There are endless kinds of gardens and I see no point wasting this little space pointing out that everybody is entitled to his own notions, so I shall simply say how to proceed with the garden that surely would please most sane persons in this capital or, for that matter, anywhere else. Paving, Pools and Sitting Places
First, the garden has to be enclosed. Whether this should be a brick wall, a wood fence, a band of shrubs, a hedge of yews, or a wire fence covered with vines, is a question I leave you to debate with your inmost soul and pocketbook.
But you are not going to like it -- you are going to miss a great deal -- if it is not enclosed so completedly that you have a full sense of privacy.
Second, a certain amount of construction is needed. This is dismal, because it is expensive. Fortunately, it can be done gradually.
There has got to be a place where you can sit, on chairs or a bench (if you happen to be a person who likes benches), and a table on which you can set at least a pot of coffee and a book.
Do not imagine you can give all your space, which is probably very small to begin with, to plants. From the very beginning, allow sapce for a sitting-out spot, and resign yourself to the cost of paving it. The best pavement is brick. Cut stone is almost as good and a good bit more costly. Gravel is no good, and wood is rarely as rot-free, as good-looking, or as cheap as you may image in your dreams of low decks.
Concrete, along with brick, is perfect, but it takes more sweat, more skill, and a more sophisticated taste to make it handsome in a garden than brick requires. Ordinary people should use brick. Still, people are not all that ordinary, and there is no reason you should not study a few dozen books and use concrete. But concrete usually looks bad in a garden when an amateur blithely sets forth without considering color, texture, mass and so on.
There is the question of walks. Try not to have any. But of course you need one to carry the garbage out, or to get to the car, or simply to get to the back of the garden. But err always on the side of too few walks rather than too many. One is enough for most gardens. Now there may be some compelling reason this walk should not be straight. But in general, make the walk straight, at least four feet wide (six feet is better if you can bring yourself to give up that much space) and it should be concrete or brick. And it should look good: it should not look like a damn sidewalk.
Do not use asphalt or tar in a garden. On great estates they sometimes use it, and it invariably looks atrocious. They use it on great estates because there they leave important decisions (like paving) to idiots.
Third -- and is it all right if we drop numbers after this? -- there has got to be water, and I mean a pool. If you want a swimming pool, fine, but don't expect the garden to look like anything. Swimming pools are usually ugly.
In fact, swimming pools are invariably ugly. They do not reflect the sky properly, they almost always distract the scale of the garden, they have copings too intrusive (however necessary) on the general peace of the scene. I need not add they also are usually either full of screaming humans or else unused, when they are a hazard to hounds which can easily fall in and drown.
No. By pool I mean a pool for fishes and water plants. Back of a town house you may have to settle for something as small as a washtub, but it should not look like one.
Before leaving this seemingly minor matter, perhaps we should agree it is a cardinal matter in the ordinary small garden. It need not cost much money; it can be a pig-watering tank from a farm supply house. If so, it can be given an exterior veneer of brick.
The water, whether a basin or a large lily pool, should obviously be close to, or else on, the pavement where the chairs are. There is no point that I know of in having the fish pool or water basin where you do not see it.
Once a year, in early April, or at least once every two years, the pool should be drained of water, brushed out and refilled. There is no need to install drains, filters or other gimmicks.
What is necessary, indeed, is a pool of sound construction, preferably reinforced concrete 6 inches thick and a depth of water preferably 24 inches (not more). Goldfish, which survive the winter in the full pool, prevent mosquitoes. Fountains, by the way, rarely give the pleasure you think they will. Avoid all ornaments -- no sculpture, no nothing. Natural rainfall keeps the pool filled, and except for the annual cleaning there is no need to change water. Because of the importance and relative costliness of the pool, study Goldfish Pools by G.L. Thomas (T.F.H. Publications, New York) before starting. The secret is sound construction, careful workmanship, and forget plumbing and chemicals.
Possibly the two best hardy water lilies are 'Chromatella,' yellow, and 'James Brydon,' rose to crimson.
Now this place where you sit should have a roof. It need not keep the rain off. Few gardeners enjoy sitting outdoors in the rain, even if they are dry.
But you will like sitting out there on your brick pavement better if there are rafters and vines over your head and the pool within a few feet of you. Grapes are the best of all vines. You might try 'Steuben,' black, or 'Villard Blanc,' white.
The structure in which you sit should be wood. Iron sounds nice and is not. Heavy masonry, even if you can afford it, does not give the effect of a playhouse, and I know that sounds dumb, but you may very well learn the hard way that what you want is a square summerhouse of wooden posts and wood rafters with vines on it. In town gardens, it is usually more satisfying if painted white, gray, black or dark green -- though I suppose it could be purple (if you are getting tired of having the law laid down to you).
Plan the enclosure and these items I mention first of all, marking out their positions with little wood stakes, and construct them when you are able.
Do not build a barbecue or anything else for cooking. Money, space and effort are far too limited for outdoor cookery. These cooking installations are always ugly and almost never used. I have seen thousands of them, all failures, and I don't think you are going to like one if you build one. Hedges on the Edges
So far we have only got to paving, sitting, and the vast importance of both a fish pool and a system of rafters with vines over the sitting place, and you will say you thought the garden was a place for roses.
Well, it is. But first and always it is a sanctuary for life, especially your own. You are not going to like your result if you leave the sitting, the pool, the paving till last, and then try to fit them in somehow and somewhere.
Now, this sense of enclosure, how do we get it? Let's assume that either because of money or location you do not decide on a wall or a high wooden fence.
Suppose you have a 4-foot chain link fence. How do you get this sense of enclosure? For nobody is going to confuse a bare lot with a cruddy chain-link fence with the paradise of Adam or Omar or anybody else.
The first summer you can plant morning glories, cypress vines, string beans, gourds or cucumbers on it and it will look pleasant enough.
But that will not do in the long run. In the long run, ignore the fence, and inside it (on your side of it, obviously) plant either a hedge or a row of shrubs. If you decide on a hedge, the best one for 6 or 8 feet is a particular form of the upright Japanese yew call 'Hicks.'
Buy plants about a foot high, space them 4 feet apart, and be patient. They will begin to look like something in about five years. (Yew grows 6 to 12 inches a year). For a somewhat higher hedge, a great plant is the holly called 'Foster No. 2' or 'Fosteri,' as nurserymen call it.
You may think, as I do, that however handsome a fine yew or holly hedge may be, it can rather overpower a small town garden. An even more serious objection (for we should learn to get over the fear of things being too monumental -- usually we discover years later that the garden is not monumental enough, not noble enough, not overpowering enough) is that if we are to have wonderful plants in the garden, it is going to have to be along the sides and ends that we have them. A small garden enclosed entirely in holly or yew leaves very little space for anything else.
So inside this chain-link fence, if we decide against the hedge, we shall plant any number of shrubs. I shall mention some of prime beauty and importance:
Photinia serrulata; Juniperus virginiana (the common red cedar of our suburban pastures); Robinia hispida (the pink locust); Robinia 'Frisia,' a golden-leaf form of the black locust tree, but along our fence we shall whack it back severly every March and turn it into a tall shrub; Largerstroemia indica, the crape myrtle.
Malus sargenti, an ornamental crabapple that grows only to 8 feet; Magnolia stellata, the April-blooming, sweet-scented star magnolia from Japan; Crataegus phaenopyrum, the Washington thorn, a small tree that is the most distinguished of all the thorns.
Ilex cornuta 'Burford,' the glossy-leaved, single-spined form of the Chinese holly; Nandina domestica, the Chinese heavenly bamboo which is not a bamboo but one of the most elegant of all shrubs with ferny leaves and red berries.
The domestic fig, 'Celeste,' the best fig; Vitex agnus castus, a large shrub with blue spikes of flowers on the hottest days of summer (the seeds were supposed to keep the women of Rome chaste when sprinkled in the bed linen, and I do not think they were in the slightest degree effective); Arundo donax, the giant reed, like giant corn only with better-looking leaves and 12-foot stems; Miscanthus sinensis variegatus (an 8-foot Chinese grass making a great thick fountain with white-striped leaves).
Any number of viburnums, especially V. juddii, with pink tennis balls in April, intensely scented; V. dilatatum and V. wrightii, with red berries in late summer and fall; V. setigerum, taller and narrower, with gorgeous brilliant red fruit; Vv. opulus sterile and tomentosum plicatum, both with white snowballs, no scent and no fruit; V. tomentosum mariesii, with layers of white flowers on its horizontal branches in April and reddish leaves, red berries in fall, a superb shrub growing to 9 feet or so. Viburnums are rare among plants in having virtually no members of the family that are not superb garden plants. I have mentioned the best. Some of the best. If I had a farm, I'd grow every viburnum there is.
Prunus 'Blirieana,' a purple-leaved, pink-flowering plum usually with no fruit; Salix matsudana tortuosa, the Hankow willow, a tree that can be kept as a large shrub; Tamarix pentandra, blue-green feathery plumy foliage like mist or smoke; Cotinus 'Royal Purple,' a large shrub with panicles of feathery bloom.
The list could go on forever, I guess. Notice I have not included forsythias, lilacs, weigelas, mock oranges (though I might have suggested the mock orange 'Belle Etoile,' which is not so weedy), and one may ask why no? Simply because they are less handsome in foliage, less handsome as screening plants, than the ones listed.
Whichever ones we choose, for of course we can have only a few, we shall take care that a third or a half of the shrubs look good in winter -- that is we will choose plenty of evergreens among them.
Shrubs should be planted no closer to each other than 5 feet, with the idea of taking half of them out after a few years, so that ultimately they will be about 10 feet apart. The Middle of the Garden
Now, inside this screen of shrubs, the question arises, What shall we do with the middle of the garden?
In most small gardens, there is not going to be all that much left in the middle. Maybe a small lawn. Maybe a little grove of clipped hardy oranges (Poncirus trifoliata) or a single fine dogwood. Maybe the lily pool will occupy the center, or maybe the summerhouse will.
Or maybe beds of favorite flowers. Beds should be retangular, narrow enough so they can be weeded from the sides without stepping into them. The flowers to be considered, first of all (and, to be blunt, last of all, too) are roses, irises, peonies, daffodils, daylilies, columbines, lilies (especially such Aurelian hybrids as the white-trumpeted !Black Dragon') and chrysanthemums.
Where there is space, here and there, tulips for late Especially the Hybrid Darwins like the soft yellow 'Jewel of Spring') and some snapdragons and pansies. At the edge of the shrub borders, a number of oddments can be fitted in: columbines, winter aconites, crocuses, snowdrops, wild aconites, crocuses, snowdrops, wild anemones, barrenworts, even azaleas -- though often there is a shady front yard with tall oaks or red maples, and azaleas work beautifully there with such other superb shade-lovers as Pieris, with white lily of the valley flowers in March.
Other glories of shady, woodlandglade sites are Mahonias, hollies, camellias (you can do worse than start with 'Berenice Boddy,' and Magnoliaeflora,' both pink), yews, boxwood, hydrangeas (taking care to remember that hydrangeas look more woebegone than anything else in the world all winter), as well as the host of bulb flowers that flourish under trees. Among these are Scilla tubergeniana, sibirica, campanulata, in various shades of blue blooming from mid-March to mid-April; Anemone blanda; Cyclamen neapolitanum; Galanthus nivalis (the common snowdrop); Leucojum aestivum (and despite its summer-sounding name, its white pendant flowers come in March); all sorts of wild crocuses and garden-variety crocuses; wild daffodils, wild fritillaries, trout-lilies, etc., etc.
Or -- back to the middle of the garden -- space could be saved for colorful annuals. Nasturtiums bowl me over, but of course you should grow the annuals you like.
An asparagus bed is handsome (until the above-waist stalks of feathery leaves start keeling over and turning yellow) as well as delicious, and both blueberries and raspberries are good choices, especially raspberries, since you have trouble finding them in groceries, and when you do find them, nobody but a fool will pay the prices asked. They are not ornamental, however.
If you have never grown vegetables, and have a sunny site, nothing is better to start with than tomatoes ('Burpee's VF Hybird' is typical of the best main-season varieties now available) and string beans. 'Kentucky Wonder' is fine grown on poles, and half a dozen varieties of beans are easily grown as "bushes."
Beets also are easy to grow, have a lot of food value, and are ornamental in foliage. But we'll go into more on vegetables next week, and the blueberries and raspberries and various fruits the week after that. Trees
I have said nothing of trees, because usually if the garden is big enough for a tree it already has one. If it's a Norway maple, casting dense shade, with roots at the surface, I would cut it down and start over. If there is room for a forest tree, plant a white oak. Period. If there is room for a small tree, the common white dogwood is without rival, and it is easy to get sick of pink ones.
Other small trees of dogwood quality (that is, the best) are the Washington thorn, Crataegus phaenopyrum; the sourwood, Oxydendron arboreum; the Virginia fringe, Chionanthus virginiana; Robinia 'Frisia'" or perhaps a wild persimmon, an ornamental pear, one of the deciduous hollies like Ilex verticillata, or a small Oriental maple.
In small gardens you will not like flowering cherries or crabapple as much as you may think you are going to, and if have room for just one small tree you can save yourself bother by planting a dogwood to start with.
When one is a child he thinks chocolate-covered cherries are the greatest of all foods, and gardeners often start off utterly seduced by trees and shrubs that seem equally irresistible, but the trouble with them is they do not produce that look of richness you want. The day will come when you would give every flowering cherry in Christendom for one fine dogwood, one fine yew. And Other Living Things
There is often the question of dogs and children. Dogs are the greater problem, being less susceptible to reason and shouted warnings. There is no answer to this question.
When the opportunity arises (a weekend in the country), bring back a few toads and release them in the lily pool, from which they will promptly hop out, but with any luck at all will stay with you. I would not have a garden without toads.
If you like birds, and live in this city, you should set up houses (Songbirds in Your Garden, by John K. Terres, Hawthorn Books, New York, is a reasonable guide) for flickers and other woodpeckers, wrens and a few others. Purple martins look at my house every year and head on out to Purcellville. Flicker houses are great favorites of starlings, by the way, but you can learn to like starlings, perhaps. Flickers and other woodpeckers are the finest of garden birds.
The best fishes for the pool, by the way, are common red goldfish. The kind sold to feed other animals are both beautiful and cheap, or you can go in for Japanese fantails, blue shubunkins, and so on. Black Moors are hardy in pools here, too. Allow no more than one goldfish per square foot of water surface. In reality, 20 or 30 goldfishes in a pool 10 by 12 feet are plenty.
You do not need ladybugs, praying mantises, earthworms or the other gimmicks of the professional back-to-nature people. You also do not need sprays or an arsenal of chemical poisons. And do not spend money, if your budget is limited, on a lot of tools or gadgets. You need a trowel, a spade, a fork, maybe a hoe, and eventually some loppers that will cut woody twigs an inch and a half thick.
If you make a mistake -- most gardeners, after all, have given too much space to forsythias at some time in their lives -- you can always correct it. Ten years later, in other words, you can remove the barbecue and the swimming pool by moving elsewhere. But the sooner you tend to the sitting place, the fish pool, the vine-clad arbor or summerhouse, the brick walks, the viburnums and dogwoods, the sooner you'll be happy.