willow-tree—that's what it is—where a minute's real reflection would have told you you'd wish you hadn't."
Where to Plant What! Plant it where you—and your friends—your friends of best gardening taste—will be glad you planted it when all your things are planted. Please those who know best, and so best please yourself. Nevertheless, beware! Watch yourself! Do so specially when you think you have mastered the whole art. Watch even those who indisputably know better than you do, for everybody makes mistakes which he never would have dreamed he could make. Only the other day I heard an amateur say to a distinguished professional gardener:
"Did you plant those shrubs of gorgeous flower and broad, dark leaf out on your street front purely as a matter of artistic taste?"
"I did," he replied. "I wanted to put my best foot foremost. Wouldn't you?"
"Why should I?" asked the amateur. "I wouldn't begin a song with my highest note, nor a game with my strongest card, nor an address with my most impassioned declaration, nor a sonnet with its most pregnant line. If I should, where were my climax?"
Certainly the amateur had the best of it. A garden is a discourse. A garden is a play. See with what care both the dramatist and the stage-manager avoid putting the best foot foremost. See how warily they hold back the supreme strength of the four or five act piece for the last act but one. There is a charmingly instructive analogy between a garden and a drama. In each you have preparation, progress, climax, and close. And then, also, in each you must have your lesser climaxes leading masterfully up to the supreme one, and a final quiet one to let gratefully down from the giddy height.
In Northampton nearly all of our hundreds of gardens contesting for prizes are plays of only one or two acts. I mean they have only one or two buildings to garden up to and between and around and away from. Yet it is among these one-act plays, these one-house gardens, that I find the art truth most gracefully emphasized, that the best foot should not go foremost. In a large garden a false start may be atoned for by better art farther on and in; but in a small garden, for mere want of room and the chance to forget, a bad start spoils all. No, be the garden a prince's or a cottager's, the climaxes to be got by superiority of stature, by darkness and breadth of foliage and by splendor of bloom belong at its far end. Even in the one-house garden I should like to see the climaxes plural to the extent of two; one immediately at the back of the house, the other at the extreme rear of the ground. At the far end of the lot I would have the final storm of passion and riot of disclosure, and then close about the rear of the house there should be the things of supreme richness, exquisiteness and rarity.
This soft-voiced echo answering back out of the inmost heart of the whole demesne gives genuineness of sentiment to the entire scheme. To plant a conflagration of color against the back fence and stop there would be worse than melodramatic. It would be to close the play with a bang, and even a worthy one-act play does not close with a bang. The back of the lot is not the absolute end of the garden-play. Like the stage-play, the garden-play brings its beholder back at the very last, by a sweet reversion, to the point from which it started. The true garden-lover gardens not mainly for the passer-by, but rather for himself and the friends who come to see him. Even when he treads his garden paths alone he is a pleased and welcome visitor to himself, and shows his garden to himself as to a visitor. Hence there is always at last a turning back to the house or to the front entrance, and this is the play's final lines, the last grouping of the players, the relief of all tension and the descent of the curtain.