HAS ENGLAND A NATIONAL STYLE OF GARDENING?
Have we, however, evolved a “style”? Has gardening in England become so distinctive and at the same time so homogeneous that we can fairly claim to have developed a national system? This is a debatable question. Some things we have certainly done: we have got rid of elaborate “parterres,” furnished with plants most of which are too tender to endure our winters. We have got rid of or reduced elaborate water-devices, statuary, and labyrinths. We have practically got rid of carpet-bedding. We have got rid of coloured earths. We have got rid of ribbon borders. If to have made a clean sweep of the principal components of the formal style of the past is pari passu to have formed a style of our own, then our position is impregnable.
Before, however, we attempt a decision based only on a series of negatives, let us see what we have put in the place of the discarded things.
We have in the first place made a great stride in the direction of simplicity by substituting to a considerable extent (not wholly) hardy plants for tender. With certain qualifications, which honesty imposes in consequence of a partial revival in Dutch clipped and Japanese dwarf trees, we may claim to have made a farther step in the direction of good taste by growing our trees, shrubs and plants in their natural forms. We have unquestionably impressed contemporary nations with the vast progress which we have made in the creation and use of hardy herbaceous plants, such as delphiniums (Fig. 633), phloxes, peonies and Michaelmas daisies.
We have corrected the stiffness of our lawns by providing rock borders and herbaceous walks beside them (Fig. 634).
We have softened the severity of terraces by planting them informally with hardy things (Fig. 635).
And we have done one other really great and significant thing: we have shown that the contours of our gardens can be improved better by the formation of rock gardens and the cultivation thereon of alpine plants than by elaborate, costly and unnatural terrace-building, construction of artificial ruins, and so forth.
These are not small achievements, indeed, when they reach fruition, when it can fairly be claimed that the English flower-garden is firmly based on naturally grown trees and shrubs, on well-furnished herbaceous borders, and on rock gardens, the whole mellowed with the good lawns of our past, then indeed we shall have an “English style” again, a style very different from the old—more artistic, more free, more simple—yet equally robust and coherent. And that time is drawing nearer with rapid strides.