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Planting a garden


A certain sense of responsibility attaches to those who plant timber, quite out of proportion to that incurred in the pursuit of the minor and more transitory forms of garden arrangement and design. The builder oak, the vine-prop elm and sailing pine, which today are so small that we can carry them unaided, will develop into mighty trees, silent witnesses of the times and doings of generations yet unborn.

We are planting for posterity, and shall be held accountable for the good or evil that we do. Tree planting calls forth certain motives of unselfishness, for it will be given to others than ourselves to see the full beauty which only maturity can show. All honour, then, to those old designers, to whose thought and care we owe the stately avenues, the pride and glory of many an English home. A beautiful tree, Nature's gift of shade and shelter to man and animal, is the most precious picture in a fair landscape, and we are doing good work when with care and foresight we increase, even in ever so humble a way, the timber supplies of our country.

Avenues are perhaps the most important example of formal planting, but as they concern park and woodland effects rather than those pertaining to the garden. Of recent years, however, a practice has arisen among designers of making an approach of this kind to quite unpretentious dwellings. Even in suburban grounds we frequently see an avenue, perhaps no more than fifty yards in length, leading to a modern villa. Against this we protest, as a form of pretentious imitation, foolish to the last degree. The avenue, which should never be less than one hundred yards long, is essentially associated with a house and estate of considerable size and some measure of importance, and to attach it to a small residence is merely to cast ridicule on the owner.

Plantations of shrubs, with a few bold groups of deciduous trees, will give the needed shelter to carriage drives, and at the same time allow of far greater freedom of design than is permissible with a style of planting which is both formal and exacting.

As regards the use of clipped yews for garden hedges, much diversity of opinion exists among designers. On the one hand, we have men who employ them in nearly every garden they undertake to lay out, and argue that, far from being objectionable, every opportunity should be embraced for planting them; on the other, a class who regard them as wholly foreign to the ideals of beauty and the picturesque. Which is right? Certainly not the former, for of all things tending towards monotony both in summer and winter, an undue proportion of evergreens clipped evergreens especially must be considered the most likely.

Yew hedges are the great delight of the office designer,"whose thought is less for the true beauty of the living plant than for the elegant completeness of his deftly-drawn plan. An ill-kept hedge is a wretched sight, thin at the bottom, full of holes, and generally decrepit, and the labour of keeping some hundreds of yards of clipped yew in repair entails an amount of labour not easily realised by those who have not attempted to do so.

There can be no doubt, too, that the near presence of hungry evergreens is prejudicial to roses and tender plants on account of the nourishment they demand, and the idea that they act as harbourage to insect and other pests is also well founded. Their merit consists in the fact that they form an admirable shelter, certainly the best obtainable after walls and fences, and a certain old-world air of picturesque dignity which they impart. Despite this, their use is constantly overdone; they are planted to distraction, dividing the garden into chess-board squares and alleys leading nowhere; they render the soil sour and cold, exclude sunlight, and sooner or later wear an appearance of gloomy desolation, especially in the cheerless days of winter and late autumn. Had they been used sparingly, instead of to excess, it is possible they would still be regarded with the favour they once enjoyed, for we must not forget the charm of the old manorhouse gardens, where yew hedges were, and still are, true ornaments, because highly appropriate.

It is all a question of environment, and the greatest discretion is needed when transferring a feature of this description to modern surroundings, depriving it in the process of its old traditions - a relic of the past in a new and often incongruous setting. A yew hedge sometimes looks well when used as a boundary between the flower and vegetable garden, a convenient arch or archways being cut to afford communication from one to the other. A level top is preferable to one cut into semi-circular hollows or crenelations; and any further embellishment, such as standard trees with oddly-shaped heads planted at intervals, is certainly to be avoided.

Isolated trees, whether yew, box, mopheaded acacias or holly, are objects of pity to the lover of natural beauty, when (s)he sees them transferred by the shears into cones, umbrellas, and other stupid shapes. There are many reasons, some practical, others sentimental, for refraining from this barbarous practice, which is carried on mainly at the instigation of the architect, who is apparently ashamed of associating his walls and terraces with any but mutilated forms of plant life. The cost of maintenance, as in the case of clipped hedges, is an item not to be disparaged; the loss of form and individual character is scant compensation for well matched regularity; and by the absence of varied colour, the rich tints of maturity and the delicate green of budding branch, the clipped tree is reduced to the level of an unresponsive object, dull and inanimate.

If formality is needed, why not make use of such trees as have a naturally well-defined outline the Irish yew, cupressus, and the hardy junipers, they give a better effect with a tithe of the trouble. The bower walks, once so favoured, are now seldom made in gardens, though as an example of formal planting they are not without a certain charm. Adequate protection from hot sun and cold winds is afforded at all times, and the garden scenes are not hidden from view, as is the case with evergreen hedges. In the neighbourhood of the orchard, a filbert walk would be a pleasing object, and even on poor soils, heavy crops of nuts may be obtained after a few years.