Few persons who daily pass attractive homes in the suburban districts of our large cities and the outlying country, realize that much of their charm is due to effects which require a comparatively small outlay in dollars and cents. Good taste, combined with a degree of skill that is within reach of most of us, represent the chief part of the investment. And yet these little, inexpensive things are the very ones that produce the pleasing effects we are all striving after in our efforts to make home attractive. Most of them convey an impression of being made for use, not show. They are in a class with the broad-seated, wide-armed “old hickory” rockers with which we make our modern verandas comfortable nowadays, and the hammock swung in shady places, wherein one may lie and take his ease, and forget everything but the fact that it is sometimes a pleasant thing to be lazy—frankly, unblushingly lazy. It is a healthy indication in our American life when so many persons go in for getting all the comfort they can from outdoors in summer. Every home whose grounds are large enough to accommodate them ought to have benches here and there, made for comfort, rather than looks, garden-seats, summer-houses—all suggestive of rest and relaxation. In this chapter I propose to briefly describe a few such home-made features, hoping that the man or boy who has the “knack” of using tools to advantage, actuated by a desire to make home-environments pleasant, may be led to copy some of them.
Let me say, right here, that the work demanded in the construction of rustic features about the home is just the kind of work I would encourage boys to undertake. It will be found so enjoyable that it will seem more like play than labor. There is the pleasure of planning it—the sense of responsibility and importance which comes to the lad who sets out to do something “all by himself,” and the delightful consciousness that what is done may result in making home more home-like, and add to the comfort and pleasure of those whose love and companionship go to make home the best place on earth.
In constructing summer-houses, bridges, and other rustic work, there should be a careful plan made before the work is begun. Never work “by guess.” Go at the undertaking precisely as the mechanic sets about the construction of a house. Draw a diagram of what the structure is to be. A rough diagram will answer quite as well as any, provided it covers all particulars.
Figure out just how much material the plan calls for. Get this on the ground before anything else is done. The material required will be poles of different sizes and lengths, large and substantial nails, a few planks for floors and benches—possibly tables—and shingles for covering such structures as need roofing in, unless bark is used for this purpose. Of course bark gives more of a “rustic” look to a roof, but it is not an easy matter to obtain a good quality of it, and shingles, stained a mossy-green or dark brown, will harmonize charmingly with the rest of the building, and furnish a much more substantial roof than it is possible to secure with even the best kind of bark.
If possible, use cedar poles in preference to any other, for several reasons: First of all, they are more ornamental, because of their bark, which is more permanent than that of any other wood. They are light, and easy to handle, and take a nail as readily as pine. And then—their aromatic odor makes it a constant delight to work among them to those who like sweet, fresh, wild-woody smells. But all kinds of poles can be substituted for cedar if that is not obtainable. The kind of wood used in the construction of rustic work is not a matter of prime importance, though it may be, and is, largely a matter of taste. But when we cannot do as we would like to we must do the best we can.
Provide yourself with a good saw, a hammer, a square, and a mitre-box. These will be all the tools you will be likely to need. Use spikes to fasten the larger timbers together, and smaller nails for the braces and ornamental work of the design. Speaking of ornamental work reminds me to say that the more crooked, gnarled, and twisted limbs and branches you can secure, the better will be the effect, as a general thing, for formality must be avoided as far as possible. We are not working according to a plan of Nature’s but we are using Nature’s material, and we must use it as it comes from Nature’s hand in order to make it most effective.
Take pains in making joints. If everything is cut to the proper length and angle, it will fit together neatly, and only a neat job will be satisfactory.
Let me advise the reader who concludes to try his hand at the construction of rustic work to confine his selection of design to something not very elaborate. Leave that for wealthy people who can afford to have whatever their taste inclines them to, without regard to cost, and who give the work over to the skilled workman. I am considering matters from the standpoint of the home-maker, who believes we get more real pleasure out of what we make with our own hands than from that which we hire some one to make for us.
In one of the illustrations accompanying this chapter is shown a combination summer-house and arbor that is very easily made, and that will cost but little. The picture gives so clear an idea of framework and general detail that a description does not seem necessary. As a considerable weight will have to be supported by the roof, when vines have been trained over it, it will be necessary to use stout poles for uprights, and to run substantial braces from them to the cross-poles overhead. The built-in seats on each side add greatly to the comfort of the structure, and invite us to “little halts by the wayside,” in which to “talk things over,” or to quiet hours with a book that would lose half its charm if read indoors, as a companion. The original of this picture is built over a path that is sometimes used as a driveway, and is known as “the outdoor parlor” by the family on whose grounds it stands. You will find some member of the family there on every pleasant day, throughout the entire season, for it is fitted out with hammocks and swinging seats, and a table large enough to serve as tea-table, on occasion, with a cover that lifts and discloses a snug box inside in which books and magazines can be left without fear of injury in case of shower or damp weather. Tea served in such surroundings takes on a flavor that it never has indoors. The general design of this summer-house, as will readily be seen by the illustration, is simplicity itself, and can very easily be copied by the amateur workman.
It often happens that there are ravines or small depressions on the home-grounds over which a rustic bridge could be thrown with pleasing effect, from the ornamental standpoint, and prove a great convenience from the standpoint of practicality. If there is a brook there, all the better, but few of us, however, are fortunate enough to be owners of grounds possessing so charming a feature, and our bridges must be more ornamental in themselves than would be necessary if there was water to add its attraction to the spot.
One of the most delightful summer-houses I have ever seen was largely the result of an accident. An old tree standing near a path was broken down in a storm, some years ago, and a portion of its trunk was made use of as a support for one side of the roof. On the opposite side, rustic arches were used. The roof was shingled, and stained a dark green, thus bringing it into color-harmony with its surroundings. Over the roof a Wistaria was trained, and this has grown to such size that but few of the shingles are to be seen through its branches. About this spot the home-life of the family centres from April to late October. “We would miss it more than any part of the dwelling,” its owner and builder said to me, when I asked permission to photograph it. I could readily understand the regard of the family for so beautiful a place, which, I have no doubt, cost less than one of the great flower-beds that we see on the grounds of wealthy people, and see without admiring, so formal and artificial are they, and so suggestive of professional work duplicated in other gardens until the very monotony of them becomes an offence to the eye of the man or woman who believes in individuality and originality.
Rustic fences between lots are great improvements on the ordinary boundary fence, especially if vines are trained over them. They need not be elaborate in design to be attractive. If made of poles from which the bark has been taken, they should be stained a dark green or brown to bring them into harmony with their surroundings.
Screen-frames of rustic work, as a support for vines, to hide unsightly outbuildings, are far preferable to the usual one of wood with wire netting stretched over it. They will cost no more than one of lattice, and will be vastly more pleasing, in every respect.
Gateways can be made exceedingly pleasing by setting posts at each side of the gate, and fashioning an arch to connect them, at the top. Train a vine, like Ampelopsis, over the upper part of the framework, and you make even the simplest gateway attractive.
A garden-seat, with a canopy of vines to shade it, may not be any more comfortable, as a seat, than any wooden bench, but the touch of beauty and grace imparted by the vine that roofs it makes it far more enjoyable than an expensive seat without the vine would be to the person who has a taste for pleasing and attractive things, simply because it pleases the eye by its outlines, thus appealing to the sense of the beautiful. Beauty is cheap, when looked at from the right standpoint, which is never one of dollars and cents. It is just these little things about a place that do so much to make it home-like, as you will readily see if, when you find a place that pleases you, you take the trouble to analyze the secret of its attractiveness.
The pergola has not been much in evidence among us until of late. A rapidly increasing taste for the attractive features of old-world, outdoor life in sunny countries where much of the time is spent outside the dwelling, and the introduction of the “Italian garden” idea, have given it a popularity in America that makes it a rival of the arbor or summer-house, and bids fair to make it a thing of permanence among us.
The question is frequently asked by those who have read about pergolas, but have never seen one, as to wherein they differ from the ordinary arbor. The difference is more in location, material, and manner of construction than anything else. They are generally built of timber that can be given a coating of paint, with more or less ornamental pillars or supports and rafters, and are constructed along definite architectural lines. They are, in fact, ornamental structures over which vines are to be trained loosely with a view to tempering the sunshine rather than excluding it. The framework of the arbor, as a general thing, is considered secondary to the effect produced by it when the vines we plant about it are developed. But, unlike the Americanized pergola, the arbor is almost always located in a retired or inconspicuous part of the home-grounds, and is seldom found connected with the dwelling. To get the benefit of the arbor, or the summer-house we evolve from it, we must go to it, while the pergola, as adapted by most of us, brings the attractive features of out-door life to the house, thus combining out- and in-door life more intimately than heretofore. One of the illustrations accompanying this chapter shows a very simple pergola framework—one that can be built cheaply, and by any man or boy who is at all “handy with tools,” and can be used as a plan to work from by anyone who desires to attach a modification of the pergola proper to the dwelling, for the purpose of furnishing shade to portions of it not provided with verandas. It will require the exercise of but little imagination to enable one to see what a charming feature of the home such a structure will be when vines have been trained over it. There are many homes that would be wonderfully improved by the addition of something of this kind, with very little trouble and expense. It is to be hoped that many a housewife can prevail on the “men-folks” to interest themselves on pergola-building on a small scale, as indicated in the illustration, for practical as well as ornamental reasons. Anything that will take the occupants of the dwelling out of doors is to be encouraged. Especially would the women of the household enjoy a vine-shaded addition of this kind, during the intervals of leisure that come during the day, and the head of the family would find it an ideal place in which to smoke his evening pipe. In several respects it can be made much more satisfactory than a veranda. It can be made larger—roomier, and there will be more of an out-door atmosphere about it because of its airiness, and the play of light and shade through the vines that clamber overhead. Pergolas of elaborate design need not be described here, as they properly belong to homes not made attractive by the individual efforts of the home owner. They are better adapted to the grounds of wealthy people, who are not obliged to consider expense, and who are not actively interested in the development of the home by themselves.
What vines would I advise for use about arbors, summer-houses, and pergolas?
The Wild Grape, though not much used, is one of our best native vines. It has the merit of rapid growth, entire hardiness, luxuriant foliage and delightful habit, and when in bloom it has a fragrance that is as exquisite as it is indescribable—one of those vague, elusive, and yet powerful odors so characteristic of spring flowers. You will smell it—the air will be full of it—and yet it will puzzle you to locate it. The wind will blow from you and it will be gone. Then a breeze will blow your way, and the air will suddenly be overpoweringly sweet with the scent shaken free from blossoms so small as to be hardly noticeable unless one makes a careful search for them. Then, too, the fruit is not only attractive to the eye in fall, but pleasant to the taste of those who delight in the flavor of wild things, among whom we must class the robins, who will linger about the vine until the last berry is gone.
Another most excellent vine for covering these structures is our native Ampelopsis, better known as American Ivy, or Virginia Creeper. This vine is of exceedingly rapid growth, and will accomplish more in one season than most other vines do in two or three years. Its foliage is beautiful at all times, but especially so in late autumn when it takes on a brilliance that makes it a rival of the flower. In fact, every leaf of it seems all at once to become a flower, glowing with scarlet and maroon of varying shades, with here and there a touch of bronze to afford contrast and heighten the intensity of the other colors. This vine is perhaps the best of all vines for use on rustic structures, because it takes hold of rough poles and posts with stout little tendrils or sucker-like discs which ask for no assistance from us in the way of support.
Another most charming vine is Clematis paniculata. This is a variety of the Clematis family of comparatively recent introduction, quite unlike the large-flowering class. It has white flowers, small individually, but produced in such enormous quantities that the upper portions of the vine seem to be covered with foam, or a light fall of snow. They will entirely hide the foliage with their dainty, airy grace, and you will declare, when you first see the plant in full bloom, that it is the most beautiful thing you ever saw in the way of a vine. And not the least of its merits is its habit of flowering at a time when most vines have passed into the sere-and-yellow-leaf period. September and October see it in its prime. Its foliage, of dark, rich, glossy green, furnishes a most pleasing background against which its countless panicles of white bloom stand out with most striking and delightful effect. I have no knowledge of a more floriferous vine, and I know of no more beautiful one. As a covering for the pergola attached to the house it is unrivalled.
In the southern belt of our northern states, where the Wistaria is hardy enough to withstand the winter, no more satisfactory flowering vine can be chosen for a pergola covering. Its habit of growth and flowering seems perfectly in harmony with the primary idea of the pergola. It will furnish all the shade that is needed without shutting out the sunshine entirely, and its pendant clusters of lavender-blue flowers are never more pleasing than when seen hanging between the cross-bars of the pergola.
If the person who builds a summer-house or a pergola is impatient for results it will be well to make use of annual vines for covering it the first season, though something of a more permanent nature should always be planned for. One of our best annuals, so far as rapidity of growth is concerned, is the Wild Cucumber, of which mention was made in the preceding chapter. Because of its rapid development, the usefulness of the plant for immediate effects will be readily understood. But it is valuable only as a substitute for something more substantial and should not be depended on after the first season. It lacks the dignity and strength of a permanent vine.
The Morning Glory will be found very effective for a first-season covering. This vine is prodigal in its production of flowers. Every sunny day, throughout the season, it will be covered with blossoms, so many in number that they make a veritable “glory” of the forenoon hours.
Another excellent annual is the Japan Hop. This will perhaps afford better satisfaction than the Wild Cucumber or the Morning Glory, because its foliage bears some resemblance to that of the hardy vines of which I have spoken. In other words, it has more substance and dignity, and therefore seems more in harmony with the structure over which it is trained. Its leaves have a variegation of creamy white on a dark green ground. This makes it as ornamental as if it were a flowering plant.
Every home ought to have its “playhouse” for children. If fitted with screens to keep out mosquitoes, the younger members of the family, especially the girls, will literally “live in it” for six months of the year. I would suggest fitting it with canvas curtains to shut out wind and rain. I would also advise making it of good size, for the children will take delight in entertaining visitors in it, and a tiny structure is not convenient for the entertainment of “company.” Such a building can be made as ornamental as any arbor or pergola at slight cost, when vines are used to hide the shortcomings of its material and construction. Be sure it will be appreciated by the little folks, and quite likely some of the “children of a larger growth” will dispute its occupancy with them, at times, if there is no other building of its kind about the place.