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.
The second great reason why we cannot copy English cottage gardens is that about four tenths of their charm is due to the cottages themselves and these do not fit our present mode of life at all. I wish you could see the book that lies before me as I write — Ditchfield's "English Cottages and their Doorway Gardens." It is full of beautiful photographs. But every time I put one hand over the cottage, its garden shrinks enormously in interest. The soul of it is gone. Old cottages in England are always either beautiful or picturesque, but on the practical side they are invariably deficient.
For instance, thatched roofs are dreams of beauty, and once upon a time they were economical in England, but in America they cost too much, and even in England it is against the law in some districts to thatch new cottages. Small window panes are poetic, but hard to clean. Rambling structures may be lovable, but they multiply steps and waste a woman's strength. Crooked stairs may be romantic, but they are dangerous. High roofs mean a waste of room.
The English cottage which nestles so sweetly among the ever-blooming roses was developed before people knew anything about germs and before the importance of ventilation and sunlight was understood. Picturesqueness is almost invariably associated with dirt, and dirt breeds disease. Dearly as I love the picturesque I would not buy it at the cost of healthfulness. It hurts me to say so, but picturesqueness always means increased cost, both for construction and maintenance; and it usually means unsanitary conditions. (See plate 108.)
Indeed, we enormously overrate the value of the picturesque as contrasted with the beautiful. The traveller finds the former more entertaining, but for living purposes the latter wears best (contrast the beautiful and picturesque on plate 109). Now the beauty of English cottages is chiefly due to the national quality in their architecture. But this grew out of their conditions — climatic, economic and historical — not ours. For instance, the soul of an English cottage is its fireplace, and in that climate an open hearth keeps a cottage warm enough. Not so with us. Again, you cannot tell from the outside of an English house what the different rooms are used for. This is because the English have a passion for privacy. We do not, and our favourite type, the Georgian or Colonial, frankly reveals the purpose of every part.
Other fundamental differences could be given, but I wish to give more attention to the gardens than the cottages. It is sufficient if my readers are persuaded that to make exact copies of English cottages is foolish, and that we shall never have charming cottage gardens in America until we have charming cottages in an American style.
How shall we get an American style of cottage? Many people believe that we shall evolve it by adapting the English style to our conditions. That idea is dear to my heart, but I would rather abandon it entirely than see America filled with cottages that cost too much or do not fit the lives of the people. The first thing for architects to do is to satisfy American conditions, e. g.j our hotter summers and colder winters, the higher cost of labour and of living, the dangers from mosquitoes and flies, our passion for comforts, conveniences, air, sunlight, cleanliness, and our desire to reduce housework to the minimum. Then, if there is anything left of the English style, well and good, for it is pleasant to be reminded that England was our mother-country.
It is my conviction that nine tenths of the charm of English cottage gardens is due to the environment; only one tenth seems to me intrinsic. The gardens themselves owe their beauty to two elements — the materials, or plants, and the national style of gardening.
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