Home garden design > Gardening advice

Gardening advice

Gardening adviceBefore bringing his attention to bear on special cases, the garden designer must have clearly in view the general principles which are the underlying features of all good work. In this way more real progress will be made, and far deeper insight obtained into the mysteries of garden planning and arrangement, than by the most devoted study of complicated plans, or the careful examination of the methods of any particular school, no matter how excellent its teaching.

It is useless attempting to compass the most simple form of design if all the while we are ignorant of those elementary laws which are mainly the outcome of common-sense and good taste. The greatest danger to which the novice is subjected, that of being hopelessly confused by a multiplicity of styles, of which by the way we hear far too much, is considerably lessened if he will but bear in mind the few laws which tend to show that gardening is not a mere haphazard science, but one founded on a very sure and substantial base.

No matter what style of garden arrangement is contemplated, or whether we are going to Japan or Holland for inspiration, our work is bound to prove unsatisfactory unless beneath the outer veneer which proclaims its origin there is observable a respect for Nature's teaching, and a due regard for the dictates of artistic feeling and ordinary good taste.

The first point to be aimed at in all good gardens, is to secure a reasonable amount of comfort and convenience for those for whom their pleasures are intended. Nor is there any defence which can be argued in favour of an opposite course. A garden is devised primarily for the edification and enjoyment of man, in the same way that good pictures, good buildings and other forms of artistic effort are intended. Mere utility is not sufficient, neither is mere beauty, it is a combination of the two which must be sought.

In the designing of socalled artistic gardens many ridiculous schemes have been perpetrated, calculated in the end to disgust all right-thinking people, and convince others of the shallowness of certain forms of modern art. Of what use is it growing flowers and trees, if no facilities for close examination are afforded those who use the garden? Can a design which denies us conveniently arranged paths, and comfortable resting places from which to enjoy the best views, be considered in any way satisfactory? Depend upon it, the man who is for ever telling us that such and such an arrangement would be more convenient, but could not be tolerated on the score of art, possesses but very superficial ideas on the question.

It was folly of this kind that prompted certain designers to make their paths twist and curve in all directions: Nature, they said, abhorred straight lines, so they compelled pedestrians to walk double the necessary distance to reach any particular object. Any plan must be regarded with suspicion, which when applied to the garden affords a pleasing prospect from the windows of the house, but presents no inducements for closer inspection. During both wet and dry weather it should be possible to visit certain parts of the garden; a paved walk is a great convenience if it can be afforded, and a cool shady pathway will be much appreciated during the hot days of summer. The fruit and vegetable garden should always be within easy access of the kitchen quarters; and though the tool and potting sheds ought not to be obtruded, they should be convenient of access and not approached by narrow, tortuous paths.

On the plea that these and other necessary conveniences are unsightly they are often banished to remote out of the way corners, and as a consequence economy both of time and labour are out of the, question. We do not hide our cherised works of art in cupboards or attics, but hang them in a good light where they can be viewed comfortably at all times. The same should be the case with our gardens, which deserve to be conveniently situated and readily accessible in all their parts.

Undue complexity is as a rule totally out of place in the garden, for the reason that it bewilders the visitor as to the aims and intentions of the designer. Such gardens give one the impression that they were designed piecemeal, each time with no thought for what had been attempted before. Simplicity does not necessarily mean formality, it is rather the expression of a set of ideas in a straightforward, commonsense manner. We cannot have simplicity when we fill our gardens with patchwork flower beds, destroying the beautiful surface of a lawn to make them; neither is tawdry furniture, ill-designed statues, fountains, sundials and seats, likely to impress the beholder with feelings other than those of ridicule or contempt for a display of vulgar opulence.

Wherever we look there should be evidence of a desire for unity in the several parts, a sense of breadth and dignity which is the true test of a skilled workman. So many people persist in confusing this desire for simplicity with a wish for puritanical severity straight walks, bare unbroken stretches of lawn, and buildings uncovered with creeper or shrub; it is nothing of the kind, and gardens in which there is the richest ornament, and the most lavish display of flowers, may yet remain perfectly simple as regards their planning and arrangement. At the same time monotony is of all things to be guarded against, more especially as it is inseparable from certain forms of design. The most beautiful scene on earth would soon pall were it continued with wearisome repetition over a considerable portion of the landscape.

A grass walk bordered with stately yews is a charming feature where the situation demands it, but who can deny the weariness occasioned by endless rows of these solemn sentinels, when reproduced on every side. Herein lies the reason why the work of certain designers proves so unsatisfactory. It is possible to have too much even of a good thing, and the fact that a certain feature has proved suitable in one case, is no reason for supposing that it will be equally satisfactory in half a dozen others. When making a plan, it should be our object not to consider how much we may do without incurring the risk of monotony, but how we may best whet the appetite for more of a similar character.

It is to variety that we owe the greatest pleasures in our gardens, and yet there are many who would deny us even this. It is variety which makes the study of Nature the pleasure that it is. Who ever saw two woodland glades exactly the same, two mountain streams which presented identical features, or a glimpse of lush meadows and rich, purpling hills which was not different to any we ever saw before? Why not the same in our gardens? No two situations are exactly the same, one must possess features that the other lacks, or present possibilities incapable of fulfilment except in its own case.

There is, indeed, no reason why we should conform to a stereo­typed plan, except that imitation is usually considered less trouble than originality, in that the latter involves individual thought, and a necessary determination to see clearly to the root of things. But apart from the lack of variety displayed in the general planning of several gardens in the same or different localities, there is often a want of diversity in the various parts of a single garden. This is the opposite fault to that of undue complexity, and it is the more pleasant, because of its rarity, when we find that a happy mean has been chosen.

Variety in garden design can be attempted in a number of ways, either in the alteration of ground levels, the formation of walks, or the grouping of trees and shrubs. The first named must always be a matter demanding extreme care and judgment, for the good reason that the natural levels are nearly always best. In the remodelling of existing gardens, it is often necessary to go to considerable labour and expense to bring the ground back to its original form. The craze for terracing which has led to the upheaval of banks and mounds in all sorts of impossible positions, has led to an appearance of extreme artificiality in many modern gardens. However, it is often possible to so alter levels that variety takes the place of monotony, and an added charm is given to certain situations.

Perhaps the safest way to proceed in this direction is to take advantage of some existing depression or elevation, which, probably too slight to relieve the prevailing flatness, may be deepened or heightened as the case may be. The natural grade should be taken as a guide, and emphasis given to points which admit of such treatment. The aspect of the surrounding country will exercise considerable influence in this direction. A garden containing many mounds, hillocks, and hollows will look absurd set in a nearly flat landscape, and in a hilly district, cultivated land wrought into an unbroken level will appear even more out of place. The fact that building operations has led to the excavation of a large bulk of earth, should not lead the designer to utilise it for promiscuous bank making.

It is seldom that a close survey of the ground will not reveal points at which it is possible to secure variety, without altering the general contour to any appreciable extent. Garden paths nearly always cause monotony when too much of their length is seen at once. This must not be considered as in any way deprecatory to the straight walk, than which often nothing is more satisfactory. If the path is straight, there should be compensating influences in the way of well grown plants or shrubs along its sides to attract our attention. Where these are impossible, the walk should be made to bend slightly, occupying the curve with a group of flowering shrubs, or some other suitable screen to hide its continuation from view. The garden paths should most certainly follow the varied levels of the ground, and nothing can be worse than to attempt to fill up the hollows and shave off the gentle elevations in order to produce a dead level.

This is the very way to engender the monotony, which we are trying to dispel. A wild mountain path, or the track through some woodland glade, never lacks variety, simply because the feet that made it followed the line of easiest gradient. In nine cases out of ten, the ugly walk is the result of direct transgression of this simple rule, and all that is needed to effect an improvement is the reversion of the ground to its old level.

The variety obtainable by the judicious employment of living trees and plants is so infinite, that there is no excuse for neglecting their friendly aid when planning the several parts of the garden. A certain spirit of conservatism seems to prevail among modern gardeners, and of the thousands of beautiful subjects which exist for our benefit, not a tithe of the number are pressed into service. Take, for example, that large and beautiful family, the Flowering Shrubs, how very imperfectly is their value realised in the majority of cases! Dull, gloomy evergreens are used almost exclusively in the orthodox small garden, and never a thought is given to the host of fine deciduous trees, many of which are supremely lovely.

The nurseryman has learnt by experience the few stereo­typed evergreens which are most in demand, and he stocks these, and these only, so that the casual purchaser is led to believe that the list of trees and shrubs suitable for some gardens is very limited. For screening off unsightly corners evergreens are of the highest value, but on the margins of lawns, and for lending interest to mixed plantations, the designer would do well to introduce the flowering shrubs.

So many people when seeking the assistance of the gardening professional, impose upon him the necessity of giving them "a bit of everything" in the way of design. They must have a rose garden, a corner devoted to rock plants, a few square feet for carpet bedding, a place for water and bog plants, a pergola, and much beside, all without reference to the suitability or otherwise of the place for such introductions.

The idea that a garden will never lack interest because it resembles a patchwork quilt in the number of its divisions, is surely erroneous; the pleasure thus obtained is but momentary, and soon ceases to becpme other than wearisome. We look for perfection in detail, but we must also consider the garden as a whole, and seek to make its various parts subservient to one all another, the several units of one well­balanced plan.

The faculty for seeing in the mind's eye, the general characteristics of the garden as it will appear when laid and planted, is a gift for which, if possessed, the garden designer may be truly grateful. It enables any weak spots which may exist in the plan to be corrected before it is too late. Of course no one can determine the exact effect which time will produce, and it is well we cannot, for perhaps the greatest charm of garden design is its delightful elusiveness, the uncertainty which exists as to the manner in which flower and tree will disport itself. But unless we attempt to see further than the mere out­lines of the plan, we are trusting to chance to secure for us the results we most desire.

Especially are we liable to err in the matter of colour effect, a consideration which is outside the scope of the black and white plan. Unrelieved stretches of turf become monotonous unless afforded the foil of suitable foliage; broad masses of bright hued flowers demand the sober relief of grey stonework or silvery leaved trees and plants. A certain spot is often dull and unsatisfying, simply because it lacks this element of colour; a group of flowering shrubs with bright hued blossoms or even a stone vase filled with climbers may dispel all idea of monotony.

In the securing of suitable contrasts, work may be raised above the merely mediocre, to a level of high artistic merit. Easy transition of form and colour is no doubt the safest course to pursue, but a certain boldness of touch may in certain instances prove highly advantageous. The. shrubbery, often a tame and featureless affair, may be rendered attractive by the sharply contrasting effects of adjacent groups of deciduous trees, and the dark, glistening foliage of evergreens.