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Wood and Garden: Notes and Thoughts, Practical and Critical, of a Working Amateur

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<SPAN name="Page_007" id="Page_007"></SPAN>[007]</div> <h2>CHAPTER II</h2> <h4>JANUARY</h4> <blockquote><p>Beauty of woodland in winter &mdash; The nut-walk &mdash; Thinning the overgrowth &mdash; A nut nursery &mdash; <i>Iris stylosa</i> &mdash; Its culture &mdash; Its home in Algeria &mdash; Discovery of the white variety &mdash; Flowers and branches for indoor decoration.</p></blockquote> <p><br />A hard frost is upon us. The thermometer registered eighteen degrees last night, and though there was only one frosty night next before it, the ground is hard frozen. Till now a press of other work has stood in the way of preparing protecting stuff for tender shrubs, but now I go up into the copse with a man and chopping tools to cut out some of the Scotch fir that are beginning to crowd each other.</p> <p>How endlessly beautiful is woodland in winter! To-day there is a thin mist; just enough to make a background of tender blue mystery three hundred yards away, and to show any defect in the grouping of near trees. No day could be better for deciding which trees are to come down; there is not too much at a time within sight; just one good picture-full and no more. On a clear day the eye and mind are distracted by seeing away into too many planes, and it is <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_008" id="Page_008"></SPAN>[008]</span>much more difficult to decide what is desirable in the way of broad treatment of nearer objects.</p> <p>The ground has a warm carpet of pale rusty fern; tree-stem and branch and twig show tender colour-harmonies of grey bark and silver-grey lichen, only varied by the warm feathery masses of birch spray. Now the splendid richness of the common holly is more than ever impressive, with its solid masses of full, deep colour, and its wholesome look of perfect health and vigour. Sombrely cheerful, if one may use such a mixture of terms; sombre by reason of the extreme depth of tone, and yet cheerful from the look of glad life, and from the assurance of warm shelter and protecting comfort to bird and beast and neighbouring vegetation. The picture is made complete by the slender shafts of the silver-barked birches, with their half-weeping heads of delicate, warm-coloured spray. Has any tree so graceful a way of throwing up its stems as the birch? They seem to leap and spring into the air, often leaning and curving upward from the very root, sometimes in forms that would be almost grotesque were it not for the never-failing rightness of free-swinging poise and perfect balance. The tints of the stem give a precious lesson in colour. The white of the bark is here silvery-white and there milk-white, and sometimes shows the faintest tinge of rosy flush. Where the bark has not yet peeled, the stem is clouded and banded with delicate grey, and with the silver-green of lichen. For about two feet <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_009" id="Page_009"></SPAN>[009]</span>upward from the ground, in the case of young trees of about seven to nine inches diameter, the bark is dark in colour, and lies in thick and extremely rugged upright ridges, contrasting strongly with the smooth white skin above. Where the two join, the smooth bark is parted in upright slashes, through which the dark, rough bark seems to swell up, reminding one forcibly of some of the old fifteenth-century German costumes, where a dark velvet is arranged to rise in crumpled folds through slashings in white satin. In the stems of older birches the rough bark rises much higher up the trunk and becomes clothed with delicate grey-green lichen.</p> <p>The nut-walk was planted twelve years ago. There are two rows each side, one row four feet behind the other, and the nuts are ten feet apart in the rows. They are planted zigzag, those in the back rows showing between the front ones. As the two inner rows are thirteen feet apart measuring across the path, it leaves a shady border on each side, with deeper bays between the nearer trees. Lent Hellebores fill one border from end to end; the other is planted with the Corsican and the native kinds, so that throughout February and March there is a complete bit of garden of one kind of plant in full beauty of flower and foliage.</p> <p>The nut-trees have grown into such thick clumps that now there must be a vigorous thinning. Each stool has from eight to twelve main stems, the largest <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_010" id="Page_010"></SPAN>[010]</span>of them nearly two inches thick. Some shoot almost upright, but two or three in each stool spread outward, with quite a different habit of growth, branching about in an angular fashion. These are the oldest and thickest. There are also a number of straight suckers one and two years old. Now when I look at some fine old nut alley, with the tops arching and meeting overhead, as I hope mine will do in a few years, I see that the trees have only a few stems, usually from three to five at the most, and I judge that now is the time to thin mine to about the right number, so that the strength and growing power may be thrown into these, and not allowed to dilute and waste itself in growing extra faggoting. The first to be cut away are the old crooked stems. They grow nearly horizontally and are all elbows, and often so tightly locked into the straighter rods that they have to be chopped to pieces before they can be pulled out. When these are gone it is easier to get at the other stems, though they are often so close together at the base that it is difficult to chop or saw them out without hurting the bark of the ones to be left. All the young suckers are cut away. They are of straight, clean growth, and we prize them as the best possible sticks for Chrysanthemums and potted Lilies.</p> <p>After this bold thinning, instead of dense thickety bushes we have a few strong, well-branched rods to each stool. At first the nut-walk looks wofully naked, and for the time its pictorial value is certainly lessened; <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_011" id="Page_011"></SPAN>[011]</span>but it has to be done, and when summer side-twigs have grown and leafed, it will be fairly well clothed, and meanwhile the Hellebores will be the better for the thinner shade.</p> <p>The nut-catkins are already an inch long, but are tightly closed, and there is no sign as yet of the bright crimson little sea-anemones that will appear next month and will duly grow into nut-bearing twigs. Round the edges of the base of the stools are here and there little branching suckers. These are the ones to look out for, to pull off and grow into young trees. A firm grasp and a sharp tug brings them up with a fine supply of good fibrous root. After two years in the nursery they are just right to plant out.</p> <p>The trees in the nut-walk were grown in this way fourteen years ago, from small suckers pulled off plants that came originally from the interesting cob-nut nursery at Calcot, near Reading.</p> <p>I shall never forget a visit to that nursery some six-and-twenty years ago. It was walled all round, and a deep-sounding bell had to be rung many times before any one came to open the gate; but at last it was opened by a fine, strongly-built, sunburnt woman of the type of the good working farmer's wife, that I remember as a child. She was the forewoman, who worked the nursery with surprisingly few hands&mdash;only three men, if I remember rightly&mdash;but she looked as if she could do the work of "all two men" herself. One of the specialties of the place was a fine breed of mastiffs; <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_012" id="Page_012"></SPAN>[012]</span>another was an old Black Hamburg vine, that rambled and clambered in and out of some very old greenhouses, and was wonderfully productive. There were alleys of nuts in all directions, and large spreading patches of palest yellow Daffodils&mdash;the double <i>Narcissus cernuus</i>, now so scarce and difficult to grow. Had I then known how precious a thing was there in fair abundance, I should not have been contented with the modest dozen that I asked for. It was a most pleasant garden to wander in, especially with the old Mr. Webb who presently appeared. He was dressed in black clothes of an old-looking cut&mdash;a Quaker, I believe. Never shall I forget an apple-tart he invited me to try as a proof of the merit of the "Wellington" apple. It was not only good, but beautiful; the cooked apple looking rosy and transparent, and most inviting. He told me he was an ardent preacher of total abstinence, and took me to a grassy, shady place among the nuts, where there was an upright stone slab, like a tombstone, with the inscription:</p> <p class="center">TO ALCOHOL.<br /></p> <p>He had dug a grave, and poured into it a quantity of wine and beer and spirits, and placed the stone as a memorial of his abhorrence of drink. The whole thing remains in my mind like a picture&mdash;the shady groves of old nuts, in tenderest early leaf, the pale Daffodils, the mighty chained mastiffs with bloodshot eyes and murderous fangs, the brawny, wholesome forewoman, <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_013" id="Page_013"></SPAN>[013]</span>and the trim old gentleman in black. It was the only nursery I ever saw where one would expect to see fairies on a summer's night.</p> <p>I never tire of admiring and praising <i>Iris stylosa</i>, which has proved itself such a good plant for English gardens; at any rate, for those in our southern counties. Lovely in form and colour, sweetly-scented and with admirable foliage, it has in addition to these merits the unusual one of a blooming season of six months' duration. The first flowers come with the earliest days of November, and its season ends with a rush of bloom in the first half of April. Then is the time to take up old tufts and part them, and plant afresh; the old roots will have dried up into brown wires, and the new will be pushing. It thrives in rather poor soil, and seems to bloom all the better for having its root-run invaded by some stronger plant. When I first planted a quantity I had brought from its native place, I made the mistake of putting it in a well-prepared border. At first I was delighted to see how well it flourished, but as it gave me only thick masses of leaves a yard long, and no flowers, it was clear that it wanted to be less well fed. After changing it to poor soil, at the foot of a sunny wall close to a strong clump of Alstr�meria, I was rewarded with a good crop of flowers; and the more the Alstr�meria grew into it on one side and <i>Plumbago Larpenti</i> on the other, the more freely the brave little Iris flowered. The flower has no true stem; what serves as a stem, <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_014" id="Page_014"></SPAN>[014]</span>sometimes a foot long, is the elongated style, so that the seed-pod has to be looked for deep down at the base of the tufts of leaves, and almost under ground. The specific name, <i>stylosa</i>, is so clearly descriptive, that one regrets that the longer, and certainly uglier, <i>unguicularis</i> should be preferred by botanists.</p> <p>What a delight it was to see it for the first time in its home in the hilly wastes, a mile or two inland from the town of Algiers! Another lovely blue Iris was there too, <i>I. alata</i> or <i>scorpioides</i>, growing under exactly the same conditions; but this is a plant unwilling to be acclimatised in England. What a paradise it was for flower-rambles, among the giant Fennels and the tiny orange Marigolds, and the immense bulbs of <i>Scilla maritima</i> standing almost out of the ground, and the many lovely Bee-orchises and the fairy-like <i>Narcissus serotinus</i>, and the groves of Prickly Pear wreathed and festooned with the graceful tufts of bell-shaped flower and polished leaves of <i>Clematis cirrhosa</i>!</p> <p>It was in the days when there were only a few English residents, but among them was the Rev. Edwyn Arkwright, who by his happy discovery of a white-flowered <i>Iris stylosa</i>, the only one that has been found wild, has enriched our gardens with a most lovely variety of this excellent plant. I am glad to be able to quote his own words:&mdash;</p> <p>"The finding of the white <i>Iris stylosa</i> belongs to the happy old times twenty-five years ago, when there <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_015" id="Page_015"></SPAN>[015]</span>were no social duties and no vineyards<SPAN name="FNanchor_1_1" id="FNanchor_1_1"></SPAN><SPAN href="#Footnote_1_1" class="fnanchor">[1]</SPAN> in Algiers. My two sisters and I bought three horses, and rode wild every day in the scrub of Myrtle, Cistus, Dwarf Oak, &amp;c. It was about five miles from the town, on what is called the 'Sahel,' that the one plant grew that I was told botanists knew ought to exist, but with all their searching had never found. I am thankful that I dug it up instead of picking it, only knowing that it was a pretty flower. Then after a year or two Durando saw it, and took off his hat to it, and told me what a treasure it was, and proceeded to send off little bits to his friends; and among them all, Ware of Tottenham managed to be beforehand, and took a first-class certificate for it. It is odd that there should never have been another plant found, for there never was such a free-growing and multiplying plant. My sister in Herefordshire has had over fifty blooms this winter; but we count it by thousands, and it is <i>the</i> feature in all decorations in every English house in Algiers."</p> <p>Throughout January, and indeed from the middle of December, is the time when outdoor flowers for cutting and house decoration are most scarce; and yet there are Christmas Roses and yellow Jasmine and Laurustinus, and in all open weather <i>Iris stylosa</i> and Czar Violets. A very few flowers can be made to look well if cleverly arranged with plenty of good foliage; and even when a hard and long frost spoils the few <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_016" id="Page_016"></SPAN>[016]</span>blooms that would otherwise be available, leafy branches alone are beautiful in rooms. But, as in all matters that have to do with decoration, everything depends on a right choice of material and the exercise of taste in disposing it. Red-tinted Berberis always looks well alone, if three or four branches are boldly cut from two to three feet long. Branches of the spotted Aucuba do very well by themselves, and are specially beautiful in blue china; the larger the leaves and the bolder the markings, the better. Where there is an old Exmouth Magnolia that can spare some small branches, nothing makes a nobler room-ornament. The long arching sprays of Alexandrian Laurel do well with green or variegated Box, and will live in a room for several weeks. Among useful winter leaves of smaller growth, those of <i>Epimedium pinnatum</i> have a fine red colour and delicate veining, and I find them very useful for grouping with greenhouse flowers of delicate texture. <i>Gaultheria Shallon</i> is at its best in winter, and gives valuable branches and twigs for cutting; and much to be prized are sprays of the Japan Privet, with its tough, highly-polished leaves, so much like those of the orange. There is a variegated Eurybia, small branches of which are excellent; and always useful are the gold and silver Hollies.</p> <p>There is a little plant, <i>Ophiopogon spicatum</i>, that I grow in rather large quantity for winter cutting, the leaves being at their best in the winter months. They are sword-shaped and of a lively green colour, and <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_017" id="Page_017"></SPAN>[017]</span>are arranged in flat sheaves after the manner of a flag-Iris. I pull up a whole plant at a time&mdash;a two-year-old plant is a spreading tuft of the little sheaves&mdash;and wash it and cut away the groups of leaves just at the root, so that they are held together by the root-stock. They last long in water, and are beautiful with Roman Hyacinths or Freesias or <i>Iris stylosa</i> and many other flowers. The leaves of Megaseas, especially those of the <i>cordifolia</i> section, colour grandly in winter, and look fine in a large bowl with the largest blooms of Christmas Roses, or with forced Hyacinths. Much useful material can be found among Ivies, both of the wild and garden kinds. When they are well established they generally throw out rather woody front shoots; these are the ones to look out for, as they stand out with a certain degree of stiffness that makes them easier to arrange than weaker trailing pieces.</p> <p>I do not much care for dried flowers&mdash;the bulrush and pampas-grass decoration has been so much overdone, that it has become wearisome&mdash;but I make an exception in favour of the flower of <i>Eulalia japonica</i>, and always give it a place. It does not come to its full beauty out of doors; it only finishes its growth late in October, and therefore does not have time to dry and expand. I grew it for many years before finding out that the closed and rather draggled-looking heads would open perfectly in a warm room. The uppermost leaf often confines the flower, and should be taken off <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_018" id="Page_018"></SPAN>[018]</span>to release it; the flower does not seem to mature quite enough to come free of itself. Bold masses of Helichrysum certainly give some brightness to a room during the darkest weeks of winter, though the brightest yellow is the only one I much care to have; there is a look of faded tinsel about the other colourings. I much prize large bunches of the native Iris berries, and grow it largely for winter room-ornament.</p> <p>Among the many valuable suggestions in Mrs. Earle's delightful book, "Pot-pourri from a Surrey Garden," is the use indoors of the smaller coloured gourds. As used by her they give a bright and cheerful look to a room that even flowers can not surpass.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 262px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/19_a.jpg" width="262" height="400" alt="A Wild Juniper." title="" /> <span class="caption">A Wild Juniper.</span> </div> <hr style="width: 65%;" /><div class="pagenum">
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