THE CALVERT CAREY garden, one of the Georgetown places on tour this Saturday, has the dignity and quietness of those gardens in which flowers are unimportant.
It is rectangular, enclosed by walls, and the southern third is taken up by a handsome terrace of fieldstone, laid rectangular-random, the stones large enough for table tops.
This terrace runs across the width of the lot. The north front of the house, which touches the terrace, is not straight but juts out here and there, so the stone pavement is in some places 30-feet deep and in others only 20.
Glass doors from various rooms of the house open on this pavement, large enough for tables and chairs of teak, now weathered to soft grays and greens.
A particularly pretty room was added to the house as a garden room, fronting on the pavement.
Its garden wall is of sliding glass panels. The owner often lunches there, the table set with old blue and white Canton ware. A framed silk panel on the wall (once a kimono) shows spirited polo ponies racing about, and blue and white porcelain vases are handsome against white walls. The furniture, which struck me as suitable for Jane Austen heroines to sit on for a country tea, are covered with blue and white cushions.
Though this garen room faces north, it is lighted by clerestory windows to the south, and by skylights, so that when it is opened up, it is part of the garden itself.
The owner has set a plate of ceramic olives, somewhat maliciously perhaps, on a table near the garden. Fortunately, they are fused to the plate on which they sit, but an occasional guest gives them a go.
Now from this room you look out to the north, seeing the wide stone terrace and the first of three bulky windswept pines, and in front of it, not on a pedestal but standing on the pavement, is a Maillol life-sized bronze figure of a woman.
Behind the pine, the garden is green. A narrow canal makes an "L" down the west and north sides of the garden. Many jets shoot the water up, and these are lighted by floodlights under the water. The canal is too narrow to serve as a reflecting pool, and too ruffled and agitated to suit water lilies. It is simply a ribbon of jets, and the effect at night is fairly dazzling, especially since the foreground is a very quiet lawn of zoysia grass, and the background is mounds of green foliage.
The garden was designed nearly 20 years ago by Lester Collins, who did not falter at the nuisance of moving some tons of earth in which the three pines were growing. He found a particularly rugged-looking pine on the edge of a golf course. Delicacy forbids inquiring whether he just had it dug up and hauled off one night or whether its acquisition was less daring. I do think, however, that no well-shaped picturesque old pine is safe if it happens to be just the shape and size a good landscape architect requires.
Along the west wall near the north end of the garden is a tool house of brick. The owner's grandchildren have enjoyed playing in it.
I would, myself, dismiss the tools or store them in a guest bedroom (for I have never believed it pays to make guest rooms too comfortable in this town) and use the little storage building as a place to sit, especially on mild winter mornings since it commands the whole garden view to the southwest.
Back of it, in the extreme northwest corner of the garden, is a beautiful wild Chinese magnolia, the white M. kobus. This tree is uncommon in American gardens, It flowers at the same time as the star magnolia, but has fewer and wider petals. In good forms (like this specimen) the blooms resemble denudata , except they are smaller, but equally full. Not strappy.
It was in full bloom the first day of April, and beneath it a large white camellia with horizontal and weeping branches was studded with white saucers.
Occupants of the house include three cats who, lacking a Newton or Einstein amongest them, are perpetually frustrated by a bird feeder hanging suspended from a high limb. The birds have learned to ignore the feline chaos below.
Another handsome sculpture to be seen in the garden is a Cubist work of Lipchitz, in bronze, and there are two or three other sculptures handsomely displayed.
A little pine, about 60 years old, had its trunk tied in a loop as a young plant. It sits in a litle wood box, in which it has grown the past 20 years, and receives no special care. Sometimes the owner worries about it, tied up in knots, but that's life for you, agter 60 years as a pine tree.
This garden, needless to say, could just as easily (and at less effort and expense) have been devoted to flash flowering trees and shrubs.
But the concept behind it is that it is too small to grow a great deal of anything, and therefore it would be better to rely on form than on color. Even in gardens devoted almost entirely to flowers, that is a sound way to proceed, for what good are flowers in the world if the effect is not serene and satisfying?
If there had never been Chinese gardens, there would never have been this particular garden.
It is (thank God) by no means a copy of an Oriental garden, and is far less jammed and crowded than some of the famous gardens of China. To say nothing ot its fountain jets, which are almost unthinkable in Chinese gardens. n
But the emphasis on a very few especially handsome plants, and the reliance on wall shadows, weathered wood, stone, and the all-the-year form, are unmistakably Chinese in origin, however greatly adapted to Western notions (like lawn, figure sculpture, uncluttered space).
With virtually no maintenance, the garden is handsome throughout the year. Azaleas could come and go, there could be a collection of lilies, and any number of small details could be added if one chose, but if serenity, dignity, drama are the things sought, then there is no merit in elaborating the means of achieving them.
As we need reminding (me, especially) there is great art in getting it right, then leaving it alone.