You are here: Home / Landscape Design Guide / General Problems / The City or Suburban Lot

The City or Suburban Lot

The fact is, the easiest way to spoil a good lawn is to put a flower bed on it; and the most effective way to show off flowers to least advantage is to plant them in a bed in the greensward.

— L. H. Bailey.

In the planting of city and suburban residence grounds there seems to be the largest field for improvement in this country. One sees in such places more exhibitions of execrable bad taste than anywhere else, to be sure; but such things indicate the willingness and the energy to do something, and taste often improves as work goes on. Those people who own their grounds in the towns and suburban districts are the truest home lovers in the nation; and as a class they have the means, the desire and the taste,—often uneducated in this particular line,—for home improvement. Still there is much too little done in the way of gardening or of any tasteful amelioration of the grounds.

While the house builder gladly puts $30,000 or $200,000 into his house, he regards $500 or $1000 as ample outlay for the ornamentation of the surrounding grounds. And while he is sure to employ an architect and pay him $1000 to $5000 for planning the house, he does not think of consulting a landscape gardener to design the surfacings and plantings, but leaves such things to the cheap day laborer who mows the lawn or takes care of the stable. These things make it obvious that the gentle art of gardening has not yet gained a proper appreciation from all those who should be its votaries.

The first great question to be decided, in laying out the grounds of a moderate-sized city home, is whether a fine effect from the street shall be sought, or a comfortable outdoor privacy be secured to the residents. On large grounds both these desiderata may be secured; but on small lots one must be sacrificed. The good, old fashioned English style of securing privacy in small places,—a method adopted by many citizens of a former period in America,— is to have a thick, high hedge all along the front. One still sees numbers of such hedges of arbor vitae, or privet, or mulberry, completely screening the house and grounds from the street. Such an arrangement has its very simple and substantial advantages, and if it is to be adopted there is no further advice to be given, except to choose a thrifty species for the hedge and keep it cleaned and well pruned.

A practicable modification of this method, but one not often seen, is to plant a somewhat irregular screen of mixed trees and shrubs and herbaceous materials. Such a screen can be arranged in the same general way as an ordinary border planting, except that it will usually face in two directions. This will shield the company on the lawn from the passers along the street, and will, at the same time, give opportunity for the introduction of an indefinite variety of ornamental plants, some of which are visible from the street and some from the house and lawn.

But a great many people do not live much on the lawn, or prefer for other reasons to make the grounds a setting for the house in such a way that the whole shall give the best possible effect from the street. In such cases there come into play all the principles of taste which govern gardening anywhere. As in other gardening operations, unity is most to be regarded. It is often violated to excess. Many city gardens are only aggregations of unrelated and incompatible features picked up here and yonder because they struck the passing fancy of the collector. A good plan should be made and followed This plan should be upon very simple lines,—the simpler as the grounds are smaller. It is here, more than elsewhere, imperative that the center of the lawn in front of the house be kept open. If the grounds are small, the space will seem to be increased by placing the house at one side and comparatively far from the street. And then, if it may be done without sacrificing the appearance of directness, the front walk may also be carried to one side, leaving the main lawn intact and very much augmented in its apparent extent. The plantings are then made in irregular borders along the sides of the lot and at the back, with more or fewer herbs and shrubs and climbers against the porches and the foundations of the house itself, according to its architectural character. Mistakes specially to be avoided in such a scheme of treatment are formal flower beds in the lawn, detached shrubs, horticultural monstrosities of all sorts, conspicuous edgings along walks, noticeably imperfect specimens of any kind, etc.

So far we have considered the treatment of the city residence lot in accordance with the natural style of gardening. Circumstances are often such as to make a geometrical treatment even more desirable. In fact, the tendency in this country is so strong toward the natural method of planting that many excellent opportunities for fine effects in the opposite method are ignored. The prospective planter of small grounds, who has not yet formed decided preferences for the natural style, is strongly recommended to bring himself to the clearest possible appreciation of the beauties and capabilities of the geometrical style before he commits himself to any particular plan.

In treating the small city lot according to the formal style, the ground is first laid out in purely geometrical lines. There are straight walks, and rectangular or circular areas for grass or plants; and if terraces are necessary, they are laid out so that their lines form a part of the general framework. Then the hedges which are to be clipped, the formal flower beds, and the other accessories of this style of gardening are filled in upon the plan, according to the principles laid down in The Natural Style

Special caution must be given the suburban resident and amateur gardener against planting too much of too many things. Everyone knows how easy it is to over-furnish a room; but few realize how much easier it is to over-furnish a lawn. The flower-loving suburban gardener wants everything in the nurseryman's catalog; and such an appetite is a blessing only when properly restrained. Perhaps it will be an acceptable hint to say that more things may be grown in tasteful arrangement within a small compass by close planting of herbaceous or semi-herbaceous annuals and perennials in irregular borders, than by any system of bedding or nursery crowding such as is commonly practiced on small places. Many diverse sorts of plants thus forced into company give a fine example of the universal struggle for existence, and of the mutual adaptations to which such an encounter gives rise. The nasturtiums will clamber up the strong stems of the sunflowers; the petunias will look out from under the castor beans, and the verbenas from under the petunias; the yellow coreopsis will mingle freely with the blue pentstemons, and over all will tower the hollyhocks, the heleniums and the rudbeckias. Give them plenty of food, an abundance of water, and constant, sympathetic interest, and how they will grow, and what a jolly place it will be! This is where many a successful business man recruits, all summer long, his flagging energies by daily relaxation among his shrubs and flowers and family.

Contents

See Also

Comments? Suggestions? Compliments? Criticisms?

Please tell us what you think about this page. (E-mail addresses are kept in complete confidence).

^ Top