The work of the garden architect is
generally condemned by lovers of the simpler and more natural forms of plant arrangement. In a climate such as ours
the use of too much stonework in the shape of statuary, fountains, vases and balustrading has little to recommend
it. But if the designer will give us tanks and sunk basins, in which to grow Lilies and other plants, we cannot
feel too grateful. Were it not for tanks, water
gardening would be impossible for the many whose grounds do not contain natural ponds or
In designing tanks the first thought should be to ensure
the utmost simplicity, both in the surroundings and in whatever architectural work may be necessary.
In the old gardens of Italy
the excessive use of stone work is justified, not only on account of its suitability to the climate and way of
living, but because the designs were almost invariably good and pure.
The shape of garden
tanks will necessarily be determined by the situation for which they are designed. Speaking generally, however,
the more severe their outline, the better.
Nothing can exceed in
suitability a rectangular basin, with a broad coping of wrought stone, set in a framework of turf. If the pool
is in view of the house, it may be necessary to slightly amplify the design, so that it may not appear
inharmonious with the lines of the building.
A good effect may be obtained by forming the ends into the shape of a Moorish arch, the bays
being deeply recessed. So long as the outline is bold and dignified, enabling the eye to grasp the whole scheme
at a glance, a satisfactory appearance is practically certain. It is the scalloped edges, the sinuous curves and
raised parapets, that disfigure so many of the creations of the garden architect.
Garden tanks are often
set in dreary expanses of graveled walk, or at the meeting of several pathways. Many of these are in kitchen
gardens, and have formerly served the useful purpose of supplying soft water for greenhouses and vegetables
generally. The worst of these places is that there is no possible inducement to remain for more than a minute or
An ideal position for
the simplest form of garden tank would be the centre of a rectangular court, a brick or stone walled enclosure
with a doorway at either end. Here would be assured a degree of warmth and shelter that would make it a pleasant
spot for reading or working, even in the early days of the year.
A grass margin would
fittingly surround the flat kerb, whilst clumps of Irises,
Shrubby Spiraeas, Cannas, Paeonies, Funkias, Lilies, and bold foliage plants, could be grouped in masses behind.
On the wall, what opportunities for growing some of the handsome forms
of Clematis, Magnolia, Roses, and sweet scented Jasmine! Truly
beautiful would be this garden picture when the surface of the pool scintillated with the jeweled forms of the
hybrid Nymphaeas - ruby, topaz and silver.
It is a common idea that
tanks must be built of considerable depth, and that unless protected by a low wall or parapet they are
dangerous. For this reason hundreds of garden pools have been emptied and filled in with soil. Only in
exceptional cases is it necessary for the tank to be more than two and a half or three feet deep, this being
ample for the class of plants that will find a home there.
It is a good plan to
excavate the soil to a greater depth in the middle than at the sides, a shallow ledge round the margin will keep
the roots of the water plants from spreading towards the walls. Most lilies and other aquatics look better if
kept somewhat in the centre of artificial basins, and are more effective if entirely surrounded by water than
crowded against the walls and corners.
Deep tanks have a further disadvantage in that they are
seldom properly filled. Nothing looks more unsightly than a tank in which the water scarcely rises half way.
The walls cast a heavy shadow over the surface, the plants are unhealthy, and the water cold.
Besides, the lily tank should form a definite note in the
scheme of design, a center which inspires the arrangement of plant grouping around. Sunken water surfaces are
useless as reflectors, and are lacking in those color values which in sunlight are so precious. Even in quite
large tanks the distance between the top of the kerb and the water line should not be more than two feet, in
smaller basins twelve inches is sufficient.
If the ground surrounding sunk tanks has an upward slope it
should be laid out in a succession of terraces. This is especially important where there is a wide
margin of turf.
Nothing looks worse
than a grass slope falling abruptly to the water's edge. Such an arrangement is fraught with danger, and the use
of a mowing machine is difficult.
By connecting the
various levels by short flights of steps, and substituting walls of rough stone or brick for the grass slopes, a
much better effect will be gained. A skilled mason is not required to construct such
walls, which may be built of the cheapest materials, the crevices furnished with wall and
In garden courts abrupt changes of level are to be preferred to monotonous slopes and easy
gradients, we gain then the charm of variety, and open up endless possibilities in the way of color and shadow
In more elaborate lily
tanks steps should actually lead into the water itself. A flight of broad, but shallow, stone stairs at either
end of the tank cannot fail to greatly enhance its beauty. Their presence is a direct invitation to view the
lilies more closely, a note of intimacy, which suggests that the water
garden is made for our particular pleasure and interest.
High copings and
balustrades act as barriers, and prevent the jeweled water surface from forming any close relationship with its
surrounding features. Some may argue that steps leading into water, even continuing their way beneath the
surface, are ridiculous, in this case, however, picturesque value far over-rules any worthwhile
We have only to
remember a flight of weed-stained steps, the boat landing on some sleepy quay side, or the broad and spacious
stairway, white and sunlit, which dips into a Venetian lagoon, to appreciate the idea.
Tanks which form part
of some architectural scheme should be planted only with the best kinds of
Lilies, whose formality and clearness of outline exactly fits them for such places. In the beds around
should be grouped plants of stately foliage and somewhat stiff habit - Cannas, admirable both as to their well
shaped leaves and gorgeous flower spikes, Madonna Lilies, Salvia patens, Funkias, especially F.sieboldi, Irises
of sorts, and the cool green of Harts-tongue.
herbaceous plants must be excluded in this instance; however well adapted they may be as a setting for the quiet
pool in the homely garden, they will be as weeds in the almost tropical brilliance of the formal Lily