Elements of the Modern Garden
So let us look more closely at the components of a pleasing and useful garden. As was said earlier, there is no set formula, but some features have been noted that are common to most. A garden without flowers is unthinkable, at least for the area that can be seen from the house. And until recently the design was not complete without a lawn — often two. Today, however, paving and other hard surfaces are no longer restricted to paths and service areas.
Imaginative use is being made of pre-formed slabs, cobbles, granite setts and chippings as labour-saving groundwork, relieved by formal beds and perhaps a fish pool or statue. Such modern garden design is particularly appropriate in the context of the ‘town house’ terrace. This architectural approach has brought with it a new interest in the form and texture of plants, which accounts for the growing sales by nurseries and garden centres of miniature evergreens and compact shrubs with grey, silver and variegated foliage.
However, for the majority a green lawn remains the perfect restful foil, with improved machines to take the toil out of mowing — and there are even powered edging machines to give that clean finish without any effort. The balance of herbaceous border flowers, bedding plants and bulbs depends so much on personal preference — though most of us will pack in as many of each as space, time and ready cash allow. Selection and management of these flowers is covered in later sections. Flowers need no general words of commendation, but it can be said that flowering shrubs still remain relatively neglected, while ornamental trees come lower still in the garden-makers’ list of priorities.
It’s true, of course, that for a couple of weeks in spring our gardens are gay with golden-yellow forsythia, pink cherry, berberis and the very modest mauve of ribes — followed very much later by an autumn blaze of berries from cotoneaster and pyracantha. But this is just to scratch at the surface of the treasury of flowering shrubs and small trees, as later chapters will show. The rose is regarded as a shrub and is justly a firm favourite. Yet again it is so easy to be wooed by those who wish to sell only hybrid teas and floribundas, to the exclusion of the informal beauty of the shrub roses and the delightful older varieties that clothe walls, fences, arches and doorways so well.
Generally speaking shrubs will look after themselves if kept in proportion by restrained use of secateurs. Fruit trees are ornamental too, as well as productive, but newcomers to gardening tend to avoid them because it is said they need such careful training. This is true up to a point, but those grown for garden planting today are nearly all raised on rootstocks that impart a dwarf habit and slow growth and there is little fear that they will get out of hand. Bush fruit is easy to manage and the new gardener is well advised to plant some of the types that rarely appear in fruit shops today — such as red and white currants. They will not take up much space, while a row of raspberries can make a useful and quite attractive screen between ‘kitchen’ and ‘pleasure’ areas.
Recent times have seen a renewed interest in home vegetable growing. Rising food prices are one reason, and another is an awareness that food from the garden is fresher, better flavoured and perhaps grown with fewer chemical aids than shop-bought produce. Vegetable gardening” has cast off its gloomy cloth-cap wartime image and become an interesting and rewarding pastime. So consider allocating an area to a rotation of ’salads’. ‘roots’ and ‘greens’. Lady gardeners in particular need no persuasion to grow herbs, which are charming in growth and piquant in the pot: it’s best to allocate them a special bed near the kitchen or even to maintain them on the windowsill in pots or a box.
Soil, Site and Climate
These are some of the elements of the garden: their disposition is our next consideration. The gardener must be a realist and respect the limitations of any site while at the same time using all his resources to overcome problems. For example, on a windswept hillside there will be constant damage to all but the lowest growing plants until a screen is provided to filter the prevailing wind. This may be in the form of a lattice fence, hedge or group of trees — and must be considered a priority. Disappointment will be met if the gardener insists on trying to grow the more tender shrubs in exposed northern districts, just as extremes of dryness in a sunny situation or shade cast by buildings or trees will limit the growth of a wider range of plants.
Other considerations are the size, shape and slope of the site, and these aspects will be covered in detail subsequently. A little, but not much, can be done to counter the influence of local topography and climate on the garden, but the nativeis another matter altogether. Its type will certainly influence the character of the garden but no gardener worth his salt will admit defeat because he is presented in the first place with in-hospitable clay, sand or chalk. Again, the degree of acidity or alkalinity will influence what can be grown — in a lime-rich soil the tribe will never be happy and hydrangeas will be pink rather than blue. Slight acidity suits the majority of garden plants, while the inclusion of peat, from heaps, animal manure and acidic fertilisers will all ameliorate excess alkalinity.