I have devoted the foregoing chapter to Friswell without, I trust, any unnecessary acrimony, but simply to show the sort of man he was who took exception to the scheme of Formal Garden that I disclosed to him long ago. He actually objected to the Formal Garden which I had in my mind.

But an atheist, like the prophet Habakkuk of the witty Frenchman, is “capable de tout

I have long ago forgiven Friswell for his vexatious objection, but I admit that I am only human, and that now and again I awake in the still hours of darkness from a nightmare in which I am tramping over formal beds of three sorts of echiverias, pursued by Friswell, flinging at me every now and again Mr. W. Robinson's volume on Garden Design, which, as every one knows, is an unbridled denunciation of Sir Reginald Blomfield's and Mr. Inigo Triggs's plea for The Formal Garden. But I soon fall asleep again with, I trust, a smile struggling to the surface of the perspiration on my brow, as I reflect upon my success in spite of Friswell and the antiformalists.

More than twenty-five years have passed since the battle of the books on the Formal Garden took place, adding another instance to the many brought forward by Dorothy of a garden being a battlefield instead of a place of peace. I shall refer to the fight in another chapter; for surely a stimulating spectacle was that of the distinguished horticulturalist attacking the distinguished architect with mighty billets of yews which, like Samson before his fall, had never known shears or secateur, while the distinguished architect responded with bricks pulled hastily out from his builders' wall. In the meantime I shall try to account for my treatment of my predecessor's lawn, which, as I have already mentioned, occupied all the flat space between the house and the mound with the cherries and mays and laburnums towered over by the sycamores and chestnuts.

It was all suggested to me by the offer which 1 had at breaking-up price of what I might call a “garden suite,” consisting of a fountain, with a wide basin, and the carved stone edging for eight beds—sufficient to transform the whole area of the lawn “into something rich and strange,”—as I thought.

I had to make up my mind in a hurry, and I did so, though not without misgiving. I had never had a chance of high gardening before, and I had not so much confidence in myself as I have acquired since, misplaced though it may be, in spite of my experience, I see now what a bold step it was for me to take, and I think it is quite likely that I would have rejected it if I had had any time to consider all that it meant. I had, however, no more than twenty-four hours, and before a fourth of that time had passed I received some encouragement in the form of my publisher's half-yearly statement.

Now, Dorothy and I had simply been garden-lovers—I mean lovers of gardens, though I don't take back the original phrase. We had never been garden enthusiasts. We had gone through the Borghese, the Villa d'Este, the Vatican, the bowers behind the Pitti and the Uffizi, and all the rest of the show-places of Italy and the French Riviera—we had spent delightful days at every garden-island of the Caribbean, and had gone on to the plateaus of South America, where every prospect pleases and there is a blaze of flowers beneath the giant yuccas—we had even explored Kew together, and we had lived within a stone's throw of Holland House and the painters' pleasaunces of Melbury Road, but with all we had remained content to think of gardens without making them any important part of our life. And this being so, I now see how arrogant was that act of mine in binding myself down to a transaction with as far-reaching consequences to me as that of Dr. Faustus entailed to him.

Now I acknowledge that when I looked out over the green lawn and thought of all that I had let myself in for, I felt anything but arrogant. The destruction of a lawn is, like the state of matrimony in the Church Service, an act not to be lightly entered into; and I think I might have laid away all that stone-work which had come to me, until I should become more certain of myself—that is how a good many people think within a week or two of marriage—if I had not, with those doubts hanging over me, wandered away from the lawn and within sight of the straggling orchard with its rows of ill-planted plums and apples that had plainly borne nothing but leaves for many years. They were becoming an eye-sore to me, and the thought came in a flash:—

“This is the place for a lawn. Why not root up these unprofitable and uninteresting things and lay down the space in grass?”

Why not, indeed? The more I thought over the matter the more reconciled I became to the transformation of the house lawn. I felt as I fancy the father of a well-beloved daughter must feel when she tells him that she has promised to marry the son of the house at the other side of his paddock. He is reconciled to the idea of parting with her by the reflection that she will still be living beyond the fence, and that he will enjoy communion with her under altered conditions. That is the difference between parting with a person and parting from a person.

And now, when I looked at the house lawn, I saw that it had no business to be there. It was an element of incongruity. It made the house look as if it were built in the middle of a field. A field is all very well in its place, and a house is all very well in its place, but the place of the house is not in the middle of a field. It looks its worst there and the field looks its worst when the house is overlooking it.

I think that it is this impression of incongruity that has made what is called The Formal Garden a necessity of these days. We want a treatment that will take away from the abruptness of the mass of bricks and mortar rising straight up from the simplest of Nature's elements. We want a hyphenated House-and-Garden which we can look on as one and indivisible, like the First French Republic.

In short, I think that the making of the Formal Garden is the marriage ceremony that unites the house to its site, “and the twain shall be one flesh.”

That is really the relative position of the two. I hold that there are scores of forms of garden that may be espoused to a house; and I am not sure that such a term as Formal is not misleading to a large number of people who think that Nature should begin the moment that one steps out of one's house, and that nothing in Nature is formal. I am not going to take on me any definition of the constituent elements of what is termed the Formal Garden, but I will take it on me to stand up against such people as would have us believe that the moment you enter a house you leave Nature outside. A house is as much a product of Nature as a woodland or a rabbit warren or a lawn. The original house of that product of Nature known as man was that product of Nature known as a cave. For thousands of years before he got into his cave he had made his abode in the woodland. It was when he found he could do better than hang on to his bough and, with his toes, take the eggs out of whatever nests he could get at, that he made the cave his dwelling; and thousands of years later he found that it was more convenient to build up the clay into the shape of a cave than to scoop out the hillside when he wanted an addition to the dwelling provided for him in the hollows made by that natural incident known as a landslide. But the dwelling-house of to-day is nothing more than a cave built up instead of scooped out. Whether made of brick, stone, or clay—all products of Nature—it is fundamentally the same as the primeval cave dwelling; just as a Corinthian column is fundamentally identical with the palm-tree which primeval man brought into his service when he wished to construct a dwelling dependent of the forest of his pendulous ancestors. The rabbit is at present in the stage of development of the men who scooped out their dwellings; the beaver is in the stage of development of the men who gave up scooping and took to building; and will any one suggest that a rabbit warren or a beaver village is not Nature?

Sir R. Blomfield, in his book to which I have alluded, will not have this at all. “The building,” he says, “cannot resemble anything in Nature, unless you are content with a mud hut and cover it with grass.” That may be true enough; but great architect that he is, he would have shown himself more faithful to his profession if he had been more careful about his foundations. If he goes a little deeper into the matter he will find that man has not yet been civilised or “architected” out of the impressions left upon him by his thousands of years of cave-dwelling, any more than he has been out of his arboreal experiences of as many thousand years. While, as a boy, he retains vividly those impressions of his ancestors which gradually wear off—though never so completely as to leave no trace behind them—he cannot be restrained from climbing trees and enjoying the motion of a swing; and his chief employment when left to his own devices is scooping out a cave in a sand-bank. For the first ten or fifteen years of his life a man is in his instincts many thousand years nearer to his prehistoric relations than he is when he is twenty; after that the inherited impressions become blurred, but never wholly wiped out. He is still stirred to the deepest depths of his nature by the long tresses of a woman, just as was his early parent, who knew that he had to depend on such long tresses to drag the female on whom he had set his heart to his cave.

Scores of examples could be given of the retention of these inherited instincts; but many of them are in more than one sense of the phrase, “far-fetched.” When, however, we know that the architectural design which finds almost universal favour is that of the column or the pilaster—which is little more than the palm-tree of the Oriental forest of many thousand years ago—I chink we are justified in assuming that we have not yet quite lost sight of the fact that our dwellings are most acceptable when they retain such elements as are congenial with their ancient homes, which homes were undoubtedly incidents in the natural landscape.

That is why I think that the right way to claim its appropriateness for what is called the Formal Garden is, not that a house has no place in Nature, and therefore its immediate surrounding should be more or less artificial, but that the house is an incident in Nature modified by what is termed Art, and therefore the surround should be of the same character.

At the same time, I beg leave to say in this place that I am not so besotted upon my own opinion as to be incapable of acknowledging that Sir R. Blomfield's belief that a house can never be regarded as otherwise than wholly artificial, may commend itself to a much larger clientèle than I can hope for.

In any case the appropriateness of the Formal Garden has been proved (literally) down to the ground. As a matter of fact, no one ever thought of questioning it in England until some remarkable innovators, who called themselves Landscape Gardeners, thought they saw their way to work on a new system, and in doing so contrived to destroy many interesting features of the landscape.

But really, landscape gardening has never been consistently defined. Its exponents have always been slovenly and inconsistent in stating their aims; so that while they claim to be all for giving what they call Nature the supreme place in their designs, it must appear to most people that the achievement of these designs entails treating Nature most unnaturally. The landscape gardeners of the early years of the cult seem to me to be in the position of the boy of whom the parents said, “Charlie is so very fond of animals that we are going to make a butcher of him.” To read their enunciation of the principles by which they professed to be inspired is to make one feel that they thought the butchery of a landscape the only way to beautify it.

But, I repeat, the examples of their work with which we are acquainted show but a small amount of consistency with their professions of faith. When we read the satires that were written upon their work in the eighteenth century, we really feel that the lampooners have got hold of the wrong brief, and that they are ridiculing the upholders of the Formal Garden.

So far as I was concerned in dealing with my insignificant garden home, I did not concern myself with principles or theories or schools or consistency or inconsistency; I went ahead as I pleased, and though Friswell shook his head—I have not finished with him yet on account of that mute expression of disagreement with my aims—I enjoyed myself thoroughly, if now and again with qualms of uneasiness, in laying out what I feel I must call the House Garden rather than the Formal Garden, where the lawn had spread itself abroad, causing the wing of the house to have something of the appearance of a lighthouse springing straight up from a green sea. As it is now, that green expanse suggests a tropical sea with many brilliant islands breaking up its placid surface.

That satisfies me. If the lighthouse remains, I have given it a raison d'etre by strewing the sea with islands.

I made my appeal to Olive, the practical one.

“Yes,” she said, after one of her thoughtful intervals. “Yes, I think it does look naturaler.”

And I do believe it does.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook