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The American Garden
by [?]

Was he not right? This is why, in our pleasant Northampton affair, we have accepted it as our first rule of private gardening that the house is the climacteric note.

This is why the garden should never be more architectural and artificial than the house of which it is the setting, and this is why the garden should grow less and less architectural and artificial as it draws away from the house. To say the same thing in reverse, the garden, as it approaches the house, should accept more and more discipline–domestication–social refinement, until the house itself at length seems as unabruptly and naturally to grow up out of the garden as the high keynote rises at the end of a lady’s song.

By this understanding of the matter what a fine truce-note is blown between the contending advocates of “natural” and of “formal” gardening! The right choice between these two aspects of the art, and the right degree in either choice, depend on the character of the house. The house is a part of the garden. It is the garden’s brow and eyes. In gardening, almost the only thing which costs unduly is for us to try to give our house some other house’s garden. One’s private garden should never be quite so far removed from a state of nature as his house is. Its leading function should be to delight its house’s inmates (and intimates) in things of nature so refined as to inspire and satisfy their happiest moods. Therefore no garden should cost, nor look as if it cost, an outlay of money, time or toil that cramps the house’s own ability to minister to the genuine bodily needs and spiritual enlargements of its indwellers; and therefore, also, it should never seem to cost, in its first making or in its daily keeping, so much pains as to lack, itself, a garden’s supreme essential–tranquillity.

So, then, to those who would incite whole streets of American towns to become florally beautiful, “formal” gardening seems hardly the sort to recommend. About the palatial dwellings of men of princely revenue it may be enchanting. There it appears quite in place. For with all its exquisite artificiality it still is nearer to nature than the stately edifice it surrounds and adorns. But for any less costly homes it costs too much. It is expensive in its first outlay and it demands constantly the greatest care and the highest skill. Our ordinary American life is too busy for it unless the ground is quite handed over to the hired professional and openly betrays itself as that very unsatisfying thing, a “gardener’s garden.”

For this he has no occasion to make himself responsible but there are certain empty lots not far from him for whose aspect he is answerable, having graded them himself (before he knew how). He has repeatedly heard their depth estimated at ninety feet, never at more. In fact it is one hundred and thirty-nine. However, he has somewhat to do also with a garden whose grading was quite as bad–identical, indeed–whose fault has been covered up and its depth made to seem actually greater than it is, entirely by a corrective planting of its shrubbery.

One of the happiest things about gardening is that when it is bad you can always–you and time–you and year after next–make it good. It is very easy to think of the plants, beds and paths of a garden as things which, being once placed, must stay where they are; but it is shortsighted and it is fatal to effective gardening. We should look upon the arrangement of things in our garden very much as a housekeeper looks on the arrangement of the furniture in her house. Except buildings, pavements and great trees–and not always excepting the trees–we should regard nothing in it as permanent architecture but only as furnishment and decoration. At favorable moments you will make whatever rearrangement may seem to you good. A shrub’s mere being in a certain place is no final reason that it should stay there; a shrub or a dozen shrubs–next spring or fall you may transplant them. A shrub, or even a tree, may belong where it is this season, and the next and the next; and yet in the fourth year, because of its excessive growth, of the more desired growth of something else, or of some rearrangement of other things, that spot may be no longer the best place for it.