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.
These are not mere tricks. They are examples of optical or colour laws that open a wonder world of delight, in which any one may be an explorer and discoverer. We miss all this if we scatter colours anywhere in the border and make our enjoyment of colours simply a matter of feeling, instinct, or taste. ^JThe artistic and -^exciting thing is to work out a definite colour progression. Miss JekylPs border begins with a blue section, then a yellow, then orange and red, then yellow, and finally purple. This may sound very crude and mechanical, but so does every colour scheme in outline. -fYou should know how the transition is made from one colour to the next.
For example, in the blue section of her border Miss Jekyll uses only pure blues and tender colours. Theoretically, blues and purples blend, and theoretically it is better to get harmony by using similar colours than complementary colours, for easy transitions are more restful than contrasts. Practically, it is best to free the blue section from all purple, lilac, magenta, and allied colours. """Only in this way can blue flowers be made to rival the sky in brilliancy. And since blue is a tender colour, Miss Jekyll allows in her blue section no other colours but the tenderest — the palest pink, the palest yellow, and white.
The pale yellow is important because it m*akes the transition to the yellow section. As the yellows become stronger, they merge into orange and then into scarlet, which is the middle section of the border. This is, of course, the strongest colour and is, therefore, entitled to the central position in her scheme. At this point many people ruin their borders by trying to pass from scarlet through crimson to purple. A better way is to come down again through orange to yellow and end with a purple section. The danger, here, is to make the transition from yellow to purple. Miss Jekyll does it by carpeting the ground in the purple section with gray-leaved plants and she uses the gray ground cover in her blue section also.
By this time it must be evident that the only way to plan an artistic flower border is to draw it to scale on paper, laying off the__, whole area in blocks, say five feet square. Nearly everybody plants perennials in irregular but solid blocks. A much more artistic way is to plant in "drifts," i. e.y long and rather narrow patches, which should generally lie somewhat diagonally. The chief advantage is that the effect is more pictorial. Another great advantage is that long, thin colonies do not leave big, unsightly places when the flowers are past; their deficiencies are more easily hidden. And the acme of refinement is to interlace the colonies at their edges, so that the colours do not resemble so many separate daubs on a palette. It is easy to indicate on the plan just how to do it. For instance, suppose colonies i and 2 lie next each other, and you wish to tie them together. In the first colony write the figure 2 in about three places near the edge; and in the second colony put the figure i at about three places near the edge.
If you wish to keep your hardy border up to the high standard here indicated for as long a period as two months you must be prepared to have "fillers" ready in pots, and to adopt two other devices for securing an unbroken succession of bloom. One is "pulling down" which can be practised with unreasonably tall flowers like sunflowers and golden glow, thus transforming them from tall and narrow plants into medium-sized roundish masses that are covered with bloom. The other is to study combinations of plants that naturally supplement one another. For example, Gypsophila paniculata will cover the ground after Oriental poppies have lost their leaves, and later the brown seed-spray of gypsophila can be obscured by climbing nasturtiums.
The great objection to the system outlined above is that it makes of garden design a fine art, and therefore calls for life-long devotion on the part of conscientious and well-trained workers. Not one flower lover in a thousand can realize such an ideal. For the ordinary person such a border as that at Sutton Place is "plenty good enough." I was tempted to have a hundred pictures of it taken — say three a week, from spring to fall — in order to show the wonderful variety there is in any hardy border as opposed to the bedding system. But that would have been too easy a victory. I decided to have eight pictures taken under serious limitations — all on one day, and in this single, narrow, straight-edged border.
They are all remarkably different. Only two, however, are published in this book. (See plates 14 and 16.)
I must confess that I used to be prejudiced against straight borders. But for straight and narrow places they are appropriate, while undulating borders are not. The most charming English borders are not single, but double. (See plates 15 and 17.) They lie on both sides of a straight grass walk several hundred feet long, and flowers are seen against brick walls or yew hedges eight to twelve feet high. Such walks connect one part of an estate with another, like outdoor hall ways between outdoor rooms. This is very different from the American idea of throwing everything open. We shall soon learn to value privacy more highly. Of course, much of the charm of these borders is due to the backgrounds which the flowers have. Vine-clad walls are a great expense, and a perfect evergreen hedge means a wait of twenty years. The yew is not to be relied upon in America, but hemlock has practically the same texture.
Even if we cannot apply some of the principles above stated, even if it would be wrong for us to attempt the care of more than one little border, and even if that border exhibits all the shortcomings mentioned at the beginning of the article, still we ought to get better results by bordering our lawns than by setting geometrical beds in the lawn, simply because the borders tend to frame a home picture, while beds in the lawn destroy it.
Beginners usually go to the florist for geraniums and cannas, and plant them in circular beds in the middle of the lawn. This bedding system gives the biggest show the first season but it spoils the unity of the lawn, leaves a blank space seven months in the year, is monotonous and gaudy, and the expense must be renewed every year because the plants cannot endure frost. On the other hand, a border of hardy flowers has an ever-changing charm — new forms, new colours, new odours— and it maybe attractive two months longer. The plants are relatively permanent and may be multiplied without a greenhouse.
Therefore, I believe that one of the most important lessons we Americans have to learn about gardening is that nine tenths of us ought to grow flowers in borders rather than in beds of geometrical shape. I believe that the hardy border ought to and will become a national institution, that it will help us develop an American style in gardening, and that somehow we shall be able to give to it a charm that shall be distinctly American.
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