THE GROUND plan of a garden is hardly as important as the beginner might think; and I know this sounds odd, coming from one who is forever yapping about the critical and overwelming importance of agriculture in the garden.
A gorgeous plan for a garden ensures nothing whatsoever, and an abysmally trite plan for a garden may produce a creature of great splendor.
I shall stick, as I always have done, to the Great Plan, and commend it to you, with the warning that the plan is nothing, the execution is all.
Take a square, and divide it into four equal squares. That is the Great Plan, and it works almost as well as the Better Plan, which is a rectangle divided into four equal rectangles. The first is the plan of Eden. The second, which is considerably better, is the plan of Persia.
I myself have never used either. And yet I suppose I will never have a garden that a knowledgeable garden historian cannot immediately see is based on Persian notions.
It is not that I have any special affinity for Persia; I do not, and I have less and less as the years go by. Still, when I am left to my own devices, I automatically garden as Persians do, dividing a rectangle with water, putting vast trust in upright conifers and peach-tree blossoms and roses, and irises and narcissus. Like them, I have nothing to say to lawns. I like rigid geometry, and I especially like the luxuriance of plants that set it all at naught.More than anything I like water. I think I mustSee EARTHMAN, Page 2, Col. 5 Reflections Of Eden -EARTHMAN, From Page 1 be quite feminine, actually, since the only element I consider necessary, in all gardens in all times in all places, is pools of water. Water is a feminine element, I think, and I have always been a trifle sensitive that to me a garden is water. Period.
Of course I like land plants, too, and I like a great many more plants than even the best American nurseries seem to have ever heard of. I am not easily cowed by any American plantsmen I have ever met, and the most shocking aspect of the American nursery trade is its slowness, its conservatism, its ignorance and its general indifference to very great plants.
All the same, it is not the great plants that are the essence of the garden (though I hate to add the least fuel to the argument that plants are relatively unimportant in a garden) but the light, the light, the light. And of light, the chief servant and the chief master is water.
How often I see small town gardens that give no great pleasure to the gardener, and how often I see that if they stopped trying to do the impossible and the wrong, and only turned to the possible and the right, there would be better gardens and happier gardeners: in a garden the size of a living room, or the size of a small house (since living rooms have become absurd in size) a third of the space should be paved, and there should be chairs on brick or stone or concrete, and there should be an arbor or a summer house over this sitting place, clothed with grapes or clematis or Carolina jasmine or some such thing, and around the boundaries of the garden there should be evergreens with enough leaf-losing plants (roses, clematis, locusts, blueberries, mock oranges, crab apples, peaches, plums, or what you will) to keep the effect civilized and not too monumental or grand or funereal.
And this may be just the place to commend to you our wild native red cedar, Juniperus virginiana, which is rarely seen in gardens for one reason only: nurserymen have not thought to propagate and sell it. There is another reason, too. You have to know a good bit about plants, evidently, and you have to have pretty spectacular and unarguable taste, apparently, and you have to have had a thousand enthusiams and worked your way through them, apparently, before you at last come to the ultimate conclusion, that this native wild juniper is Better, Superior to, and Beyond Any Challenge of, other conifers.
So it is not a question of great cost. Anybody can dig up junipers and, for that matter, raise them from seed with astonishing speed.
But not to go on and on about the wild juniper. Once the garden is enclosed, and once the rich greens and the occasional rose and mock orange and peach have been worked in among the greens of the border, and once the paved place has been made, for sitting and eating and drinking, then the rest of the small garden may be given to water.
I know this rarely occurs to gardeners. But I am not speaking of what commonly occurs to gardeners, but of what gives intense delight.
I do not approve of swimming pools. That is, I would not have a swimming pool if you gave it to me and maintained it for me. A swimming pool is sterile, filtered, naked, banal, practical, and everything else that a garden ought not be.
If you have to swim, join a club that has a pool. Or go to Rehobeth. Or put the damned pool inside the house. It does not belong in the garden, and it will ruin any garden it is put in. Without any exception.
In great gardens, where they know what they are doing, they stick the swimming pool off somewhere that it cannot be seen. It is good to have a swimming pool in the same way that it is good to have a bowling alley, a sauna and a bathroom, but that place is not in the middle of a civilized garden that is to be occupied and luxuriated in by civilized folk.
Water, in the garden, was never meant by God or by any competent designer, to be reeking of chlorine and screaming kids, nor to be a disgusting panorama of fat whales blubbering about on rubber dolphins, nor to be any of those other deplorable things that swimming pools in gardens always are.
So I do not mean some damned swimming pool, when I say water is the life of the garden. I mean a basin, a pool, a pond, a canal, a lake, whatever the space allows, of Nature's water, which is better and vastly more beautiful than Man's.
Water that is clear, pellucid, shimmering, profound, dark, and touched with gold and emerald and sapphire, with blue and yellow water lilies and plenty of fish and toads in it. (The toads only in the spring, of course, in their mating season, in which they utter sweet cries and produce their jet tadpoles).
Suppose there is still space, between the water and the boundary of the garden. Or suppose the gardener feels he cannot afford a pool as large as I keep telling him he ought to have. Or suppose he cannot quite bring himself to commit himself to the high excellence I recommend, and must settle timidly for a pool only 10-by-12 feet or so. Thus leaving plenty of space, even in a small garden, between the pool and the garden boundary.
Then let him fill it with roses, irises, peonies, daylilies. With daffodils and nerines and gladioli and tulips and nasturtiums and wild petunias and wild stock beneath the bushes and in the open, all the way to the garden fence.
And about the pool those most wonderful of all plants, the moisture-lovers like Japanese irises, spuria irises, native swamp irises, I. fulva, I brevicaulis, bog primroses, ligularias, ostrich ferns, foxgloves, lady's mantles, bleeding hearts, meadow rues.
And everywhere vines. Grapes, clematis, roses, polygonums, Dutchmens breeches, moonflowers, the grossly neglected cypress vines, climbing nasturtiums, akebias with violet fruits bigger than chicken eggs, creeping figs (on low sheltered retaining walls) and gold-leaf ivies ("Buttercup" is the best one, not to split hairs about it), and in woodsy places, as beneath dogwoods and azaleas, the great and small plantain lilies and barrenworts, and scarlet-berried nandinas or celestial bamboos (the common nandina is better than its named varieties) and lungworts and blue star-flowers (Brodiaea or Tritelia or Milla uniflora and its deeper blue form called 'Wisley' which is no better than the regular blue, but deeper in color and an agreeable minor change) and wild anemones and cyclamineus daffodils and wild tulips and the exquisite stinking hellebore, which stinks far less than any zinnia if you want to get rough about it, and, of course, much, much else.
There is never going to be any trouble filling up the garden. What is difficult is the initial commitment, and the initial perception that we are creatures of small limits, alas, and we shall never have space or means to do all we would like.
Where is everything to go? Where shall space be found for even a twentieth of the things we would like to grow?
Child, not in this world. But in the wretched little space we have, and for which we ought to give thanks, of course, and for which we indeed give thanks on our better days, which are not often -- even in such space as we have we can make miraculous enchantments.
And the center, the core, the heart, of any enchantment in any small garden, is water. Trembling, glistening, utterly different from our earthbound life. Plan for it. Make it happen. Give up a dozen rosebushes, give up 52 irises, give up whatever is necessary to be given up, and have the water. You will not regret it.
You do not want to die, after all, without having the foggiest notion what a garden can be. It cannot be a garden, it cannot give any pleasure, not of the high and intense sort, not of the great sort, without water. Tend to it.