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An essay by George Washington Cable

My Own Acre

Title:     My Own Acre
Author: George Washington Cable [More Titles by Cable]

A lifelong habit of story-telling has much to do with the production of these pages.

All the more does it move me because it has always included, as perhaps it does in most story-tellers, a keen preference for true stories, stories of actual occurrence.

A flower-garden trying to be beautiful is a charming instance of something which a storyteller can otherwise only dream of. For such a garden is itself a story, one which actually and naturally occurs, yet occurs under its master's guidance and control and with artistic effect.

Yet it was this same story-telling bent which long held me back while from time to time I generalized on gardening and on gardens other than my own. A well-designed garden is not only a true story happening artistically but it is one that passes through a new revision each year, "with the former translations diligently compared and revised." Each year my own acre has confessed itself so full of mistranslations of the true text of gardening, has promised, each season, so much fairer a show in its next edition, and has been kept so prolongedly busy teaching and reteaching its master where to plant what, while as to money outlays compelled to live so much more like a poet than like a prince, that the bent for story-telling itself could not help but say wait.

Now, however, the company to which this chapter logically belongs is actually showing excellent reasons why a history of their writer's own acre should lead them. Let me, then, begin by explaining that the small city of Northampton, Massachusetts, where I have lived all the latter three-fifths of my adult years, sits on the first rise of ground which from the west overlooks the alluvial meadows of the Connecticut, nine miles above South Hadley Falls. Close at its back a small stream, Mill River, coming out of the Hampshire hills on its way to the Connecticut, winds through a strip of woods so fair as to have been named--from a much earlier day than when Jenny Lind called it so--"Paradise." On its town side this wooded ground a few hundred yards wide drops suddenly a hundred feet or so to the mill stream and is cut into many transverse ravines.

In its timber growth, conspicuous by their number, tower white-pines, while among them stand only less loftily a remarkable variety of forest trees imperfectly listed by a certain humble authority as "mostly h-oak, h-ellum, and h-ash, with a little 'ickory."

Imperfectly listed, for there one may find also the birch and the beech, the linden, sycamore, chestnut, poplar, hemlock-spruce, butternut, and maple overhanging such pleasant undergrowths as the hornbeam and hop-hornbeam, willows, black-cherry and choke-cherry, dogwood and other cornels, several viburnums, bush maples of two or three kinds, alder, elder, sumach, hazel, witch-hazel, the shadblow and other perennial, fair-blooming, sweet-smelling favorites, beneath which lies a leaf-mould rife with ferns and wild flowers.

From its business quarter the town's chief street of residence, Elm Street, begins a gently winding westerly ascent to become an open high-road from one to another of the several farming and manufacturing villages that use the water-power of Mill River. But while it is still a street there runs from it southerly at a right angle a straight bit of avenue some three hundred yards long--an exceptional length of unbent street for Northampton. This short avenue ends at another, still shorter, lying square across its foot within some seventy yards of that suddenly falling wooded and broken ground where Mill River loiters through Paradise. The strip of land between the woods and this last street is taken up by half a dozen dwellings of modest dignity, whose front shade-trees, being on the southerly side, have been placed not on the sidewalk's roadside edge but on the side next the dwellings and close within their line of private ownership: red, white and post-oaks set there by the present writer when he named the street "Dryads' Green." They are now twenty-one years old and give a good shade which actually falls where it is wanted--upon the sidewalk.

[Illustration: " ... that suddenly falling wooded and broken ground where Mill River loiters through Paradise."

A strong wire fence (invisible in the picture) here divides the _grove_ from the old river road.]

On this green of the dryads, where it intercepts the "avenue" that slips over from the Elm Street trolley-cars, lies, such as it is, my own acre; house, lawn, shrubberies and, at the rear, in the edge of the pines, the study. Back there by the study--which sometimes in irony we call the power-house--the lawn merges into my seven other acres, in Paradise. Really the whole possession is a much humbler one than I find myself able to make it appear in the flattering terms of land measure. Those seven acres of Paradise I acquired as "waste land." Nevertheless, if I were selling that "waste," that "hole in the ground," it would not hurt my conscience, such as it is, to declare that the birds on it alone are worth more than it cost: wood-thrushes and robins, golden orioles, scarlet tanagers, blackbirds, bluebirds, oven-birds, cedar-birds, veeries, vireos, song-sparrows, flycatchers, kinglets, the flicker, the cuckoo, the nuthatch, the chickadee and the rose-breasted grosbeak, not to mention jays or kingfishers, swallows, the little green heron or that cock of the walk, the red squirrel.

Speaking of walks, it was with them--and one drive--in this grove, that I made my first venture toward the artistic enhancement of my acre,--acre this time in the old sense that ignores feet and rods. I was quite willing to make it a matter of as many years as necessary when pursued as play, not work, on the least possible money outlay and having for its end a garden of joy, not of care. By no inborn sagacity did I discover this to be the true first step, but by the trained eye of an honored and dear friend, that distinguished engineer and famous street commissioner of New York, Colonel George E. Waring, who lost his life in the sanitary regeneration of Havana.

[Illustration: "On this green of the dryads ... lies My Own Acre."

The two young oaks in the picture are part of the row which gives the street its name.]

"Contour paths" was the word he gave me; paths starting from the top of the steep broken ground and bending in and out across and around its ridges and ravines at a uniform decline of, say, six inches to every ten feet, until the desired terminus is reached below; much as, in its larger way, a railway or aqueduct might, or as cattle do when they roam in the hills. Thus, by the slightest possible interference with natural conditions, these paths were given a winding course every step of which was pleasing because justified by the necessities of the case, traversing the main inequalities of the ground with the ease of level land yet without diminishing its superior variety and charm. And so with contour paths I began to find, right at my back door and on my own acre, in nerve-tired hours, an outdoor relaxation which I could begin, leave off and resume at any moment and which has never staled on me. For this was the genesis of all I have learned or done in gardening, such as it is.

My appliances for laying out the grades were simple enough: a spirit-level, a stiff ten-foot rod with an eighteen-inch leg nailed firmly on one end of it, a twelve-inch leg on the other, a hatchet, and a basket of short stakes with which to mark the points, ten feet apart, where the longer leg, in front on all down grades, rested when the spirit-level, strapped on the rod, showed the rod to be exactly horizontal. Trivial inequalities of surface were arbitrarily cut down or built up and covered with leaves and pine-straw to disguise the fact, and whenever a tree or anything worth preserving stood in the way here came the loaded barrow and the barrowist, like a piece of artillery sweeping into action, and a fill undistinguishable from nature soon brought the path around the obstacle on what had been its lower side, to meander on at its unvarying rate of rise or fall as though nothing--except the trees and wild flowers--had happened since the vast freshets of the post-glacial period built the landscape. I made the drive first, of steeper grade than the paths; but every new length of way built, whether walk or road, made the next easier to build, by making easier going for the artillery, the construction train. Also each new path has made it easier to bring up, for the lawn garden, sand, clay, or leaf-mould, or for hearth consumption all the wood which the grove's natural mortality each year requires to be disposed of. There is a superior spiritual quality in the warmth of a fire of h-oak, h-ash, and even h-ellum gathered from your own acre, especially if the acre is very small and has contour paths. By a fire of my own acre's "dead and down" I write these lines. I never buy cordwood.

Only half the grove has required these paths, the other half being down on the flat margin of the river, traversed by a cart-road at least half a century old, though used by wheels hardly twice a year; but in the three acres where lie the contour paths there is now three-fifths of a mile of them, not a rod of which is superfluous. And then I have two examples of another kind of path: paths with steps; paths which for good and lawful reasons cannot allow you time to go around on the "five per cent" grade but must cut across, taking a single ravine lengthwise, to visit its three fish-pools.

These steps, and two short retaining walls elsewhere in the grove, are made of the field stones of the region, uncut. All are laid "dry" like the ordinary stone fences of New England farms, and the walls are built with a smart inward batter so that the winter frosts may heave them year after year, heave and leave but not tumble them down. I got that idea from a book. Everything worth while on my acre is from books except what two or three professional friends have from time to time dropped into my hungry ear. Both my ears have good appetites--for garden lore.

About half a mile from me, down Mill River, stands the factory of a prized friend who more than any other man helps by personal daily care to promote Northampton's "People's Institute," of whose home-garden work I have much to say in the chapters that follow this one. For forty years or more this factory has been known far and wide as the "Hoe Shop" because it makes shovels. It has never made hoes. It uses water-power, and the beautiful mill-pond behind its high dam keeps the river full back to the rapids just above my own acre. In winter this is the favorite skating-pond of the town and of Smith College. In the greener seasons of college terms the girls constantly pass upstream and down in their pretty rowboats and canoes, making a charming effect as seen from my lawn's rear edge at the head of the pine and oak shaded ravine whose fish-pools are gay by turns with elder, wild sunflower, sumach, iris, water-lilies, and forget-me-not.

[Illustration: "The beautiful mill-pond behind its high dam keeps the river full back to the rapids just above My Own Acre."

This is the "Hoe Shop." The tower was ruined by fire many years ago, and because of its unsafety is being taken down at the present writing.]

This ravine, the middle one of the grove's three, is about a hundred feet wide. When I first began to venture the human touch in it, it afforded no open spot level enough to hold a camp-stool. From the lawn above to the river road below, the distance is three hundred and thirty feet, and the fall, of fifty-five feet, is mostly at the upper end, which is therefore too steep, as well as too full of varied undergrowth, for any going but climbing. In the next ravine on its left there was a clear, cold spring and in the one on its right ran a natural rivulet that trickled even in August; but this middle ravine was dry or merely moist.

Here let me say to any who would try an amateur landscape art on their own acre at the edge of a growing town, that the town's growth tends steadily to diminish the amount of their landscape's natural water supply by catching on street pavements and scores and hundreds of roofs, lawns and walks, and carrying away in sewers, the rain and melting snows which for ages filtered slowly through the soil. Small wonder, I think, that, when in the square quarter-mile between my acre and Elm Street fifty-three dwellings and three short streets took the place of an old farm, my grove, by sheer water famine, lost several of its giant pines. Wonder to me is that the harm seems at length to have ceased.

But about that ravine: one day the nature of its growth and soil, especially its alders, elders, and willows and a show of clay and gravel, forced on my notice the likelihood that here, too, had once been a spring, if no more. I scratched at its head with a stick and out came an imprisoned rill like a recollected word from the scratched head of a schoolboy. Happily the spot was just at the bottom of the impassably steep fall of ground next the edge of the lawn and was almost in the centre of those four acres--one of sward, three of woods--which I proposed to hold under more or less discipline, leaving the rest--a wooded strip running up the river shore--wholly wild, as college girls, for example, would count wildness. In both parts the wealth of foliage on timber and underbrush almost everywhere shut the river out of view from the lawn and kept the eye restless for a glint, if no more, of water. And so there I thought at once to give myself what I had all my life most absurdly wished for, a fish-pool. I had never been able to look upon an aquarium and keep the tenth Commandment. I had never caught a fish without wanting to take it home and legally adopt it into the family--a tendency which once led my son to say, "Yes, he would be pleased to go fishing with me if I would only fish in a sportsmanlike manner." What a beautifully marked fish is the sun-perch! Once, in boyhood, I kept six of those "pumpkin-seed" in a cistern, and my smile has never been the same since I lost them--one of my war losses.

I resolved to impound the waters of my spring in the ravine and keep fish at last--without salt--to my heart's content. Yet I remembered certain restraining precepts: first, that law of art which condemns incongruity--requires everything to be in keeping with its natural surroundings--and which therefore, for one thing, makes an American garden the best possible sort of garden to have in America; second, that twin art law, against inutility, which demands that everything in an artistic scheme serve the use it pretends to serve; third, a precept of Colonel Waring's: "Don't fool with running water if you haven't money to fool away"; and, fourth, that best of all gardening rules--look before you leap.

However, on second thought, and tenth, and twentieth, one thought a day for twenty days, I found that if water was to be impounded anywhere on my acre here was the strategic point. Down this ravine, as I have said, was the lawn's one good glimpse of the river, and a kindred gleam intervening would tend, in effect, to draw those farther waters in under the trees and into the picture.

Such relationships are very rewarding to find to whoever would garden well. Hence this mention. One's garden has to do with whatever is in sight from it, fair or otherwise, and it is as feasible and important to plant in the fair as to plant out the otherwise. Also, in making my grove paths, I had noticed that to cross this ravine where at one or two places in its upper half a contour grade would have been pettily circuitous and uninteresting, and to cross it comfortably, there should be either a bridge or a dam; and a dam with water behind it seemed pleasanter every way--showed less incongruity and less inutility--than a bridge with no water under it.

As to "fooling with running water," the mere trickle here in question had to be dragged out of its cradle to make it run at all. It remained for me to find out by experience that even that weakling, imprisoned and grown to a pool, though of only three hundred square feet in surface, when aided and abetted by New England frosts and exposed on a southern slope to winter noonday suns, could give its amateur captor as much trouble--proportionately--as any Hebrew babe drawn from the bulrushes of the Nile is said to have given his.

Now if there is any value in recording these experiences it can be only in the art principles they reveal. To me in the present small instance the principle illustrated was that of the true profile line for ascent or descent in a garden. You may go into any American town where there is any inequality of ground and in half an hour find a hundred or two private lawns graded--from the house to each boundary line--on a single falling curve, or, in plain English, a hump. The best reason why this curve is not artistic, not pleasing, but stupid, is that it is not natural and gains nothing by being unnatural. All gardening is a certain conquest of Nature, and even when "formal" should interfere with her own manner and custom as slightly as is required by the necessities of the case--the needs of that particular spot's human use and joy. The right profile and surface for a lawn of falling grade, the surface which will permanently best beguile both eye and foot, should follow a double curve, an ogee line. For, more or less emphasized, that is Nature's line in all her affable moods on land or water: a descent or ascent beginning gradually, increasing rapidly, and concluding gently. We see it in the face of any smooth knoll or billow. I believe the artists impute to Praxiteles a certain ownership in this double curve. It is a living line; it suggests Nature conscious and astir as no single curve or straight line can.

I admit that even among amateurs this is rather small talk, but it brings me to this point: in the passage of water down a ravine of its own making, this line of Nature astir may repeat itself again and again but is commonly too inaffable, abrupt, angular, to suggest the ogee. In that middle part of it where the descent is swift it may be more or less of a plunge, and after the plunge the water is likely to pause on the third turn, in a natural pool, before resuming its triple action again. And so, in my ravine, some seasons later, I ventured to detain the overflow of my first pool on a second and a third lingering place, augmenting the water supply by new springs developed in the bottoms of the new pools. The second pool has a surface of a thousand square feet, the third spans nineteen hundred, and there are fish in all three, hatched there--"pumpkin-seed" included, but also trout--among spontaneous bulrushes, pond-lilies, flags, and dainty water-weeds; and sometimes at night, when the reflected glory of a ten-o'clock full moon shines up from it to the stone exedra on the lawn, I seem to have taken my Praxitelean curves so directly from Nature that she thinks she took them herself from me and thanks me for the suggestion.

Please observe that of great gardens, or of costly gardens whether great or only costly, we here say nothing. Our theme is such a garden as a householder may himself make and keep or for which, at most, he needs professional advice only in its first planning, and for its upkeep one gardener, with one occasional helper in pressing seasons or in constructional work.

Constructional work. Dams, for example. In two of my dams I built cores of concrete and thus made acquaintance with that interesting material. Later I pressed the acquaintanceship, made garden and grove seats, a table or two, a very modest fountain for a single jet of water in my highest, smallest fish-pool, and even a flight of steps with a pair of gaine-shaped pedestals--suggested by a sculptor friend--at their top. The exedra I mentioned just now is of concrete. The stuff is a temptation to be wary of. The ordinary gray sort--I have touched no other--is a humble medium, and pretentious designs in humble materials are one of the worst, and oldest, of garden incongruities. In my ventures with concrete I have studied for grace in form but grace subordinated to stability, and have shunned embellishment. Embellishment for its own sake is the easiest and commonest sin against good art wherever art becomes self-conscious. It is having a riotous time just now in concrete. I have rarely seen a commercial concrete garden-seat which was not more ornate than I should want it for my own acre. I happen to have two or three articles in my garden which are a trifle elaborate but they are of terra-cotta, are not home-made and would be plainer could I have found them so.

A garden needs furniture only less than a house, and concrete is a boon to "natural" gardening, being inexpensive, rustic, and imperishable. I fancy a chief reason why there is such inconsiderate dearth of seats and steps in our American amateur gardens is the old fashion--so well got rid of at any cost--of rustic cedar and hickory stairs and benches. "Have none of them," was Colonel Waring's injunction; "they are forever out of repair."

But I fear another reason is that so often our gardens are neither for private ease nor social joy, but for public display and are planned mainly for street exhibition. That is the way we commonly treat garden fountains! We make a smug show of unfenced, unhedged, universal hospitality across a sidewalk boundary which nevertheless we hold inviolate--sometimes by means of a painted sign or gas-pipe--and never say "Have a seat" to the dearest friend in any secluded nook of our shrubberies, if there is such a nook. How many of us know a fountain beside an embowered seat where one,--or two,--with or without the book of verses, can sit and hear it whisper or watch the moonlight cover it with silent kisses? In my limited experience I have known of but two. One is by the once favorite thought-promoting summer seat of Augustus Saint-Gaudens on his own home acre in Vermont; the other I need not particularize further than to say that it is one of the things which interlock and unify a certain garden and grove.

[Illustration: "A fountain ... where one,--or two,--can sit and hear it whisper."

The ravine of the three fish pools. There is a drop of thirty feet between the upper and the lowermost pool.]

The bringing of the grove out on the lawn and the pushing of the lawn in under the grove was one of the early tasks of my own acre. When the house was built its lot and others backed up to a hard, straight rear line where the old field had halted at its fence and where the woods began on ground that fell to the river at an angle of from forty to fifty degrees. Here my gifted friend and adviser gave me a precept got from his earlier gifted friend and adviser, Frederick Law Olmsted: that passing from any part of a pleasure-ground to any part next it should be entirely safe and easy or else impossible. By the application of this maxim I brought my lawn and grove together in one of the happiest of marriages. For I proceeded, by filling with earth (and furnace ashes), to carry the lawn in, practically level, beyond the old fence line and under the chestnuts and pines sometimes six feet, sometimes twelve, until the difficult and unsafe forty or fifty degrees of abrupt fall were changed to an impassable sixty and seventy degrees, and every one's instinctive choice of way was the contour paths.

At the same time this has preserved, and even enhanced, the place's wildness, especially the wild flowers and the low-nesting birds. Sometimes a few yards of retaining-wall, never cemented, always laid up dry and with a strong inward batter, had to be put in to avoid smothering the roots of some great tree; for, as everybody knows and nearly everybody forgets, roots, like fishes, must have air. In one place, across the filled head of a ravine, the wall, though but a scant yard high, is fifty feet long, and there is another place where there should be one like it. In this work no tree was sacrificed save one noble oak done to death by a youth who knew but forgot that roots must have air.

Not to make the work expensive it was pursued slowly, through many successive seasons; yet before even its easy, first half was done the lawn was in under the grove on an apparently natural, irregular crest line. Moreover the grove was out on the lawn with an even more natural haphazard bordering line; for another operation had been carried on meantime. Trees, souvenir trees, had from time to time been planted on the lawn by visiting friends. Most of them are set close enough to the grove to become a part of it, standing in a careful irregularity which has already obliterated, without molesting, the tree line of the ancient fence.

[Illustration: "The bringing of the grove out on the lawn and the pushing of the lawn in under the grove was one of the early tasks of My Own Acre."

At the point where the party is drinking tea (the site of the Indian mound) the overlap of grove and lawn is eighty-five feet across the old fence line that once sharply divided them.]

Young senators among their seniors, they still have much growth to make before they can enter into their full forest dignity, yet Henry Ward Beecher's elm is nearly two feet through and has a spread of fifty; Max O'Rell's white-ash is a foot in diameter and fifty feet high; Edward Atkinson's is something more, and Felix Adler's hemlock-spruce, the maple of Anthony Hope Hawkins, L. Clark Seelye's English ash, Henry van Dyke's white-ash, Sol Smith Russell's linden, and Hamilton Wright Mabie's horse-chestnut are all about thirty-five feet high and cast a goodly shade. Sir James M. Barrie's elm--his and Sir William Robertson Nicoll's, who planted it with him later than the plantings aforementioned--has, by some virtue in the soil or in its own energies, reached a height of nearly sixty-five feet and a diameter of sixteen inches. Other souvenirs are a horse-chestnut planted by Minnie Maddern Fiske, a ginkgo by Alice Freeman Palmer, a beech by Paul van Dyke, a horse-chestnut by Anna Hempstead Branch, another by Sir Sidney Lee, yet another by Mary E. Burt, a catalpa by Madelaine Wynne, a Colorado blue spruce--fitly placed after much labor of mind--by Sir Moses Ezekiel, and a Kentucky coffee-tree by Gerald Stanley Lee and Jennette Lee, of our own town. Among these should also stand the maple of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but it was killed in its second winter by an undetected mouse at its roots. Except Sir Moses, all the knights here named received the accolade after their tree plantings, but I draw no moral.

[Illustration: "Souvenir trees had from time to time been planted on the lawn by visiting friends."

The Beecher elm, first of the souvenir trees.]

Would it were practicable to transmit to those who may know these trees in later days the scenes of their setting out and to tell just how the words were said which some of the planters spoke. Mr. Beecher, lover of young trees and young children, straightened up after pressing the soil about the roots with hands as well as feet and said: "I cannot wish you to live as long as this tree, but may your children's children and their children sit under its shade." Said Felix Adler to his hemlock-spruce, "Vivat, crescat, floreat"; and a sentiment much like it was implied in Sol Smith Russell's words to the grove's master as they finished putting in his linden together--for he was just then proposing to play Rip Van Winkle, which Joseph Jefferson had finally decided to produce no more: "Here's to your healt', undt der healt' of all your family; may you lif long undt brosper."

We--the first person singular grows tiresome--we might have now, on our acre, a tree planted by Joseph Jefferson had we thought in time to be provided with a sapling, growing, in a tub. Have your prospective souvenir tree already tubbed and waiting. This idea I got from Andrew Carnegie, with whom I had the honor to plant an oak at Skibo Castle and from whom I, like so many others, have had other things almost as good as ideas. Have your prospective souvenir tree tubbed and the tub sunk in the ground, of course, to its rim. Then the dear friend can plant it at any time that he may chance along between March and December. But let no souvenir tree, however planted, be treated, after planting, as other than a living thing if you would be just to it, to your friend, or to yourself. Cultivate it; coax it on; and it will grow two or three or four times as fast as if left to fight its daily battle for life unaided. And do not forbear to plant trees because they grow so slowly. They need not. They do not. With a little attention they grow so swiftly! Before you know it you are sitting in their shade. Besides Sir Arthur's maple the only souvenir tree we have lost was a tulip-tree planted by my friend of half a lifetime, the late Franklin H. Head.

So much for my grove. I write of it not in self-complacency. My many blunders, some of them yet to be made, are a good insurance against that. I write because of the countless acres as good as mine, in this great, dear America, which might now be giving their owners all the healthful pastime, private solace, or solitary or social delights which this one yields, yet which are only "waste lands" or "holes in the ground" because unavailable for house lots or tillage.

[Illustration: "How the words were said which some of the planters spoke."

President Seelye of Smith College planting a tree.--A majority of the company present were Smith College students and others engaged in the work of the People's Institute. The tree on the left is Barrie's elm. The tree directly behind the small sapling which is being planted, and on a line with it, is Max O'Rell's. The hemlock-spruce between them is Felix Adler's.]

And now as to the single acre by measure, of lawn, shrubs, and plants, close around my house; for the reason that it was and is my school of gardening. There was no garden here--I write this in the midst of it--when I began. Ten steps from where I sit there had been a small Indian mound which some one had carefully excavated. I found stone arrow chips on the spot, and one whole arrow-head. So here no one else's earlier skill was in evidence to point my course or impede it. This was my clean new slate and at that time I had never "done a sum" in gardening and got anything like a right answer.

It is emphatically an amateur garden and a book garden: a garden which to me, as to most of us, would have been impossible in any but these days when the whole art of gardening has been printed in books and no amateur is excusable for trying to garden without reading them, or for saying after having read them that he has planned and worked without professional advice. The books _are_ the professional advice, with few drawbacks and with the great advantage that they are ours truly and do not even have to be "'phoned." I should rather have in my library my Bailey's "American Cyclopedia of Horticulture," than any two garden periodicals once a month. These, too, I value, but, for me, they are over-apt to carry too much deckload of the advice and gentle vauntings of other amateurs. I have an amateur's abhorrence of amateurs! The Cyclopedia _knows_, and will always send me to the right books if it cannot thresh a matter out with me itself. Before Bailey my fount of knowledge was Mr. E. J. Canning, late of Smith College Botanic Gardens; a spring still far from dry.

As the books enjoin, I began my book-gardening with a plan on paper; not the elaborate thing one pays for when he can give his garden more money than time, but a light sketch, a mere fundamental suggestion. This came professionally from a landscape-architect, Miss Frances Bullard, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who had just finished plotting the grounds of my neighbor, the college.

I tell of my own garden for another reason: that it shows, I think, how much can be done with how little, if for the doing you take time instead of money. All things come to the garden that knows how to wait. Mine has acquired at leisure a group of effects which would have cost from ten to twenty times as much if got in a hurry. Garden for ten-year results and get them for next to nothing, and at the same time you may quicken speed whenever your exchequer smiles broadly enough. Of course this argument is chiefly for those who have the time and not the money; for by time we mean play time, time which is money lost if you don't play. The garden that gives the most joy, "Joyous Gard," as Sir Launcelot named his, is not to be bought, like a Circassian slave; it must be brought up, like a daughter. How much of life they can miss who can buy whatever they want whenever they want it!

But I tell first of my own garden also because I believe it summarizes to the eye a number of primary book-rules, authoritative "don'ts," by the observance of which a multitude of amateur gardeners may get better results than it yet shows. Nevertheless, I will hardly do more than note a few exceptions to these ground rules, which may give the rules a more convincing force. First of all, "don't" let any of your planting cut or split your place in two. How many a small house-lot lawn we see split down the middle by a row of ornamental shrubs or fruit-trees which might as easily have been set within a few feet of the property line, whose rigidity, moreover, would have best excused the rigidity of the planted line. But such glaring instances aside, there are many subtler ones quite as unfortunate; "don't" be too sure you are not unwittingly furnishing one.

"Don't" destroy the openness of your sward by dotting it with shrubs or pattern flower-beds. To this rule I doubt if a plausible exception could be contrived. It is so sweeping and so primary that we might well withhold it here were we not seeking to state its artistic reason why. Which is, that such plantings are mere eruptions of individual smartness, without dignity and with no part in any general unity; chirping up like pert children in a company presumably trying to be rational.

On the other hand, I hope my acre, despite all its unconscious or unconfessed mistakes, shows pleasantly that the best openness of a lawn is not to be got between unclothed, right-angled and parallel bounds. The more its verdure-clad borders swing in and out the longer they look, not merely because they are longer but also because they interest and lure the eye. "Where are you going?" says the eye.

"Come and see," says the roaming line.

"Don't" plant in stiff lines except in close relation to architectural or legal bounds. A straight horizontal line Nature scarcely knows save in her rocks and on a vaster scale than we here have to do with. Yet straight lines in gardening are often good and fine if only they are lines of real need. Where, when and in what degree it is good to subordinate utility to beauty or beauty to utility depends on time, place and circumstance, but when in doubt "don't" pinch either to pet the other. Oppression is never good art. Yet "don't" cry war, war, where there is no war. A true beauty and a needed utility may bristle on first collision but they soon make friends. Was it not Ruskin himself who wanted to butt the railway-train off the track and paw up the rails--something like that? But even between them and the landscape there is now an entente cordiale. I have seen the hand of Joseph Pennell make beautiful peace with billboards and telegraph-poles and wires.

The railway points us to the fact that along the ground Nature is as innocent of parallel lines, however bent, as of straight ones, and that in landscape-gardening parallels should be avoided unless they are lines of utility. "Don't" lay parallel lines, either straight or curved, where Nature would not and utility need not. Yet my own acre has taught me a modification of this rule so marked as to be almost an exception. On each side of me next my nearest neighbor I have a turfed alley between a continuous bed of flowering shrubs and plants next the division line, and a similar bed whose meanderings border my lawn. At first I gave these two alleys a sinuous course in correspondence with the windings of the bed bordering the lawn--for they were purely ways of pleasure among the flowers, and a loitering course seemed only reasonable. But sinuous lines proved as disappointing in the alleys as they were satisfying out on the lawn, and by and by I saw that whereas the bendings of the open lawn's borders lured and rewarded the eye, the same curves in the alleys obstructed and baffled it. The show of floral charms was piecemeal, momentary and therefore trivial. "Don't" be trivial!

[Illustration: "'Where are you going?' says the eye. 'Come and see,' says the roaming line."

This planting conceals one of the alleys described on page 34. In the alley a concrete bench built into a concrete wall looks across the entire breadth of the garden and into the sunset.]

But a cure was easy. I had to straighten but one side of each alley to restore the eye's freedom of perspective, and nothing more was wanting. The American eye's freedom of perspective is one of our great liberties.

Oh, say, can you _see_--?

I made this change, of course, on the side nearest the straight, property-division bound, where ran an invisible wire fence. Thus the bed on that side was set between two straight parallels, while the bed on the lawn side remained between waving parallels. This gave the best simplicity with the least artificiality. And thus the two lanes are open to view from end to end, yet each has two deep bays on the side nearest the lawn, bays which remain unseen till one actually reaches them in traversing the lane. In such a bay one should always have, I think, some floral revelation of special charm worthy of the seclusion and the surprise. But this thought is only one of a hundred that tell me my garden is not a finished thing. To its true lover a garden never is.

Another sort of bay, the sort resulting from a swift retreat of a line of shrubberies pursued by the lawn and then swinging round and returning upon the lawn in a counter pursuit, I thought I had learned from books and Miss Bullard and had established on my own acre, until I saw the college gardens of Oxford, England, and the landscape work in Hyde Park, London. On my return thence I made haste to give my own garden's in-and-out curves twice the boldness they had had. And doubling their boldness I doubled their beauty. "Don't" ever let your acre's, or half or quarter acre's, ground lines relax into feebleness or shrink into pettiness. "Don't" ever plan a layout for whose free swing your limits are cramped.

[Illustration: "The lane is open to view from end to end. It has two deep bays on the side nearest the lawn."

The straight line of high growth conceals in the midst of its foliage a wire division fence, and makes a perfect background for blooming herbaceous perennials.]

"Don't" ever, if you can help it, says another of my old mistakes to me, let your acre lead your guest to any point which can be departed from only by retracing one's steps. Such necessities involve a lapse--not to say collapse--of interest, which makes for dulness and loss of dignity. Lack what my own acre may, I have it now so that by its alleys, lawns and contour paths in garden and grove we can walk and walk through every part of it without once meeting our own tracks, and that is not all because of the pleasant fact that the walks, where not turfed, are covered with pine-straw, of which each new September drops us a fresh harvest.

A garden, we say, should never compel us to go back the way we came; but in truth a garden should never compel us to do anything. Its don'ts should be laid solely on itself. Those applicable to its master, mistress, or guests should all be impossibilities, not requests. "Private grounds, no crossing"--take that away, please, wherever you can, and plant your margins so that there can be no crossing. Wire nettings hidden by shrubberies from all but the shameless trespasser you will find far more effective, more promotive to beauty and more courteous. "Don't" make your garden a garden of don'ts.

For no garden is quite a garden until it is "Joyous Gard." Let not yours or mine be a garden for display. Then our rhododendrons and like splendors will not be at the front gate, and our grounds be less and less worth seeing the farther into them we go. Nor let yours or mine be a garden of pride. The ways of such a garden are not pleasantness nor its paths peace. And let us not have a garden of tiring care or a user up of precious time. That is not good citizenship. Neither let us have an old-trousers, sun-bonnet, black finger-nails garden--especially if you are a woman. A garden that makes a wife, daughter or sister a dowdy is hardly "Joyous Gard." Neither is one which makes itself a mania to her and an affliction to her family. Let us not even have, you or me, a wonder garden--of arboreal or floral curiosities. Perhaps because I have not travelled enough I have never seen a garden of exotics that was a real garden in any good art sense; in any way, that is, lastingly pleasing to a noble spirit. Let your garden, and let mine, be the garden of joy. For the only way it can be that, on and on, year in, year out, is to be so good in art and so finely human in its purposes that to have it and daily keep it will make us more worth while to ourselves and to mankind than to go without it.

[The end]
George Washington Cable's essay: My Own Acre