The shape of things to come

In a 1931 lecture to the Institute of Landscape Architects, founder member Edward White warned fellow members they must cut their cloth to fit tougher times.

Most of us are suffering from the bad times which depress nearly every industry. The good times are at an end for the present and we cannot consider honestly the future of gardening without recognising that there is no near prospect of a return to the lavish expenditure of recent years.

If this is a correct view of the situation, landscape architects can only meet it in one way. They must adjust their work to new conditions of economy. I was discussing the question of the size of the garden staff with a wealthy client the other day. He estimated that for every extra gardener he had to earmark the interest on £2,000. I offered to go halves with him for every man I could save by altering my plan. Unfortunately, he would not agree to this sporting proposal.

To meet his views, however, I put his plan on the drawing board again, and altered the details in a way that promised to save him two men. I did this by substituting planting and grass for features requiring more labour to maintain. The idea then struck me that the drawing board is responsible for a lot of expenditure that might be saved if one were less anxious about the effect of the drawing.

It would help if landscape architects would get to know the proportionate cost of labour required to maintain the respective features shown on their plans. This information would be enlightening to some employers who fancy that some things, like herbaceous borders, need no attention after they are once planted. Of course, the whole problem of garden costs may at any time be relieved and revolutionised by new invention. An invention, for instance, equivalent in its effect to the motor-mower.

I think the Royal Horticultural Society might do a good deal in a direct way to stimulate invention, and to make better known to the public the many labour-saving implements that already exist. New inventions are not looked upon today with quite as much suspicion as they excited some years ago. I remember that motor-cars were at first regarded uneasily by gardeners because it was thought they would make residence in the country unnecessary.

It is probable that aeroplanes will have an influence on gardening no less striking than that formerly exercised by motor-cars. In a few years they will make accessible for residence districts that have previously been too far from London and other big centres of business. There will then be opportunities for a great extension of the cultivation of the many interesting and rare plants of which we now only get tantalising glimpses.

Aeroplanes will enable those who like it and can afford it to go to the mountains for their rock gardens instead of creating mountains of rock in ungeological situations.

Many people will welcome the opportunity of breaking away from the conventional "Old English" gardens of which so many have appeared in recent years. Many of the gardens made today are on such set lines that given circumstances are almost certain to be treated in the same way by experienced landscape architects.

While the purposes of a garden remain what they are there can be little or no change in the principles of arrangement. Originality must arise in ingenious and artistic variations of the plan. One of the chief obstacles to originality is the distrust of English clients for anything novel which they cannot visualise for themselves. Most landscape architects will say that some of the best things they have ever planned have not been carried out for this reason.

One of the difficulties of the future will be to make the best selection from the immense quantity of material available for the furnishing of gardens. The ideal method of cultivating this mass of material would be the development throughout the country of great public gardens which will take the place of the many private gardens which are threatened with extinction. These gardens would be the educators  of the gardening public who would choose from them material for their own gardens.

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