TWO good reasons why the formal garden has sometimes appealed more to the popular mind than has the informal garden are. first, that the former has possessed more features of striking interest and, second, that the formal garden has often been better supplied with the furniture necessary to make it humanly habitable and usable. The informal garden, in a word, has too often been featureless and unfurnished. These faults ought to be corrected.
It is the business of the landscape gardener to supply these desirable features. He must find them on the ground, develop them, invent them, create them—provide them by the main strength of his artistic genius. Some little study in this field may show perhaps that the possibilities are as great for the naturalistic garden as for the most architectural enterprise.
First of all the landscape designer should utilize to the utmost all the natural scenery. Every good view, within or without the park or estate, should be fully developed. This development will require at least three things: First the line of the best view must be determined and kept open; second, this view must be framed by suitable plantings; third, inferior views must be blocked out or reduced to mere promissory glimpses.
As a rule such special views require further to be fixed, marked and advertised by placing at the optimum point of observation an appropriate seat, carriage turn, rest house or some similar accessory. Thus the stranger is directed unmistakably to the main feature, the desirable vista or the glorious outlook.
In formal garden design it is considered absolutely obligatory that each axis shall terminate upon some adequate object. Similarly in informal design each vista should terminate clearly and definitively upon some satisfactory object. There should be some hill, mountain, lake, church spire or other definite object of interest or beauty upon which the open vista clearly centers. To build up a long vista with nothing at the end of it is like hanging on the parlor walls a frame without any picture in it.
In grounds of any considerable extent there are usually natural features which can be played up by the intelligent designer. A brook, no matter how small and mean, offers unlimited possibilities. If there is only a trickle of water in it one can set back certain stretches so as to make reaches of flat water on which the shadows lie and on the margin of which all manner of aquatic plants will thrive. Then there will be alternating stretches of water singing over stones or flashing in the sun. Foot bridges or stepping stones at suitable points add to the picture. There may be seats in shady nooks from which one can watch the panorama of life upon the brook; while at other points there will be sunny, grassy glades opening back into neighboring meadows or looking out to adjoining lawns.
In other grounds there will be natural ponds or cliffs or outcrops of rock or glacier-planed boulders or old plantations of pine or oak. Every such feature must be seized upon and developed with skill and imagination. Some heroic landscape makers even create such features for themselves. They make artificial ponds and rivulets, even artificial hills. One of them of whom I know, instead of building a concrete retaining wall to stop the erosion of a troublesome storm-fed gully, preferred to reproduce a complete outcrop of limestone ledge, stratum on stratum. Such work, of course, must be very skillfully done or it is anything but naturalistic. But when it is artistically successful it has every right to be called good naturalistic landscape gardening.
Natural growth of good trees or artificial forest plantations always make good landscape features, and should be joyfully accepted in works of the natural style. Even a single tree of any size or symmetry can be emphasized by proper vistas and may be worth using as a feature. The planting of specimen trees and shrubs on all sorts of grounds has unquestionably been badly overdone in early examples of American landscape gardening. This particular trick may fairly be reckoned as a fault of the late Andrew Jackson Downing and of his less capable disciples. Specimen planting must be done with great restraint; yet within judicious limits it is wholly proper and effective.
It need not be forgotten, either, that to many sane and cultivated persons a garden is still a place where plants grow—where trees and shrubs and flowers are to be enjoyed. Many good people still admire plants, and to them no possible exhibition of architecture, statuary or ceramics can take the place of good maple trees or blossoming lilacs or masses of blue larkspurs. The unlimited wealth of all the nursery catalogs is at the command of the designer who is ready to cater to this amiable and legitimate taste. There are literally thousands of interesting plants which can be employed to make a garden a place worth visiting. These embellishments, too, have one indubitable advantage over the sun dial and the pergola, in that they change from week to week and day to day. The garden which is ablaze this month with poppies may be just as glorious next month with peonies. The garden which emphasizes features of this sort has a wide versatility.
Even collections of plants are not wholly inadmissible. The "pinetum" and the "orangery" and the "rosarium" are perfectly good ideas, in spite of their factitious origin and sometimes juvenile treatment. One garden that I know has specialized in lilies, and another contains every species of fern which an enthusiast and an adept can grow. It is a great experience to see a hundred varieties of peonies or dahlias or gladioli all together. One might travel far for the opportunity.
Such features are worth putting into gardens; and for the present one need only be reminded that over-planting and the making of collections have ruined more gardens than they have made in America. The landscape gardener who would make much of these elements in his work must be a man of power, that is, a man of great self-restraint. He must be a designer to whom the initial plan is clear and sacred or else he will very soon lose all sense of design in his enthusiasm for his horticultural collections.