Landscape gardening has often been likened to painting a picture. Your art teacher has undoubtedly told you that a good picture should have a key point of interest, and the rest of the features simply go to make more exquisite the central idea, or to form a fine setting for it. So, in landscape gardening there must be the gardener’s vision, or a mental picture of what he desires and what he wants to see when he completes his work.
From this study we shall be able to work out a little theory of landscape gardening.
First we will look at the lawn. A good extent of open lawn space is always beautiful. It is peaceful It adds a feeling of spaciousness to even small gardens. So we might generalise and say that it is positive to keep open lawn spaces as part of our design. If you cover the lawn with trees and flower beds, the general effect becomes messy and cluttered. A single tree or a small group is not a bad arrangement on the lawn, but keep it simple. Do not centre the tree or trees. Place them in the background. Make the trees a pleasing side feature, not a centre piece. In choosing trees you must think about a number of things. Do not choose overpowering trees; the tree should be one of good shape, with something interesting about its bark, leaves, flowers or fruit. While the poplar is a fast grower, it sheds its leaves early and so is left standing, bare and ugly, at the beginning of autumn. However, there are places where a row of Lombardy poplars can be very effective. But a single lone poplar is not usually very effective. The catalpa can be quite attractive by itself. Its leaves are strong, its flowers attractive and the seed pods which cling to the tree until deep into the winter months add a distinctive feature. The bright berries of the ash, the brilliant foliage of the sugar maple, the blossoms of the tulip tree, the bark of the white birch, and the leaves of the copper beech all these are beauty points to be considered.
Position makes a difference in the selection of a tree. For instance, if the lower part of the grounds is a bit low and moist, then the spot is ideal for a willow. Don’t group trees together which look odd. A tall poplar does not go together with a pleasant rather rounded little tulip tree. A juniper, neat and prim, would look odd beside a spreading chestnut. One must keep proportion and suitability in mind.
I would never suggest planting of a group of evergreens close to the house, or in the front garden. It will cause a very dark and dreary effect. Houses surrounded by such trees and are not only gloomy to live in, but truly unhealthy. The chief requisite inside a house is sunlight and plenty of it.
Trees should be chosen for their good points. We should utilize this philosophy to shrubs also. In a clump of shrubs I would choose some which bloomed early, some which bloomed late, some for the beauty of their autumn foliage, some for the colour of their bark and others for their fruit. Some spireas and the forsythia bloom early. The red bark of the dogwood adds a bit of colour throughout the winter, and the red berries of the barberry cling to the shrub well into the winter.
Certain shrubs are good to use for hedge purposes. Try to use hedges rather than a fence. They are much more pleasing on the eye. The Californian privet is splendid for this purpose. Osage orange, Japan barberry, buckthorn, Japan quince, and Van Houtte’s spirea are other shrubs which make good hedges.
I forgot to say that when selecting trees and shrub it is often better to choose ones that are from the local area. Unusual and foreign plants do less well, and often struggle to adjust into their new setting.
Landscape garden designs can be very formal and traditional or very informal and contemporary. The first would have straight paths, straight rows in stiff beds, everything, as the name suggests, perfectly formal and traditional. The contemporary method is, of course, the exact opposite. There are danger points in each.
The formal arrangement is likely to look too stiff and boring; the contemporary, too messy and uncomfortable. When laying paths, keep this in mind, a path should always lead somewhere. That is its function to direct one to a clear-cut place. Straight, even paths are typical if you are creating a formal, traditional garden. The danger in the curved path is an sudden curve, a whirligig effect. It is far better for you to stick to straight paths unless you can make a really beautiful curve.
Garden paths may be constructed using paving stone, gravel, dirt, or grass. Grass paths are a feature of many lovely gardens. I doubt, however, if they would serve as well in a small garden. If your garden areas are so limited that they should be re-spaded each season, then the grass path will not be advisable. Of course, a gravel path can be very attractive, but requires some attention to keep neat and tidy. You must dig out a two foot trench. Then lay six inches of stone or clinker. Over this, pack in the dirt, rounding it slightly toward the centre of the path. There should on no account be depressions through the central part of paths, since these form convenient places for water to collect. The under layer of stone makes a good natural drainage system.
A building often needs the help of vines or flowers or both to tie it to the ground in such a way as to form a bond between man-made structure and nature. Vines lend themselves well to this. It is better to plant a perennial vine, and so let it form a permanent part of your landscape scheme. The Virginia creeper, wistaria, honeysuckle, a climbing rose, the clematis and trumpet vine are all perfect for this.
close your eyes and visualize a house of natural colour, that mellow gray of the weathered shingles. Now add to this old house a beautiful purple wistaria. Can you see the beauty of it? I shall never forget a rather horrible corner of my childhood home, where the dining room and kitchen met. Just there climbing over, and falling over the trellis was a trumpet vine. It made beautiful and hid an awkward angle and ugly bit of carpentry work.
Of course, the morning-glory is an annual vine, as is the moon-vine and wild cucumber. Now, these have their special function. Often, it is necessary to cover an ugly thing for a certain period, until the better things come along. The annual is perfect for this work.
Along an old fence a hop vine is a beautiful addition. Often one sees festooned from one rotted tree to another the ampelopsis vine.
Flowers may well go along the side of the building, or bordering a walkway. In general, though, keep the front lawn space open and unbroken by beds. What can be lovelier in early spring than a bed of daffodils close to the house? Hyacinths and tulips, too, form a blaze of glory. These are little bother, and mark start the spring perfectly. Snowdrops and crocuses planted through the lawn are also beautiful. They do not overpower the general effect, just blend in nicely. One adept bulb gardener says to take a basketful of bulbs in the autumn, walk about your grounds, and just randomly drop bulbs here and there. Wherever the bulbs drop, plant them. Such small bulbs should be planted in groups of four to six.
The ideal place for a flower garden is generally at the side or rear of the house. The flower garden may be laid out formally in neat little beds, or it may be more of a random, hit-or-miss approach. Both have their good points. Great masses of bloom are lovely.
You should think carefully about the blending of colour. Nature doesn’t seem to consider this at all, but still gets wondrous effects. I suppose this is because of the fantastic amount of her background of green, and the limitlessness of her space, while we are confined at best to relatively small areas. So we should strive not to go over the top with clashes of colours which do not blend well. In order to break up extremes of colours you can always use lots of white flowers, or something like mignonette, which is green.
Finally, let us sum up our landscape lesson. The grounds are a setting for the house or buildings. Open, free lawn spaces, a tree or a suitable group well placed, flowers which do not jumble up the front garden, groups of shrubbery. These are vital points to be remembered in our design. The paths should lead somewhere, and be either straight or well curved around a feature. If one starts with a formal garden, one should not mix the informal with it before the work is done.
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