List of Illustrations
Large and Small Gardens
Beginning and Learning
The Flower-Border and Pergola
The Primrose Garden
Colours of Flowers
The Scents of the Garden
The Worship of False Gods
Novelty and Variety
Weeds and Pests
The Bedding Fashion and its Influence
Matters and Men
There are already many and excellent books about gardening; but the love of a garden, already so deeply implanted in the English heart, is so rapidly growing, that no excuse is needed for putting forth another.
I lay no claim either to literary ability, or to botanical knowledge, or even to knowing the best practical methods of cultivation; but I have lived among outdoor flowers for many years, and have not spared myself in the way of actual labour, and have come to be on closely intimate and friendly terms with a great many growing things, and have acquired certain instincts which, though not clearly defined, are of the nature of useful knowledge.
But the lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives. I rejoice when I see any one, and especially children, inquiring about flowers, and wanting gardens of their own, and carefully working in them. For the love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies, but always grows and grows to an enduring and ever-increasing source of happiness.
If in the following chapters I have laid special stress upon gardening for beautiful effect, it is because it is the way of gardening that I love best, and understand most of, and that seems to me capable of giving the greatest amount of pleasure. I am strongly for treating garden and wooded ground in a pictorial way, mainly with large effects, and in the second place with lesser beautiful incidents, and for so arranging plants and trees and grassy spaces that they look happy and at home, and make no parade of conscious effort. I try for beauty and harmony everywhere, and especially for harmony of colour. A garden so treated gives the delightful feeling of repose, and refreshment, and purest enjoyment of beauty, that seems to my understanding to be the best fulfilment of its purpose; while to the diligent worker its happiness is like the offering of a constant hymn of praise. For I hold that the best purpose of a garden is to give delight and to give refreshment of mind, to soothe, to refine, and to lift up the heart in a spirit of praise and thankfulness. It is certain that those who practise gardening in the best ways find it to be so.
But the scope of practical gardening covers a range of horticultural practice wide enough to give play to every variety of human taste. Some find their greatest pleasure in collecting as large a number as possible of all sorts of plants from all sources, others in collecting them themselves in their foreign homes, others in making rock-gardens, or ferneries, or peat-gardens, or bog-gardens, or gardens for conifers or for flowering shrubs, or special gardens of plants and trees with variegated or coloured leaves, or in the cultivation of some particular race or family of plants. Others may best like wide lawns with large trees, or wild gardening, or a quite formal garden, with trim hedge and walk, and terrace, and brilliant parterre, or a combination of several ways of gardening. And all are right and reasonable and enjoyable to their owners, and in some way or degree helpful to others.
The way that seems to me most desirable is again different, and I have made an attempt to describe it in some of its aspects. But I have learned much, and am always learning, from other people's gardens, and the lesson I have learned most thoroughly is, never to say "I know" – there is so infinitely much to learn, and the conditions of different gardens vary so greatly, even when soil and situation appear to be alike and they are in the same district. Nature is such a subtle chemist that one never knows what she is about, or what surprises she may have in store for us.
Often one sees in the gardening papers discussions about the treatment of some particular plant. One man writes to say it can only be done one way, another to say it can only be done quite some other way, and the discussion waxes hot and almost angry, and the puzzled reader, perhaps as yet young in gardening, cannot tell what to make of it. And yet the two writers are both able gardeners, and both absolutely trustworthy, only they should have said, "In my experience in this place such a plant can only be done in such a way." Even plants of the same family will not do equally well in the same garden. Every practical gardener knows this in the case of strawberries and potatoes; he has to find out which kinds will do in his garden; the experience of his friend in the next county is probably of no use whatever.
I have learnt much from the little cottage gardens that help to make our English waysides the prettiest in the temperate world. One can hardly go into the smallest cottage garden without learning or observing something new. It may be some two plants growing beautifully together by some happy chance, or a pretty mixed tangle of creepers, or something that one always thought must have a south wall doing better on an east one. But eye and brain must be alert to receive the impression and studious to store it, to add to the hoard of experience. And it is important to train oneself to have a good flower-eye; to be able to see at a glance what flowers are good and which are unworthy, and why, and to keep an open mind about it; not to be swayed by the petty tyrannies of the "florist" or show judge; for, though some part of his judgment may be sound, he is himself a slave to rules, and must go by points which are defined arbitrarily and rigidly, and have reference mainly to the show-table, leaving out of account, as if unworthy of consideration, such matters as gardens and garden beauty, and human delight, and sunshine, and varying lights of morning and evening and noonday. But many, both nurserymen and private people, devote themselves to growing and improving the best classes of hardy flowers, and we can hardly offer them too much grateful praise, or do them too much honour. For what would our gardens be without the Roses, Pæonies, and Gladiolus of France, and the Tulips and Hyacinths of Holland, to say nothing of the hosts of good things raised by our home growers, and of the enterprise of the great firms whose agents are always searching the world for garden treasures?
Let no one be discouraged by the thought of how much there is to learn. Looking back upon nearly thirty years of gardening (the earlier part of it in groping ignorance with scant means of help), I can remember no part of it that was not full of pleasure and encouragement. For the first steps are steps into a delightful Unknown, the first successes are victories all the happier for being scarcely expected, and with the growing knowledge comes the widening outlook, and the comforting sense of an ever-increasing gain of critical appreciation. Each new step becomes a little surer, and each new grasp a little firmer, till, little by little, comes the power of intelligent combination, the nearest thing we can know to the mighty force of creation.
And a garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all, it teaches entire trust. "Paul planteth and Apollos watereth, but God giveth the increase." The good gardener knows with absolute certainty that if he does his part, if he gives the labour, the love, and every aid that his knowledge of his craft, experience of the conditions of his place, and exercise of his personal wit can work together to suggest, that so surely as he does this diligently and faithfully, so surely will God give the increase. Then with the honestly-earned success comes the consciousness of encouragement to renewed effort, and, as it were, an echo of the gracious words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
The gladness of June – The time of Roses – Garden Roses – Reine Blanche – The old white Rose – Old garden Roses as standards – Climbing and rambling Roses – Scotch Briars – Hybrid Perpetuals a difficulty – Tea Roses – Pruning – Sweet Peas autumn sown – Elder-trees – Virginian Cowslip – Dividing spring-blooming plants – Two best Mulleins – White French Willow – Bracken.
What is one to say about June – the time of perfect young summer, the fulfilment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade? For my own part I wander up into the wood and say, "June is here – June is here; thank God for lovely June!" The soft cooing of the wood-dove, the glad song of many birds, the flitting of butterflies, the hum of all the little winged people among the branches, the sweet earth-scents – all seem to say the same, with an endless reiteration, never wearying because so gladsome. It is the offering of the Hymn of Praise! The lizards run in and out of the heathy tufts in the hot sunshine, and as the long day darkens the night-jar trolls out his strange song, so welcome because it is the prelude to the perfect summer night; here and there a glowworm shows its little lamp. June is here – June is here; thank God for lovely June!
And June is the time of Roses. I have great delight in the best of the old garden Roses; the Provence (Cabbage Rose), sweetest of all sweets, and the Moss Rose, its crested variety; the early Damask, and its red and white striped kind; the old, nearly single, Reine Blanche. I do not know the origin of this charming Rose, but by its appearance it should be related to the Damask. A good many years ago I came upon it in a cottage garden in Sussex, and thought I had found a white Damask. The white is a creamy white, the outsides of the outer petals are stained with red, first showing clearly in the bud. The scent is delicate and delightful, with a faint suspicion of Magnolia. A few years ago this pretty old Rose found its way to one of the meetings of the Royal Horticultural Society, where it gained much praise. It was there that I recognised my old friend, and learned its name.
I am fond of the old Rosa alba, both single and double, and its daughter, Maiden's Blush. How seldom one sees these Roses except in cottage gardens; but what good taste it shows on the cottager's part, for what Rose is so perfectly at home upon the modest little wayside porch?
I have also learnt from cottage gardens how pretty are some of the old Roses grown as standards. The picture of my neighbour, Mrs. Edgeler, picking me a bunch from her bush, shows how freely they flower, and what fine standards they make. I have taken the hint, and have now some big round-headed standards, the heads a yard through, of the lovely Celeste and of Madame Plantier, that are worth looking at, though one of them is rather badly-shaped this year, for my handsome Jack (donkey) ate one side of it when he was waiting outside the studio door, while his cart-load of logs for the ingle fire was being unloaded.
What a fine thing, among the cluster Roses, is the old Dundee Rambler! I trained one to go up a rather upright green Holly about twenty-five feet high, and now it has rushed up and tumbles out at the top and sides in masses of its pretty bloom. It is just as good grown as a "fountain," giving it a free space where it can spread at will with no training or support whatever. These two ways I think are much the best for growing the free, rambling Roses. In the case of the fountain, the branches arch over and display the flowers to perfection; if you tie your Rose up to a tall post or train it over an arch or pergola, the birds flying overhead have the best of the show. The Garland Rose, another old sort, is just as suitable for this kind of growth as Dundee Rambler, and the individual flowers, of a tender blush-colour, changing to white, are even more delicate and pretty.
The newer Crimson Rambler is a noble plant for the same use, in sunlight gorgeous of bloom, and always brilliant with its glossy bright-green foliage. Of the many good plants from Japan, this is the best that has reached us of late years. The Himalayan Rosa Brunonii is loaded with its clusters of milk-white bloom, that are so perfectly in harmony with its very long, almost blue leaves. But of all the free-growing Roses, the most remarkable for rampant growth is R. polyantha. One of the bushes in this garden covers a space thirty-four feet across – more than a hundred feet round. It forms a great fountain-like mass, covered with myriads of its small white flowers, whose scent is carried a considerable distance. Directly the flower is over it throws up rods of young growth eighteen to twenty feet long; as they mature they arch over, and next year their many short lateral shoots will be smothered with bloom.
Two other Roses of free growth are also great favourites – Madame Alfred Carrière, with long-stalked loose white flowers, and Emilie Plantier. I have them on an east fence, where they yield a large quantity of bloom for cutting; indeed, they have been so useful in this way that I have planted several more, but this time for training down to an oak trellis, like the one that supports the row of Bouquet d'Or, in order to bring the flowers within easier reach.
Now we look for the bloom of the Burnet Rose (Rosa spinosissima), a lovely native plant, and its garden varieties, the Scotch Briars. The wild plant is widely distributed in England, though somewhat local. It grows on moors in Scotland, and on Beachy Head in Sussex, and near Tenby in South Wales, favouring wild places within smell of the sea. The rather dusky foliage sets off the lemon-white of the wild, and the clear white, pink, rose, and pale yellow of the double garden kinds. The hips are large and handsome, black and glossy, and the whole plant in late autumn assumes a fine bronzy colouring between ashy black and dusky red. Other small old garden Roses are coming into bloom. One of the most desirable, and very frequent in this district, is Rosa lucida, with red stems, highly-polished leaves, and single, fragrant flowers of pure rosy-pink colour. The leaves turn a brilliant yellow in autumn, and after they have fallen the bushes are still bright with the coloured stems and the large clusters of bright-red hips. It is the St. Mark's Rose of Venice, where it is usually in flower on St. Mark's Day, April 25th. The double variety is the old Rose d'amour, now rare in gardens; its half-expanded bud is perhaps the most daintily beautiful thing that any Rose can show.
After many years of fruitless effort I have to allow that I am beaten in the attempt to grow the Grand Roses in the Hybrid Perpetual class. They plainly show their dislike to our dry hill, even when their beds are as well enriched as I can contrive or afford to make them. The rich loam that they love has to come many miles from the Weald by hilly roads in four-horse waggons, and the haulage is so costly that when it arrives I feel like distributing it with a spoon rather than with the spade. Moreover, even if a bed is filled with the precious loam, unless constantly watered the plants seem to feel and resent the two hundred feet of dry sand and rock that is under them before any moister stratum is reached.
But the Tea Roses are more accommodating, and do fairly well, though, of course, not so well as in a stiffer soil. If I were planting again I should grow a still larger proportion of the kinds I have now found to do best. Far beyond all others is Madame Lambard, good alike early and late, and beautiful at all times. In this garden it yields quite three times as much bloom as any other; nothing else can approach it either for beauty or bounty. Viscountess Folkestone, not properly a Tea, but classed among Hybrid Noisettes, is also free and beautiful and long-enduring; and Papa Gontier, so like a deeper-coloured Lambard, is another favourite. Bouquet d'Or is here the strongest of the Dijon Teas. I grow it in several positions, but most conveniently on a strong bit of oak post and rail trellis, keeping the long growths tied down, and every two years cutting the oldest wood right out. It is well to remember that the tying or pegging down of Roses always makes them bloom better: every joint from end to end wants to make a good Rose; if the shoots are more upright, the blooming strength goes more to the top.
The pruning of Tea Roses is quite different from the pruning required for the Hybrid Perpetuals. In these the last year's growth is cut back in March to within two to five eyes from where it leaves the main branch, according to the strength of the kind. This must not be done with the Teas. With these the oldest wood is cut right out from the base, and the blooming shoots left full length. But it is well, towards the end of July or beginning of August, to cut back the ends of soft summer shoots in order to give them a chance of ripening what is left. When an old Tea looks worn out, if cut right down in March or April it will often throw out vigorous young growth, and quite renew its life.
Within the first days of June we can generally pick some Sweet Peas from the rows sown in the second week of September. They are very much stronger than those sown in spring. By November they are four inches high, and seem to gain strength and sturdiness during the winter; for as soon as spring comes they shoot up with great vigour, and we know that the spray used to support them must be two feet higher than for those that are spring-sown. The flower-stalks are a foot long, and many have four flowers on a stalk. They are sown in shallow trenches; in spring they are earthed up very slightly, but still with a little trench at the base of the plants. A few doses of liquid manure are a great help when they are getting towards blooming strength.
I am very fond of the Elder-tree. It is a sociable sort of thing; it seems to like to grow near human habitations. In my own mind it is certainly the tree most closely associated with the pretty old cottage and farm architecture of my part of the country; no bush or tree, not even the apple, seems to group so well or so closely with farm buildings. When I built a long thatched shed for the many needs of the garden, in the region of pits and frames, compost, rubbish and burn-heap, I planted Elders close to the end of the building and on one side of the yard. They look just right, and are, moreover, every year loaded with their useful fruit. This is ripe quite early in September, and is made into Elder wine, to be drunk hot in winter, a comfort by no means to be despised. My trees now give enough for my own wants, and there are generally a few acceptable bushels to spare for my cottage neighbours.
About the middle of the month the Virginian Cowslip (Mertensia virginica) begins to turn yellow before dying down. Now is the time to look out for the seeds. A few ripen on the plant, but most of them fall while green, and then ripen in a few days while lying on the ground. I shake the seeds carefully out, and leave them lying round the parent-plant; a week later, when they will be ripe, they are lightly scratched into the ground. Some young plants of last year's growth I mark with a bit of stick, in case of wanting some later to plant elsewhere, or to send away; the plant dies away completely, leaving no trace above ground, so that if not marked it would be difficult to find what is wanted.
This is also the time for pulling to pieces and replanting that good spring plant, the large variety of Myosotis dissitiflora; I always make sure of divisions, as seed does not come true. Primula rosea should also be divided now, and planted to grow on in a cool place, such as the foot of a north or east wall, or be put at once in its place in some cool, rather moist spot in the rock-garden. Two-year-old plants come up with thick clumps of matted root that is now useless. I cut off the whole mass of old root about an inch below the crown, when it can easily be divided into nice little bits for replanting. Many other spring-flowering plants may with advantage be divided now, such as Aubrietia, Arabis, Auricula, Tiarella, and Saxifrage.
The young Primrose plants, sown in March, have been planted out in their special garden, and are looking well after some genial rain.
The great branching Mullein, Verbascum olympicum, is just going out of bloom, after making a brilliant display for a fortnight. It is followed by the other of the most useful tall, yellow-flowered kinds, V. phlomoides. Both are seen at their best either quite early in the morning, or in the evening, or in half-shade, as, like all their kind, they do not expand their bloom in bright sunshine. Both are excellent plants on poor soils. V. olympicum, though classed as a biennial, does not come to flowering strength till it is three or four years old; but meanwhile the foliage is so handsome that even if there were no flower it would be a worthy garden plant. It does well in any waste spaces of poor soil, where, by having plants of all ages, there will be some to flower every year. The Mullein moth is sure to find them out, and it behoves the careful gardener to look for and destroy the caterpillars, or he may some day find, instead of his stately Mulleins, tall stems only clothed with unsightly grey rags. The caterpillars are easily caught when quite small or when rather large; but midway in their growth, when three-quarters of an inch long, they are wary, and at the approach of the avenging gardener they will give a sudden wriggling jump, and roll down into the lower depths of the large foliage, where they are difficult to find. But by going round the plants twice a day for about a week they can all be discovered.
The white variety of the French Willow (Epilobium angustifolium) is a pretty plant in the edges of the copse, good both in sun and shade, and flourishing in any poor soil. In better ground it grows too rank, running quickly at the root and invading all its neighbours, so that it should be planted with great caution; but when grown on poor ground it flowers at from two feet to four feet high, and its whole aspect is improved by the proportional amount of flower becoming much larger.
Towards the end of June the bracken that covers the greater part of the ground of the copse is in full beauty. No other manner of undergrowth gives to woodland in so great a degree the true forest-like character. This most ancient plant speaks of the old, untouched land of which large stretches still remain in the south of England – land too poor to have been worth cultivating, and that has therefore for centuries endured human contempt. In the early part of the present century, William Cobbett, in his delightful book, "Rural Rides," speaking of the heathy headlands and vast hollow of Hindhead, in Surrey, calls it "certainly the most villainous spot God ever made." This gives expression to his view, as farmer and political economist, of such places as were incapable of cultivation, and of the general feeling of the time about lonely roads in waste places, as the fields for the lawless labours of smuggler and highwayman. Now such tracts of natural wild beauty, clothed with stretches of Heath and Fern and Whortleberry, with beds of Sphagnum Moss, and little natural wild gardens of curious and beautiful sub-aquatic plants in the marshy hollows and undrained wastes, are treasured as such places deserve to be, especially when they still remain within fifty miles of a vast city. The height to which the bracken grows is a sure guide to the depth of soil. On the poorest, thinnest ground it only reaches a foot or two; but in hollow places where leaf-mould accumulates and surface soil has washed in and made a better depth, it grows from six feet to eight feet high, and when straggling up through bushes to get to the light a frond will sometimes measure as much as twelve feet. The old country people who have always lived on the same poor land say, "Where the farn grows tall anything will grow"; but that only means that there the ground is somewhat better and capable of cultivation, as its presence is a sure indication of a sandy soil. The timber-merchants are shy of buying oak trees felled from among it, the timber of trees grown on the wealden clay being so much better.