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.
Letchworth can never be crowded. The population is limited to 35,000, an average of nine persons to the acre for the whole tract, or twenty-three per acre for the town site. Twelve families to the acre is the maximum, and even in this case every family has a lot equal to 36.3 x 100 feet, which gives the poorest residents a fair-sized garden, and 45 per cent, better than the typical city lot of New York.
In other words, market gardening will easily produce anywhere from five to ten times as much as ordinary farming. This was well shown by a gardening contest at Bournville, in which nineteen gardens took part. These gardens, which averaged 3,700 square feet (the same as 37 x 100 feet.), produced vegetables and fruit worth #23.45 each, which is at the rate of #278.25 an acre. Yet the total yield from 77 of the acres where Bournville now stands was less than #25 an acre in the days of ordinary farming. So that these 77 acres for which a record has been kept not only house under ideal conditions a population of nearly 2,000 people, but they also produce more than six times as much profit under home gardening as they did under general farming.
It is this enormous productiveness which makes gardening such an efficient enemy of the saloon. For even the poorest tenant at Bournville has an experience like this: Coming from the slums of Birmingham and knowing nothing about gardening, he finds everything to encourage him. His beautiful evergreen lawn is already started. A hawthorn hedge has been planted around his whole lot for the protection of his garden. The gravel walks are all made. Dwarf fruit trees and grape vines have been planted, and on the house walls is a set of ornamental climbers which is a little different from that in any other yard. Thus all the preliminary work which is so costly and difficult that the beginner can never do it alone without serious mistakes and delays — all this is done for him. And the longest time which can elapse before a man has something to eat of his own raising is three months. After this event, it is all clear sailing. And experience shows that under such conditions a man finds gardening more interesting than the saloon.
The saloon and its attendant evils are unknown at Bournville.
None can be established without the written consent of every trustee, and the trustees are bound to suppress saloons altogether, unless such suppression leads to greater evils. They have the right to revoke licenses and to prescribe the hours of sale of intoxicating liquors, the quantities, and all other features of the business. Moreover, all the net profits must go to counter attractions.
I might have gotten hundreds of beautiful garden photographs at Letchworth or Port Sunlight, but I have chosen all my illustrations from Bournville because I believe its gardening system is, on the whole, the best. At Port Sunlight the front yards may be even more brilliant, because they are cared for by the town, but the back yards are not up to so high a standard, and, in my opinion, it is not best to take away from the individual the privilege of caring for his own front yard. At Bournville, the Village Trust lays out the flower beds in the front yard, but if the tenant does not like the plan he may change it. At Letchworth, plants are sold by regular nurserymen at regular rates, but Bournville gives its tenants a chance to buy plants, seeds, and bulbs at reduced rates.
I doubt if there is any place in the world where the gardens are uniformly as good as at Bournville. One great reason for this is that gardening is compulsory. There is a clause in every contract which says that every tenant must keep his place up to a certain standard of neatness and beauty. This is no hardship, for if a man is too sick or busy to dig his garden he can have this, or any other garden work, done for him cheaply. In the whole history of Bournville only two gardens have been neglected. No tenant will neglect his place when he knows that there are one hundred applicants for houses on the waiting list all the time.
Another reason for the enchanting beauty of Bournville is that the Village Trust has a gardening department. The head gardener is a Kew-trained man, part of whose business is to help every one who comes for advice. Thus, no matter how poor a man may be, or how ignorant of gardening, when he comes to Bournville there is no chance for him to get discouraged. He knows that he can produce twenty dollars worth of vegetables and fruit if he is simply industrious. And all the preliminary work has been done for him. Of course the tenant pays for all that preliminary work in his rent, but it is distributed over a long period and the thing is a small item compared with the cost of house and lot. Then, too, he can get free booklets on gardening, describing the best shrubs and small trees for Bournville, and there is a free library of gardening books. And last, but not least, his neighbours on either side will help him in every emergency, for there is a splendid spirit of fraternalism in a community where every person is enthusiastic about gardening.
If you were a resident of Bournville, you would come home after your day's work and sit down to dinner in a room with beautiful French windows, that open directly on an exquisite bit of lawn, surrounded by flowers. Beyond this you would see fruits and vegetables in orderly array. And when you rose from the table you would feel an irresistible impulse to throw aside those French windows and step right into your garden. Before you realized it you would have done an hour's work there and the chances are that your family would have joined you in it. For Bournville's experience seems to show that gardening is the best of all family hobbies.
In short, the garden city idea appealed to me so strongly that I came home wishing that I could devote the rest of my life to it. My family spends twice as much as the ordinary family in Bournville and does not have half as much to show for it. And as soon as America gets a city like Bournville every visitor to it will be discontented until he can live amid equal healthfulness and beauty. And thus, without waiting for socialism or any political revolution, the city life of the world may be radically changed within two or three centuries. Already cities on the Letchworth plan are springing up like magic in old England.
It is easy to be sceptical and to criticize, but I believe that every doubt and objection you can raise will be satisfactorily answered if you will send for that bookof Ebenezer Howard's and write to Letchworth and Bournville. And I believe that you and I could start a stock company and establish one of these perfect cities within five years!
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