This section is from the book "What England Can Teach Us About Gardening", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: What England Can Teach Us About Gardening.
Every one who wishes to protect fruit from thieves, every one who has to do with sloping land, and every one who has even a rudimentary love of privacy will find an important message here.
WE ARE bound to come to it! The day will surely come when there will be thousands of miles of high brick walls in America — too high for thieves to climb over. For in a few centuries America will be as crowded as England or, at least, the land will contain all the people it can support, There will be thieves then and they will want the fruit. Common fruit may even then be grown in big orchards without walls, but the finest fruit will be grown on dwarf trees, in private gardens, behind high walls of brick or stone.
All this is a shocking thing to say, and it has required a whole year for me to screw my courage up to the point of saying it. For the expense of such a system of gardening? enormous. But there are only two other alternatives. One is to do Without the best fruit; the other is to employ the high hedge. The latyyer certainly costs less than a wall at the beginning, but is it any cheaper>in the end? Consider the cost of trimming privet three times a year for a hundred years! Will privet last that long? Remember that it may take twenty years of your life to grow a perfect hemlock hedge eight feet high. And weigh this carefully: Walls do not steal plant food from the soil; hedges do. You must either buy more fertilizer every year or else make a partition of some kind below the surface of the earth in order to restrain the hedge roots. A hedge may be more beautiful than a wall but I doubt if it costs less in the long run.
Is a wall ugly? No — not in England, and it need not be in America after the second year. For the quickest way to cover any big surface with living beauty is to use vines. And the beauty of English vine-clad walls is a thing to haunt you in your dreams.
I am even hopeful that we can by the use of walls attain in three or four years much of the mellowness which age alone is popularly supposed to give. True, mosses and lichens will never flourish in our hot, dry summers as they do in the cool, moist climate of England. But we can give the crowning touch to an otherwise perfect garden by growing in chinks of the wall, steps, and garden walks those precious little flowers which captivate the heart of every American the moment he sets foot within the sacred enclosure of a venerable English garden. We cannot establish wallflowers or snapdragons on our garden walls, but certainly we can have the red valerian which glorifies many a ruined castle and cathedral, the yellow fumitory, with its fascinating foliage and six months of bloom, the yellow wall pepper, the lavender Kenilworth ivy, the quaint rosettes of houseleek, the fragrant wild pinks, and many other precious little gems. We can do this by not plastering even" with the brick, but leaving a shallow space for soil and by leaving out a brick, or half brick, at frequent intervals along the top of the wall.
The English get mossy effects in two or three years by sowing the seeds of certain wonderful little plants like New Zealand burrs or acsenas, which make mossy carpets right in a gravel walk without a particle of soil in sight. Why can't we do this, too?
Just look for a moment at the flowers that grow on the roof of the little shelter house at the end of Mr. William Robinson's bowling green. (Plate 37.) It is natural to suppose that a roof would be about the hardest place in the world for plants to grow. Yet on this one roof there are perhaps twenty species of flowers! I wish I could give a life-size portrait of every different kind. Some of those miniature islands of bloom are perfect little poems. Now* this sort of thing we can do. True, we cannot buy slates that have been on old barns for three hundred years, but we can have them specially quarried if necessary, and if we insist upon it we Can get good, square, broad, flat, honest, red tile — the kind you see everywhere on old houses in England. These we can have laid in such a manner that plenty of earth can be put in without interfering with necessary cement or causing a leak. Then we can get sheets of moss from the woods on which some of the flowers will eventually self-sow. And in the pockets of soil we can put plants of stone-crop or Sedum (a fascinating genus of many colours and textures) which will live on your roof when it gets so hot that you cannot bear your hand upon it and so cold that the thermometer drops below zero.
Another enchanting feature of English gardens is the crannied flower in the steps that lead to the garden and between the flagstones of the path. You ought to see the Kenilworth ivy filling every chink in the steps, softening every sharp corner, obliterating the bad architecture and caressing all the good. If you cannot go to England you can see the very thing I speak of in the frontispiece of "The American Flower Garden," by Neltje Blanchan. Instead of having solid stone steps the English often leave a crack an inch or two wide which runs the full length of each tread. Such spaces they fill with earth and in them they plant rock-loving flowers.
I should be afraid to have such a strip of earth more than two inches wide because the heaving and cracking are so much greater here, where the mercury drops twenty degrees below zero.
The finest chance of all, however, comes to every man who has any sloping ground to deal with. For then retaining walls are nec-essary and you may do the sort of thing pictured on pages 36 and 38. This particular treatment struck me as being very beautiful but it may not suit your fancy — too formal and too little variety. If so, I challenge you to go to your library and draw out "Wall and Water Gardens" by Gertrude Jekyll. If that doesn't open your eyes to a wonder world of beauty I miss my guess. For the treasures of the alpine regions of the world seem to be unlocked by the process known as "dry-walling." A dry wall is one that is put together without mortar, and it is generally strong enough to hold banks three or four feet high.
garden, flowers, plants, England, effects, foliage, gardening