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The Moonlight Garden
The Water Garden
The Rock Garden
The Wild Flower Garden
The Court Of The Queen Of Flowers
The Children's Garden
The Bulb Garden
The Indoor Garden
The Garden That Faces Four Ways
What Can Be Done With Half An Acre
Old And New Flowers For The Garden
Where Are And Nature Meet
Our Birds And Our Gardens
The Flower Spectrum
Garden Friends And Foes
Trees And Tree Planting
Window Box Gardening
Flowers For Cutting
The More Common Garden Flowers And How To Grow Them
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The question of what can be done with a small plot of land is one which, in these days of suburban immigration, presents itself forcibly to an increasing number of new country residents every year. A privet hedge, a forsythia, a field stone pergola and a few scattered plants and shrubs of more or less bromidic tendency solve the problem to the apparent satisfaction of many of us. But there is far more than this of beauty and of pleasure to be had from a small suburban plot; and when such lovely tools as plants and flowering shrubs lie ready to our hands, why should we be content with any scheme which does not both serve a useful purpose and fulfil our ideas of beauty as well?
A suburban plot of from one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet of frontage on street or road, running back to a distance of about two hundred feet, is one of not unusual size. Of the hundred and fifty foot plot, which will approximate three-quarters of an acre, the house and its approach will take up no inconsiderable part, leaving about half an acre free upon which the owner may work his will. Upon the hundred foot lot the space upon which to work will, of course, be somewhat smaller.
If a ready made house has not been purchased, the owner of the plot will find it worth his while to build either close to the street or close to the rear boundary of his domain. This will leave the full extent of unoccupied ground with which to work. If the house be placed far back, sufficient space for a dry-yard and for the unornamental but necessary needs of the kitchen department must be left behind it; if it be placed close to the road these may be tucked away at the side, embowered in shrubs or concealed behind a lattice or hedge, where they will be visible neither from the street nor from the garden behind. The latter method is an excellent one when it can be employed without forcing the family pleasure grounds into close communication with neighboring laundries and garages, and will be found to provide a quiet and secluded retreat from the noise and publicity of the street. So are built even the smallest of the old-world gardens, which are hedged about in front with walls and hedges so that the passer-by might suppose them non-existent, but which for that very reason afford all the more delightful privacy to their owners and their friends. The customary American way of placing the garden between house and street gives greater pleasure to the wayfarer and greater beauty to the neighborhood, but is productive of less real comfort to the owner.
But however the grounds be arranged, let the house not, in the all-too-common suburban fashion, be set in the middle of the plot. This serves no good purpose, and deprives the owner of the best use of the full extent of his territory. The smaller the grounds may be, the more important is it that every part of them shall be used to advantage.
It is surprising how every undertaking, from greatest to least, resolves itself into a "man with a hoe," or, rather, a man with a stout crowbar, pick and shovel. Your woodland or your vacant lot, a few months ago so pretty with wild flowers, berries and flowering shrubs, or with its grass and daisies, is now a mass of down-trodden foliage, rutted deep by teams and piled with stones dug from the cellar, raised high among which rises the just-finished house, surrounded by debris, a sight to appall the bravest-hearted landscape gardener. Out of this chaos order is to be brought; and if the task at first seems overwhelming, the greater will be your feeling of contentment when it is accomplished, and the more, the worst once over, will you enjoy each additional task which marks the nearer fulfillment of your labor and the attainment of your dreams.
First, men with picks, shovels and a few bars of dynamite must be turned into the grounds to clear them. This is a permanent improvement, and one which should be done as thoroughly as possible. Each stone untouched will mar the symmetry of your finished lawn, and the removing of it will then be a more difficult and destructive matter than it would have been in the beginning. If a lawn there is to be, let it be a smooth sweep of green turf, not a grassy stretch studded with rocks, which no amount of vines or flowers will disguise or beautify. To be sure, the removing of them is a heart-breaking task; every stone, like an iceberg, will be found to show only the smallest portion of its anatomy above the surface, and the tiniest point, attacked light-heartedly with a trowel, is apt to uncover indefinite expanses of rock which can be removed only by blasting. It cannot be too strongly laid down as a principle, however, that every rock must be removed, if the finished lawn is to be satisfactory.
This task once done, grading is begun. On a level site this is an easy matter. If a steep hillside is in question terraces may be made, or bank walls built. The latter are apt to present a rather too monumental appearance, however, unless they be made with an eye to filling them with rock plants, by which means the bare wall may be transformed into a mass of bloom. Nothing will grow well on a slope; but if the incline be not too great the portion which is to be sown in grass may be graded in a gentle decline and the beds be marked out and their lower ends built up to a level, a border of green painted wood, or of brick or stone, keeping the earth from washing out into the graded paths beside them. This will in some cases be found to obviate the necessity of terracing-always a lengthy task-or of the building of a stiff and formal wall.
The question of beds brings up that of soil. When land has just been reclaimed from the primmval forest, it seems strange that it should not be at least kneedeep in leaf mould, but this is, alas! all too rarely the case. Still, the quality of the soil need not prevent the existence of a garden, although it may increase the trouble and expense of securing it. If the soil be hopeless, when the beds have been marked out-which should be done in connection with the grading, so that the proper relation of beds and lawn may be securedthey should be dug to a depth of three feet and filled with loam. A load of loam goes a surprisingly short way; but once done, the thing is done forever, and a proper use of fertilizer and thorough cultivation will keep the beds in permanent good order. Everything of this kind should be done before the lawn is finally seeded and rolled, so that after this has been accomplished it may not again be torn up by intruding carts and horses.
With a very sandy soil, of course, there is little to be done. The same may be said of the clay so prevalent in New Jersey, which, when dry, cakes to the hardness of a stone. Even a lawn may not be had under conditions of this kind, and so, the beds once filled, a top coating of loam should be given the entire grounds. Forty loads is enough to cover half an acre.
Land which has recently been reclaimed is also apt to be sour. This is indicated by its tendency to grow moss. If this is the case dry lime, which has previously been slaked by pouring water upon it, should be scattered over it, and left for the rain to wash in. This improves the ground and makes the grass grow more, and certain weeds less, abundantly.
These preliminaries accomplished, the owner of the suburban plot may turn his attention at last to the beautifying of his grounds. They will probably boast none of the nooks and corners which he will find, with something like despair, advocated by one after another of the gardening books in which he seeks information. His grounds lie spread out before him for a11 the world to see; their extent seems suddenly pitiable, and their frank openness to all beholders to put them beyond the reach of art; no nooks, no surprises, no hidden bowers, no suddenly discovered pools, are possible.
This state of affairs is, however, far from hopeless, authors of garden manuals notwithstanding. Surely the old-fashioned garden is an ideal, and the old-fashioned garden should be formal. Nor has the formal garden, admirably adapted to the needs of a small place, any place for nooks and corners. Arranged in straight lines and geometrical figures, bordered with box if possible, it spreads itself out, sparkling in the sun, blazing with color. For such a garden there is ample space in half an acre, or in less than that.
An excellent plan for the formal garden, none the less good because so often seen, is that of two walks crossing at right angles, at the intersection of which stands a sun-dial, a bird-bath or even a great red sun umbrella., screening a group of rattan or white enamel chairs. Upon this as a basis the rest of the garden may be laid out. The squares formed at the corners of the plot by the intersecting paths may, if not at once, in succeeding years, be divided up into geometrical figures or broken by transverse beds. Everything should be planned in advance, and a definite scheme should be followed. Nothing is more inartistic than the all-too-common aimlessly-scattered beds which break the symmetry of the lawn. They suggest only the idea that the owner dug holes haphazard into which he inserted plants which at the moment struck his fancy, and produce as poor an effect as any "hit-ormiss" form of decoration is apt to do. The formal garden is the direct reverse of this, and is effective in proportion as the other is not.
The vegetable garden is a problem important, if not from the point of view of the landscape gardener, from that of practical necessity. It will be found that one eighty by forty feet in size will be sufficiently large to supply the needs of a family of three persons. For a larger number, or if vegetables are to be "put up" for the winter, the space must, of course, be increased. By using care in planting, and by skilful rotation of crops, it is possible to use one spot in the vegetable garden twice in one summer. It is even claimed that this may be done three times, but to do so is certainly beyond the skill of any but the most experienced of gardeners, although the possibility holds forth golden promise to the optimistic amateur. By using the ground in this manner, a smaller space may be assigned to vegetables than would otherwise be required. For example, early peas, which should be sown about the first of April, will be ready to pluck by the first of June, and by the tenth of June will be a thing of the past. Bush beans, late cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts may then be planted in their place, and will come to perfection later in the summer. In the same way, early crops of bush" beans may be sown in May, and the middle of July will see their place ready for beets, late carrots or corn, or for a last crop of peas. It will not be found generally desirable, in so small a plot as half an acre, not all of which is to be devoted to vegetables, to attempt potatoes. They require too much room, and enough cannot be raised to supply the needs of the household, although perhaps, for the sake of the idea of "one's own" potatoes, some gardeners may enjoy trying a few.
Of all the crops which may be raised'in the vegetable garden asparagus will be found the best worth while. The only objection to it is that an asparagus bed requires patience-if one-year old roots be bought, two years of waiting is necessary. The bed should be dug out to a depth of three feet, and a layer of small stones spread over the bottom, to ensure good drainage. Upon this is piled earth, well enriched with manure, and here the roots are planted, about eighteen inches apart. A bed ten feet by thirty will give space for a hundred roots, which will be found an ample quantity. It should be free from shade, and if possible well exposed to the southern sun.
A herbaceous border of tall growing perennials may be arranged to shut off the kitchen garden from the wandering eye; a hedge of privet or althea will serve the same purpose; while a row of currants, blackberries or gooseberries, pretty in the spring and unobtrusive at other times, can be used in the same way. An effective and appropriate barrier may also be made of espalier fruit trees, as has been suggested in a previous chapter. If attention be given to decorative effect in laying out the vegetable garden, it need not necessarily be an unsightly spot.
Absurd though it may seem to contemplate an orchard in so small a space as half an acre, even this is possible to the suburban fruit-tree enthusiast. Dwarf varieties should be used for this purpose. These are less long-lived than the standard sorts, but take up less room, and may be depended upon to produce fruit in two or three years. They may be planted as closely as seven feet apart, and even closer if carefully cut back and tended. As it is difficult to obtain other than dwarf apple and pear trees in this country, it is well, in a limited space, to depend upon the dwarf trees for these fruits and so to make room for a few peach and plum trees of the ordinary size.
Almost any fruit tree may be trained into espalier form beside a house or wall, and in this way a larger space for extra trees may be obtained. For decorative effect nothing is more charming than the great golden balls of the apple studding the southern wall of your home, or the pale blush of the peach as it twines about your window. In planting fruit trees, too, it is im porta:nt that the soil be well fertilized and the trees carefully set in. The planting of an orchard is a matter of permanency, and it is the part of prudence to incur, if necessary, some extra trouble and expense in the beginning in order to insure yourself against disappointment after the year of waiting which must en sue before success or failure is assured. For the same reason it is well worth while to obtain stock from dealers whose reliability is above suspicion. An orchard is not, like a garden, a spot where results are known in a season, and where rectification is a simple matter.
Of course if your whole domain is to be in flowers, for example, more elaborate plans may be carried out. If more of it is to be set aside for kitchen garden or orchard, a fairly satisfactory collection of blossoms may be had by heavy massing in front of the house. Indeed, the permutations and combinations, even of a half-acre plot, are innumerable. Heavy pergolas, statuary, and other such decorations should, of course, be rigorously excluded; they are suited only to large tracts of land, and dwarf the small plot into insignificance. It may be laid down as a general rule that much elaboration makes the small place seem smaller; while the man or woman who can keep the small place simple and tasteful has, in such very forbearance, an aid to beauty by means of which wonders can be done.