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Where To Plant What
by [?]

Often one’s hands are too heavily veneered with garden loam for him to go to his books to verify a quotation. It was the great Jefferson, was it not, who laid into the foundations of American democracy the imperishable maxim that “That gardening is best which gardens the least”? My rendition of it may be more a parody than a quotation but, whatever its inaccuracy, to me it still sounds Jeffersonian–Joseph Jeffersonian.

Whether we read it “garden” or “govern,” it has this fine mark of a masterful utterance, that it makes no perceptible effort to protect itself against the caviller or the simpleton; from men, for instance, who would interpret it as meaning that the only perfect government, or gardening, is none at all. Speaking from the point of view of a garden-lover, I suppose the true signification is that the best government is the government which procures and preserves the noblest happiness of the community with the least enthralment of the individual.

Now, I hope that as world-citizens and even as Americans we may bear in mind that, while this maxim may be wholly true, it is not therefore the whole truth. What maxim is? Let us ever keep a sweet, self-respecting modesty with which to confront and consort with those who see the science of government, or art of gardening, from the standpoint of some other equally true fraction of the whole truth. All we need here maintain for our Jeffersonian maxim is that its wide domination in American sentiment explains the larger part of all the merits and faults of American government–and American gardening. It accounts for nearly all our American laws and ordinances, manners, customs, and whims, and in the great discussion of Where to Plant What (in America) no one need hope to prevail who does not recognize that this high principle of American democracy is the best rule for American gardening. That gardening is best, for most Americans, which best ministers to man’s felicity with least disturbance of nature’s freedom.

Hence the initial question–a question which every amateur gardener must answer for himself. How much subserviency of nature to art and utility is really necessary to my own and my friends’ and neighbors’ best delight? For–be not deceived–however enraptured of wild nature you may be, you do and must require of her some subserviency close about your own dwelling. You cannot there persistently enjoy the wolf and the panther, the muskrat, buzzard, gopher, rattlesnake, poison-ivy and skunk in full swing, as it were. How much, then, of nature’s subserviency does the range of your tastes demand? Also, how much will your purse allow? For it is as true in gardening as in statecraft that, your government being once genuinely established, the more of it you have, the more you must pay for it. In gardening, as in government, the cost of the scheme is not in proportion to the goodness or badness of its art, but to its intensity.

This is why the general and very sane inclination of our American preferences is away from that intense sort of gardening called “formal,” and toward that rather unfairly termed “informal” method which here, at least, I should like to distinguish as “free-line” gardening. A free people who govern leniently will garden leniently. Their gardening will not be a vexing tax upon themselves, upon others, or upon the garden. Whatever freedom it takes away from themselves or others or the garden will be no more than is required for the noblest delight; and whatever freedom remains untaken, such gardening will help everybody to exercise and enjoy.

The garden of free lines, provided only it be a real garden under a real government, is, to my eye, an angel’s protest against every species and degree of tyranny and oppression, and such a garden, however small or extensive, will contain a large proportion of flowering shrubbery. Because a garden should not, any more than my lady’s face, have all its features–nose, eyes, ears, lips–of one size? No, that is true of all gardening alike; but because with flowering shrubbery our gardening can be more lenient than with annuals alone, or with only herbaceous plants and evergreens.