Landscape gardening has often been likened to the painting of a picture. Your art teacher has most likely told you that a good piece of art should have a central point of interest, and everything else simply goes to make more beautiful the central idea, or to form a suitable setting for it. So, in landscape gardening there must be in the gardener’s mind a picture of what he desires or a vision of 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 and hopefully stimulate some good ideas for landscaping.
First we will look at the lawn. A good extent of open lawn space is always beautiful. It is restful. It adds a feeling of space to even small grounds. So we might generalise and say that it is positive to keep open lawn spaces as part of our design.
If one covers the lawn space with trees and little flower beds here and there, the widespread effect becomes cluttered and messy. A single tree or a small group is not a bad arrangement on the lawn, but keep it simple. Do not centre the trees. Let them drop a bit into the background. Make a pleasing side feature of them. When choosing trees one must keep in mind a number of things. You should not choose an overpowering tree; the tree should be one of good shape, with something interesting about its bark, leaves, flowers or fruit. While the poplar is a rapid grower, it sheds its leaves early and is left standing, bare and ugly, before most other trees. However, there are places where a row or double row of Lombardy poplars is very effective. But a single lone poplar is not usually very effective. The catalpa is quite adorable 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 segment 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, will always look out of place next to a spreading chestnut. You must always keep proportion and suitability in mind.
I would never advise planting of a group of evergreens close to the house, or in the front garden. The effect is very gloomy indeed. 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 group of shrubs I should wish some which bloomed early, some which bloomed late, some for the beauty of their foliage, some for the colour of their bark and others for the fruit. Some spireas and the forsythia bloom early. The red bark of the dogwood adds a bit of colour all winter, and the red berries of the barberry cling to the shrub well into the winter.
Certain shrubs are good to use as hedges. A hedge is rather prettier usually than a fence. The Californian privet is excellent 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. Exotic and foreign plants do less well, and often struggle to adapt to the unfamiliar settings.
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 other method is, of course, the exact opposite. There are advantages and disadvantages in each.
The formal approach is likely to look too stiff and dreary; the informal, too messy and uncomfortable.
As far as paths go, keep in mind that a path should always lead somewhere. That is its business to direct one to a definite 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 or a curve around a particular feature. Garden paths can 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 limited and need to be re-spaded each season, then the grass path will not be suited. 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 put in six inches of stone or clinker. Over this, pack in the dirt, rounding it slightly toward the centre of the path. There should by no means be depressions through the central part of paths, since these form convenient places for water to collect. The under layer of stone makes a natural drainage system.
A building often benefits from 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 purple wistaria. Can you see its beauty? I shall never forget a rather unsightly corner of my childhood home, where the dining room and kitchen met. 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 thing of beauty. 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 the early spring than a bed of daffodils planted 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 can also be beautiful. They do not disturb the general effect, but just blend in nicely. One skillful 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. These 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 tremendous natural background of green, and the limitlessness of her space, whilst we are confined at best to the relatively small areas of our garden. 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 masses of white flowers, or something like mignonette, which is in effect 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 proper group well placed, flowers which do not jumble up the front garden, groups of shrubbery. These are key points to be remembered in our design. The paths should lead somewhere, and be either straight or well curved around a feature. One should not mix the informal with the formal when designing the landscape. There are many resources available for finding garden landscaping ideas.