Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Gardens - Garden Furnishings

( Originally Published 1901 )

"Furnished with whatever may make the place agreeable, melancholy, and country-like."

— Forest Trees, JOHN EVELYN, 1670.

QUAINT old books of garden designers show us that much more was contained in a garden two centuries ago, than now ; it had many more adjuncts, more furnishings ; a very full list of them has been given by Batty Langley in his New Principles of Gardening, etc., 1728. Some seem amusing—as haystacks and woodpiles, which he terms " rural enrichments." Of water adornments there were to be purling streams, basins, canals, fountains, cascades, cold baths. There were to be aviaries, hare warrens, pheasant grounds, partridge grounds, dove-cotes, beehives, deer paddocks, sheep walks, cow pastures, and "manazeries" (menageries ?) ; physic gardens, orchards, bowling-greens, hop gardens, orangeries, melon grounds, vineyards, parterres, fruit yards, nurseries, sun-dials, obelisks, statues, cabinets, etc., decorated the garden walks. There were to be land gradings of mounts, winding valleys, dales, terraces, slopes, borders, open plains, labyrinths, wildernesses, "serpentine meanders," " rude-coppices," precipices, amphitheatres. His "serpentine meanders " had large opening spaces at proper distances, in one of which might be placed a small fruit garden, a " cone of ever-greens," or a " Paradice-Stocks,"— about which latter mysterious garden adornment I think we must be content to remain in ignorance, since he certainly has given us ample variety to choose from without it.

Other "landscapists " placed in their gardens old ruins, misshapen rocks, and even dead trees, in order to look " natural."

In 16o8 Henry Ballard brought out The Gardener's Labyrinth —a pretty good book, shut away from the most of us by being printed in black letter. He says : —

"The framing of sundry herbs delectable, with waies and allies artfully devised is an upright herbar."

Herbars, or arbors, were of two kinds: an upright arbor, which was merely a covered lean-to attached to a fence or wall ; and a winding or "arch-arbor" standing alone. He names "archherbs," which are simply climbing vines to set "winding in arch-manner on withie poles." "Walker and sitters there-under" are thereby comfortably protected from the heat of the sun. These upright arbors were in high favor ; Ballard says they offered "fragrant savours, delectable sights, and sharpening of the memory."

Tree arbors were in use in Elizabethan times, platforms built in the branches of large trees. Parkinson called one that would hold fifty men, "the goodliest spectacle that ever his eyes beheld." A distinction was made between arbors and bowers. The arbor might be round or square, and was domed over the top ; while the long arched way was a bower. In our Southern states that special use of the word bower is still universal, especially in the term Rose bowers. A quaint and universal furnishing of old Southern gardens were the trellises known as garden lyres. Two are shown in this chapter, from Waterford, Virginia ; one bearing little foliage and another embowered in vines, in order to show what a really good vine support they were. Garden lyres and Rose bowers are rotting on the ground in old Virginia gardens, and I fear they will never be replaced.

The word pergola was seldom heard here a century ago, save as used by the few who had travelled in Italy ; but pergolas were to be found in many an old American garden. An ancient oval pergola still stands at Arlington, that beautiful spot which was once the home of the Virginia Lees, and is now the home of the honored dead of our Civil War. This old pergola has remained unharmed through fierce conflict, and is wreathed each spring with the verdure of vines of many kinds. It is twenty feet wide between the pillars, and forms an oval one hundred feet long and seventy wide, and when in full greenery is a lovely thing. It was called — indeed it is still termed in the South — a "green gallery," a word and thing of medićval days.

There are many pretty trellises and vine supports and arbors which can be made of light poles and rails, but I do not like to hear the pretentious name, pergola, applied to them. A pergola must not be a mean, light-built affair. It should be of good pro-portions and substantial materials. It need not be made with brick or marble pillars ; natural tree trunks of good size serve as well. It should look as if it had been built with care and stability, and that the vines had been planted and trained by skilled gardeners. A pergola may have a dilapadated Present and be endurable; but it should show evidences of a substantial Past.

Little sisters of the pergola are the charmilles, or bosquets, arches of growing trees, whose interlaced boughs have no supports of wood as have the pergolas. When these arches are carefully trained and pruned, and the ground underneath is laid with turf or gravel, they form a delightful shady walk.

Charming covered ways can be easily made by polling and training Plum or Willow trees. Arches are far too rare in American gardens. The few we have are generally old ones. In Mrs. Pierson's garden in Salem the splendid arch of Buckthorn is a hundred and twenty five years old. Similar ones are at Indian Hill. Cedar was an old choice for hedges and arches. It easily winter-kills at the base, and that is ample reason for its rejection and disuse.

The many garden seats of the old English garden were perhaps its chief feature in distinction from American garden furnishings to-day. In a letter written from Kenilworth in 1575 the writer told of garden seats where he sat in the heat of summer, " feeling the pleasant whisking wynde." I have walked through many a large modern garden in the summer heat, and longed in vain for a shaded seat from which to regard for a few moments the garden treasures and feel the whisking wind, and would gladly have made use of the temporary presence of a wheelbarrow.

Seats of marble and stone are in many of our modern formal gardens ; a pretty one is in the garden at Avonwood Court.

Grottoes, arbors, and summer-houses were all of importance in those days, when in our latitude and climate men had not thought to build piazzas sur-rounding the house and shadowing all the ground floor rooms. We are beginning to think anew of the value of sunlight in the parlors and dining rooms of our summer homes, which for the past thirty or forty years have been so. darkened by our wide piazzas. Now we have fewer piazzas and more peristyles, and soon we shall have summer-houses and garden houses also.

There are preserved in the South, in spite of war and earthquake, a number of fine examples of old wrought-iron garden gates. King William of England introduced these artistic gates into England, and they were the height of garden fashion. Among them were the beautiful gates still at Hampton Court, and those of Bulwich, Northamptonshire. They were called clair-voyees on account of the uninterrupted view they permitted to those without and within the walls. These were often painted blue ; but in America they were more sober of tint, though portions were gilded. One of the old gates at Westover-on-James is here shown, and on page 39o' the rich wrought-iron work in the courtyard at the home of Colonel Colt in Bristol, Rhode Island. This is as fine as the house, and that is a splendid example of the best work of the, first years of the nineteenth century.

Fountains were seen usually in handsome gardens in the South ; simple water jets falling in a handsome basin of marble or stone. Statuary of marble or lead was never common in old American gardens, though pretentious gardens had examples. Today, in our carefully through-out gardens, the garden statuary is a thing of beauty and often of meaning, as the figure shown on page 84. Usually our statues are of marble, sometimes a Japanese bronze is seen. In the old black letter Gardener's Labyrinth, a very full description is given of old modes of watering a garden. There was a primitive and very limited system of irrigation, the water being raised by "well-swipes " ; there were very handy puncheons, or tubs on wheels, which could be trundled down the garden walk.

There was also a formidable " Great Squirt of Tin," which was said to take " mighty strength " to handle, and which looked like a small cannon ; with it was an ingenious bent tube of tin by which the water could be thrown in "great droppes" like a fountain. The author says of ordinary means of garden watering : —

"The common Watring Pot with us hath a narrow Neck, a Big Belly, Somewhat large Bottome, and full of little holes with a proper hole forced in the head to take in the water; which filled full and the Thumbe laid on the hole to keep in the aire may in such wise be carried in handsome Manner."

Garden tools have changed but little since Tudor days ; spade and rake were like ours to-day, so were dibble and mattock. Even grafting and pruning tools, shown in books of husbandry, were surprisingly like our own. Scythes were much heavier and clumsier. An old fellow is here shown sharpening in the ancient manner a scythe about three hundred years old.

The art of grafting, known since early days, formed an important part of the gardener's craft. Large share of ancient garden treatises is devoted to minute instructions therein. To this day in New England towns a good grafter is a local autocrat.

Beehives were once found in every garden ; beeskepes they were called when made of straw. Picturesque and homely were the old straw beehives, and still are they used in England; the old one shown in the chapter on sun-dials can scarcely be mated in America. They served as a conventional emblem of industry. They were made of welts or ropes of twisted straw, as were the heavy winnowing skepes once used for winnowing grain. In Maine, in a few out-of-the-way communities, ancient men still winnow grain with these skepes. I saw a man last autumn, a giant in stature, standing in a dull light on the crown of a hill winnowing wheat in one of these great skepes with an indescribably free and noble gesture. He was a classic, a relic of Homer's age, no longer a farmer, but a husbandman. Bees and honey were of much value in ancient days. Honey was the chief ingredient in many wholesome and pleasing drinks — mead, metheglin, bragget (or braket), morat, erboule—all very delightful in their ingredients, redolent of meadows and hedge-rows ; thus Cowslip mead was made of Cowslip "pips," honey, Lemon juice, and "a handful of Sweet-brier." " Athol porridge," demure of name, was as potent as pleasing—potent as good honey, good cream, and good whiskey could make it.

Rows of typical Southern beehives are shown in the two succeeding illustrations. From their home by the side of a White Rose and under an old Sweet Apple tree these Waterford bees did not wish to swarm out in a hurry to find a new home. These beehives are not very ancient in shape, but when I see a row of them set thus under the trees, or in a hive-shelter, they seem to tell of olden days. The very bees flying in an out seem steady-going, respectable old fellows. Such hives have a cosy look, with rows of Hollyhocks behind them, and hundreds of spires of Larkspur for these old bees to bury their heads in.

The sadly picturesque old superstition of " telling the bees" of a death in a family and hanging a bit of black cloth on the hives as a mourning-weed still is observed in some country communities. Whit-tier's poem on the subject is wonderfully " countrified " in atmosphere, using the word chore-girl, so seldom heard even in familiar speech to-day and never found in verse elsewhere than in this rustic poem. I saw one summer in Narragansett, on Stony Lane, not far from the old Six-Principle Church, a row of beehives hung with strips of black cloth ; the house mistress was dead — the friend of bird and beast and bee— who had reared the guardian of the garden told of on page 396 et seq.

A pretty and appropriate garden furnishing was the dove-cote. The possession of a dove-cote in England, and the rearing of pigeons, was free only to lords of the manor and noblemen. When the colonists came to America, many of them had never been permitted to keep pigeons. In Scotland persistent attemps at pigeon-raising by folks of humble station might be punished with death. The settlers must have revelled in the freedom of the new land, as well as in the plenty of pigeons, both wild and domestic. In old England the dove-cote was often built close to the kitchen door, that squab and pigeon might be near the hand of the cook. Dove-cotes in America were often simple boxes or houses raised on stout posts. Occasionally might be seen a fine brick dove-cote like the one still standing at Shirley-on-the-James, in Virginia, which is shaped without and within like several famous old dove-cotes in England, among them the one at Athelhampton Hall, Dorchester, England. The English dove-cote has within a revolving ladder hung from a central post while the Virginian squab catcher uses an ordinary ladder. The shelves for the birds to rest upon and the square recesses for the nests made by the ingenious placing of the bricks are alike in both cotes.

A beautiful and fitting tenant of old formal gar-dens was the peacock, "with his aungelis federys bryghte." On large English estates peacocks were universally kept. A fine peacock, with full-spread tail, makes many a gay flower bed pale before his panoply of iridescence and color. The pea-hen is a demurely pretty creature. Peacocks are not altogether grateful to garden owners; on the old Narragansett farm whose garden is shown on page 35, they were always kept, and it was one of the prides and pleasures of formal hospitality to offer a roasted peacock to visitors. But, save when roasted, the vain creatures would not keep silence, and when they squawked the glory of their plumage was forgotten. They had an odious habit, too, of wandering off to distant groves on the farm, usually selecting the nights of bitterest cold, and roosting in some very high tree, in some very inaccessible spot. They could not be left in this ill-considered sleeping-place, else they would all freeze to death ; and words fail to tell the labor in lowering twilight and temperature of discovering their retreat, the dislodging, capturing, and imprisoning them.

In Narragansett there is a charming old farm garden, which I often visit to note and admire its old-time blossoms. This garden has a guardian, who haunts the garden walks as did the terrace peacock of old England ; no watch-dog ever was so faithful, and none half so acute. When I visit the garden I always ask " Where is Job ? " I am answered that he is in the field with the cattle. Sometimes this is true, but at other times Job has left the field and is attending to his assumed duties. As he is not encouraged, he has learned great slyness and dissimulation. Immovable, and in silence, Job is concealed behind a Syringa hedge or in a Lilac ambush, and as you stroll peacefully and unwittingly down the paths, sniffing the honeyed sweetness of the dense edging of Sweet Alyssum, all is as balmy as the blossoms. But stoop for an instant, to gather some leaves of Sweet Basil or Sweet Brier, or to collect a dozen seed-pods of that specially delicate Sweet Pea, and lo ! the enemy is upon you, like a fierce whirlwind. He looks mild and demure enough in his kitchen yard retreat, whereto, upon piercing outcry for help, the farmer and his two sons have haled him, and where the camera has caught him. But far from meek is his aspect when you are dodging him around the great Tree Peony, or flying frantically before him down the side path to the garden gate. This fierce wild beast was once that mildest of creatures — a pet lamb ; the constant companion of the farm-wife, as she weeded and watered her loved gar-den. Her husband says, "He seems to think folks are stealing her flowers, if they stop to look." The wife and mother of these three great men has gone from her garden forever ; but a tenderness for all that she loved makes them not only care for her flowers, but keeps this rampant guardian of the garden at the kitchen door, just as she kept him when he was a little lamb. I knew this New England farmer's wife, a noble woman, of infinite tenderness, strength, and endurance; a lover of trees and flowers and all living things, and I marvel not that they keep her memory green.

Home | More Articles | Email: