All these faults of grouping have one basis in common. They all result in part from the pernicious habit of studying planting plans in the flat, in plan on the drawing board. Every designer at his drawing tries of course to visualize his group. He tries to imagine how it will look on the ground. He tries to picture it in its vertical projection. But the case is a good deal like that called to mind by Josh Billings when he said, "All men aim to tell the truth but some of them are almighty bad shots." All men try to imagine their groups in their finished perspective, but unfortunately many designers suffer from defective imagination.
There is some point to the contention which I have heard from the lips of infuriated landscape gardeners that no man should be permitted to draw a planting plan on paper. It might be better, were it practicable, to do all designing on the ground. The landscapist could then put his materials in their proper places in the picture, much as a painter puts a touch of red here and a stroke of orange there, feeling his way slowly to the finished result.
Certain it is that all grouping should be studied with least emphasis upon plan and much greater attention to vertical projection, and this feature can be judged much better in the field than in the drafting room. The effective development of sky-lines can hardly be reached in any other way, yet effective sky-lines are indispensable to good landscape workmanship. It need hardly be remarked here that the designing of good sky-lines is intimately involved in the placing of groups and in the ordering of paragraphs. All these studies go together. Whether the sky-line be long and level or sharply serrated it must harmonize with the principal theme. If it has a vigorous rhythm it must correspond with the rhythm of the structural paragraphs and their component groups. Whatever rationale may be discovered in the designing of the sky-line must be founded on the principle of the leading motive, the paragraphic structure and the development of the group.
Thus far we have considered the art of grouping only with reference to the external form and internal structure of groups. At least two other matters require attention in this connection, viz., color and texture.
Much has been said about color harmonies and color effects in the garden—much more, indeed, than the matter warrants. Color plays such a very important part in some other closely related arts that beginners naturally try to follow the same well-marked paths in garden designing. Frankly this color scheming in the garden seems to me to have been greatly misunderstood. There is a dangerous facility in the assumptions that gardening is merely a decorative art, and that it may therefore follow all the rules of the other decorative arts. Neither assumption is quite half true. The inferences and practices which follow in this train of reasoning are frequently altogether wrong.
Under the first head let it be stressed that gardening is a structural art, like architecture. The purely decorative work put upon a church or villa is its least important feature. The architect is concerned mostly with foundations, the distribution of loads, the requirements of heat and ventilation and all that sort of thing; even the esthetic value of the church building is gained more by structural mass than by decorative detail. The art of gardening stands precisely where architecture stands in this respect, and the one who thinks of it merely as a scheme of superficial ornament hasn't come within glimpsing distance of the main idea.
Nevertheless there are many situations where the garden, having been built in all structural soundness, presents a pretty field for purely decorative treatment. At this point our second group of misunderstandings must be forestalled. These rest, as has been suggested, upon the assumption that the common practices of decorative art may be transferred without redigestion to use in the garden. Take the color scheme as an example. It is one on which hundreds of respectable men and thousands of intelligent women have gone wrong,—men and women of the right sort—sound on the suffrage, who go to church, who know what eugenics is and who love their neighbors reasonably.
These good people have learned (but not in gardening) that the color scheme is the greatest scheme in the world for securing unity of artistic effect. Millicent spends the nights of her girlhood in a pink bedroom developed by her own good taste; she adopts another color scheme for her trousseau; she has her new dining room done in rich browns and her limousine in blue. If she gives a party, a dance, or a dinner, the color scheme has to be de-cided before the menu or the music. Why shall she not, in the garden, where all sorts of beautiful colors are placed at her disposal, mass them in triumphant color effects?
Perhaps she should, but there are important points first to be taken into account. At the outset she should consult with nature who will have much to say about the results whether she be asked or no. Now nature has a color scheme of her own for every garden. Her ideas run very emphatically to green. She is like the famous fireman who didn't care what color they painted the hose wagon just so it was red.1 Nature seems willing to let Millicent adopt any sort of color scheme in the garden just so it is green. And after the dear girl has spent years of effort on her pink garden she one day begins to realize that all the pink she has is a few faint splashes of color on an acre of rich velvety green background and under a bright blue sky. Nature has been laughing at her all the while.
At sundry times and in divers places it does seem indeed as though the good old mother gardener would try some novel color effects of her own. She does occasionally spread out those miles upon miles of yellow California poppies, or cover a state like Kansas with sunflowers, or fill the French fields with poppies glowing scarlet, or delight the Germans with some acres of cyanin-blue kaiser-blumen. But mostly she comes back to the greens, the grays and the gray-greens,—and always with that inevitable blue sky overhead. Her pinks and reds and blues and purples—colors which if put into Millicent's dining-room would wreck the house —she throws about quite carelessly and promiscuously. The most incompatible colors are set out together just as though they had passed the censorship. At this sort of thing nature beats the neo-impressionists, the cubists, and the militant suffragists.