Landscape gardening has often been likened to the painting of a picture. Your art-work teacher has doubtless told you that a good picture should have a point of chief interest, and the rest of the points simply go to make more beautiful the central idea, or to form a fine setting for it. So in landscape gardening there must be in the gardener's mind a picture of what he desires the whole to be when he completes his work. From this study we shall be able to work out a little theory of landscape gardening. Let us go to the lawn. A good extent of open lawn space is always beautiful.
It is restful. It adds a feeling of space to even small grounds. So we might generalize and say that it is well to keep open lawn spaces. If one covers his lawn space with many trees, with little flower beds here and there, the general effect is choppy and fussy. It is a bit like an over-dressed person.
One's grounds lose all individuality thus treated. A single tree or a small group is not a bad arrangement on the lawn. Do not centre the tree or trees. Let them drop a bit into the background. Make a pleasing side feature of them. In choosing trees one must keep in mind a number of things. You should not choose an overpowering tree; the tree should be one of good shape, with something interesting about its bark, leaves, flowers or fruit. While the poplar is a rapid grower, it sheds its leaves early and so is left standing, bare and ugly, before the fall is old. Mind you, there are places where a row or double row of Lombardy poplars is very effective. But I think you'll agree with me that one lone poplar is not.
The catalpa is quite lovely by itself. Its leaves are broad, its flowers attractive, the seed pods which cling to the tree until away into the winter, add a bit of picture squeness. The bright berries of the ash, the brilliant foliage of the sugar maple, the blossoms of the tulip tree, the bark of the white birch, and the leaves of the copper beech all these are beauty points to consider. Place makes a difference in the selection of a tree. Suppose the lower portion of the grounds is a bit low and moist, then the spot is ideal for a willow. Don't group trees together which look awkward. A long-looking poplar does not go with a nice rather rounded little tulip tree. A juniper, so neat and prim, would look silly beside a spreading chestnut. One must keep proportion and suitability in mind. I'd never advise the planting of a group of evergreens close to a house, and in the front yard.
The effect is very gloomy indeed. Houses thus surrounded are overcapped by such trees and are not only gloomy to live in, but truly unhealthful. The chief requisite inside a house is sunlight and plenty of it. As trees are chosen because of certain good points, so shrubs should be. In a clump I should wish some which bloomed early, some which bloomed late, some for the beauty of their fall foliage, some for the colour of their bark and others for the fruit. Some spireas and the forsythia bloom early. The red bark of the dogwood makes a bit of colour all winter, and the red berries of the barberry cling to the shrub well into the winter. Certain shrubs are good to use for hedge purposes. A hedge is rather prettier usually than a fence. The Californian privet is excellent for this purpose.
Osage orange, Japan barberry, buckthorn, Japan quince, and Van Houtte's spirea are other shrubs which make good hedges. I forgot to say that in tree and shrub selection it is usually better to choose those of the locality one lives in. Unusual and foreign plants do less well, and often harmonize but poorly with their new setting. Landscape gardening may follow along very formal lines or along informal lines. The first would have straight paths, straight rows in stiff beds, everything, as the name tells, perfectly formal. The other method is, of course, the exact opposite. There are danger points in each. The formal arrangement is likely to look too stiff; the informal, too fussy, too wiggly. As far as paths go, keep this in mind, that a path should always lead somewhere.