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

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<SPAN name="Page_019" id="Page_019"></SPAN>[019]</div> <h2>CHAPTER III</h2> <h4>FEBRUARY</h4> <blockquote><p>Distant promise of summer &mdash; Ivy-berries &mdash; Coloured leaves &mdash; <i>Berberis Aquifolium</i> &mdash; Its many merits &mdash; Thinning and pruning shrubs &mdash; Lilacs &mdash; Removing suckers &mdash; Training <i>Clematis flammula</i> &mdash; Forms of trees &mdash; Juniper, a neglected native evergreen &mdash; Effect of snow &mdash; Power of recovery &mdash; Beauty of colour &mdash; Moss-grown stems.</p></blockquote> <p><br />There is always in February some one day, at least, when one smells the yet distant, but surely coming, summer. Perhaps it is a warm, mossy scent that greets one when passing along the southern side of a hedge-bank; or it may be in some woodland opening, where the sun has coaxed out the pungent smell of the trailing ground Ivy, whose blue flowers will soon appear; but the day always comes, and with it the glad certainty that summer is nearing, and that the good things promised will never fail.</p> <p>How strangely little of positive green colour is to be seen in copse and woodland. Only the moss is really green. The next greenest thing is the northern sides of the trunks of beech and oak. Walking southward they are all green, but looking back they are silver-grey. The undergrowth is of brambles and sparse <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_020" id="Page_020"></SPAN>[020]</span>fronds of withered bracken; the bracken less beaten down than usual, for the winter has been without snow; only where the soil is deeper, and the fern has grown more tall and rank, it has fallen into thick, almost felted masses, and the stalks all lying one way make the heaps look like lumps of fallen thatch. The bramble leaves&mdash;last year's leaves, which are held all the winter&mdash;are of a dark, blackish-bronze colour, or nearly red where they have seen the sun. Age seems to give them a sort of hard surface and enough of a polish to reflect the sky; the young leaves that will come next month are almost woolly at first. Grassy tufts show only bleached bents, so tightly matted that one wonders how the delicate young blades will be able to spear through. Ivy-berries, hanging in thick clusters, are still in beauty; they are so heavy that they weigh down the branches. There is a peculiar beauty in the form and veining of the plain-shaped leaves belonging to the mature or flowering state that the plant reaches when it can no longer climb, whether on a wall six feet high or on the battlements of a castle. Cuttings grown from such portions retain this habit, and form densely-flowering bushes of compact shape.</p> <p>Beautiful colouring is now to be seen in many of the plants whose leaves do not die down in winter. Foremost amongst these is the Foam-flower (<i>Tiarella cordifolia</i>). Its leaves, now lying on the ground, show bright colouring, inclining to scarlet, crimson, <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_021" id="Page_021"></SPAN>[021]</span>and orange. <i>Tellima</i>, its near relation, is also well coloured. <i>Galax aphylla</i>, with its polished leaves of hard texture, and stalks almost as stiff as wire, is nearly as bright; and many of the Megaseas are of a fine bronze red, the ones that colour best being the varieties of the well-known <i>M. crassifolia</i> and <i>M. cordifolia</i>. Among shrubs, some of the nearly allied genera, popularly classed under the name Andromeda, are beautiful in reddish colour passing into green, in some of the leaves by tender gradation, and in others by bold splashing. <i>Berberis Aquifolium</i> begins to colour after the first frosts; though some plants remain green, the greater number take on some rich tinting of red or purple, and occasionally in poor soil and in full sun a bright red that may almost be called scarlet.</p> <p>What a precious thing this fine old Berberis is! What should we do in winter without its vigorous masses of grand foliage in garden and shrubbery, to say nothing of its use indoors? Frequent as it is in gardens, it is seldom used as well or thoughtfully as it deserves. There are many places where, between garden and wood, a well-considered planting of Berberis, combined with two or three other things of larger stature, such as the fruiting Barberry, and Whitethorn and Holly, would make a very enjoyable piece of shrub wild-gardening. When one reflects that <i>Berberis Aquifolium</i> is individually one of the handsomest of small shrubs, that it is at its very best in mid-winter, that every leaf is a marvel of beautiful <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_022" id="Page_022"></SPAN>[022]</span>drawing and construction, and that its ruddy winter colouring is a joy to see, enhanced as it is by the glistening brightness of the leaf-surface; and further, when one remembers that in spring the whole picture changes&mdash;that the polished leaves are green again, and the bushes are full of tufted masses of brightest yellow bloom, and fuller of bee-music than any other plant then in flower; and that even then it has another season of beauty yet to come, when in the days of middle summer it is heavily loaded with the thick-clustered masses of berries, covered with a brighter and bluer bloom than almost any other fruit can show,&mdash;when one thinks of all this brought together in one plant, it seems but right that we should spare no pains to use it well. It is the only hardy shrub I can think of that is in one or other of its varied forms of beauty throughout the year. It is never leafless or untidy; it never looks mangy like an Ilex in April, or moulting like a Holly in May, or patchy and unfinished like Yew and Box and many other evergreens when their young leafy shoots are sprouting.</p> <p>We have been thinning the shrubs in one of the rather large clumps next to the lawn, taking the older wood in each clump right out from the bottom and letting more light and air into the middle. Weigelas grow fast and very thick. Quite two-thirds have been cut out of each bush of Weigela, Philadelphus, and Ribes, and a good bit out of Ceanothus, "Gloire de Versailles," my favourite of its kind, and all the oldest <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_023" id="Page_023"></SPAN>[023]</span>wood from <i>Viburnum plicatus</i>. The stuff cut out makes quite a respectable lot of faggoting. How extremely dense and hard is the wood of Philadelphus! as close-grained as Box, and almost as hard as the bright yellow wood of Berberis.</p> <p>Some of the Lilacs have a good many suckers from the root, as well as on the lower part of the stem. These must all come away, and then the trees will have a good dressing of manure. They are greedy feeders, and want it badly in our light soil, and surely no flowering shrub more truly deserves it. The Lilacs I have are some of the beautiful kinds raised in France, for which we can never be thankful enough to our good neighbours across the Channel. The white variety, "Marie Legraye," always remains my favourite. Some are larger and whiter, and have the trusses more evenly and closely filled, but this beautiful Marie fills one with a satisfying conviction as of something that is just right, that has arrived at the point of just the best and most lovable kind of beauty, and has been wisely content to stay there, not attempting to pass beyond and excel itself. Its beauty is modest and reserved, and temperate and full of refinement. The colour has a deliciously-tender warmth of white, and as the truss is not over-full, there is room for a delicate play of warm half-light within its recesses. Among the many beautiful coloured Lilacs, I am fond of Lucie Baltet and Princesse Marie. There may be better flowers <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_024" id="Page_024"></SPAN>[024]</span>from the ordinary florist point of view, but these have the charm that is a good garden flower's most precious quality. I do not like the cold, heavy-coloured ones of the bluish-slaty kinds. No shrub is hardier than the Lilac; I believe they flourish even within the Arctic Circle. It is very nearly allied to Privet; so nearly, that the oval-leaved Privet is commonly used as a stock. Standard trees flower much better than bushes; in this form all the strength seems to go directly to the flowering boughs. No shrub is more persistent in throwing up suckers from the root and from the lower part of the stem, but in bush trees as well as in standards they should be carefully removed every year. In the case of bushes, three or four main stems will be enough to leave. When taking away suckers of any kind whatever, it is much better to tear them out than to cut them off. A cut, however close, leaves a base from which they may always spring again, but if pulled or wrenched out they bring away with them the swollen base that, if left in, would be a likely source of future trouble.</p> <p>Before the end of February we must be sure to prune and train any plants there may be of <i>Clematis flammula</i>. Its growth is so rapid when once it begins, that if it is overlooked it soon grows into a tangled mass of succulent weak young stuff, quite unmanageable two months hence, when it will be hanging about in helpless masses, dead and living together. If it <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_025" id="Page_025"></SPAN>[025]</span>is left till then, one can only engirdle the whole thing with a soft tarred rope and sling it up somehow or anyhow. But if taken now, when the young growths are just showing at the joints, the last year's mass can be untangled, the dead and the over-much cut out, and the best pieces trained in. In gardening, the interests of the moment are so engrossing that one is often tempted to forget the future; but it is well to remember that this lovely and tenderly-scented Clematis will be one of the chief beauties of September, and well deserves a little timely care.</p> <p>In summer-time one never really knows how beautiful are the forms of the deciduous trees. It is only in winter, when they are bare of leaves, that one can fully enjoy their splendid structure and design, their admirable qualities of duly apportioned strength and grace of poise, and the way the spread of the many-branched head has its equivalent in the wide-reaching ground-grasp of the root. And it is interesting to see how, in the many different kinds of tree, the same laws are always in force, and the same results occur, and yet by the employment of what varied means. For nothing in the growth of trees can be much more unlike than the habit of the oak and that of the weeping willow, though the unlikeness only comes from the different adjustment of the same sources of power and the same weights, just as in the movement of wind-blown leaves some flutter and some undulate, while others turn over and back again. Old apple-trees are specially noticeable <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_026" id="Page_026"></SPAN>[026]</span>for their beauty in winter, when their extremely graceful shape, less visible when in loveliness of spring bloom or in rich bounty of autumn fruit, is seen to fullest advantage.</p> <p>Few in number are our native evergreens, and for that reason all the more precious. One of them, the common Juniper, is one of the best of shrubs either for garden or wild ground, and yet, strangely enough, it is so little appreciated that it is scarcely to be had in nurseries. Chinese Junipers, North American Junipers, Junipers from Spain and Greece, from Nepaul and Siberia, may be had, but the best Juniper of all is very rarely grown. Were it a common tree one could see a sort of reason (to some minds) for overlooking it, but though it is fairly abundant on a few hill-sides in the southern counties, it is by no means widely distributed throughout the country. Even this reason would not be consistent with common practice, for the Holly is abundant throughout England, and yet is to be had by the thousand in every nursery. Be the reason what it may, the common Juniper is one of the most desirable of evergreens, and is most undeservedly neglected. Even our botanists fail to do it justice, for Bentham describes it as a low shrub growing two feet, three feet, or four feet high. I quote from memory only; these may not be the words, but this is the sense of his description. He had evidently seen it on the chalk downs only, where such a portrait of it is exactly right. But in our sheltered uplands, in <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_027" id="Page_027"></SPAN>[027]</span>sandy soil, it is a small tree of noble aspect, twelve to twenty-eight feet high. In form it is extremely variable, for sometimes it shoots up on a single stem and looks like an Italian Cypress or like the upright Chinese Juniper, while at other times it will have two or more tall spires and a dense surrounding mass of lower growth, while in other cases it will be like a quantity of young trees growing close together, and yet the trees in all these varied forms may be nearly of an age.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 269px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/27_a.jpg" width="269" height="400" alt="Scotch Firs Thrown on to Frozen Water by Snowstorm." title="" /> <span class="caption">Scotch Firs Thrown on to Frozen Water by Snowstorm.</span> </div> <p>The action of snow is the reason of this unlikeness of habit. If, when young, the tree happens to have one main stem strong enough to shoot up alone, and if at the same time there come a sequence of winters without much snow, there will be the tall, straight, cypress-like tree. But if, as is more commonly the case, the growth is divided into a number of stems of nearly equal size, sooner or later they are sure to be laid down by snow. Such a winter storm as that of the end of December 1886 was especially disastrous to Junipers. Snow came on early in the evening in this district, when the thermometer was barely at freezing point and there was no wind. It hung on the trees in clogging masses, with a lowering temperature that was soon below freezing. The snow still falling loaded them more and more; then came the fatal wind, and all through that night we heard the breaking trees. When morning came there were eighteen inches of snow on the ground, and all the trees that <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_028" id="Page_028"></SPAN>[028]</span>could be seen, mostly Scotch fir, seemed to be completely wrecked. Some were entirely stripped of branches, and stood up bare, like scaffold-poles. Until the snow was gone or half gone, no idea could be formed of the amount of damage done to shrubs; all were borne down and buried under the white rounded masses. A great Holly on the edge of the lawn, nearly thirty feet high and as much in spread, whose head in summer is crowned with a great tangle of Honeysuckle, had that crowned head lying on the ground weighted down by the frozen mass. But when the snow was gone and all the damage could be seen, the Junipers looked worse than anything. What had lately been shapely groups were lying perfectly flat, the bare-stemmed, leafless portions of the inner part of the group showing, and looking like a faggot of dry brushwood, that, having been stood upright, had burst its band and fallen apart in all directions. Some, whose stems had weathered many snowy winters, now had them broken short off half-way up; while others escaped with bare life, but with the thick, strong stem broken down, the heavy head lying on the ground, and the stem wrenched open at the break, like a half-untwisted rope. The great wild Junipers were the pride of our stretch of heathy waste just beyond the garden, and the scene of desolation was truly piteous, for though many of them already bore the marks of former accidents, never within our memory had there been such complete and comprehensive destruction.</p> <div class="floatleft" style="width: 261px"> <ANTIMG src="images/29left_a.jpg" width="261" height="350" alt="Old Juniper, showing former Injuries." title="" /> <span class="caption">Old Juniper, showing former Injuries.</span> </div> <div class="floatright" style="width: 261px"> <ANTIMG src="images/29right_a.jpg" width="261" height="350" alt="Juniper, lately wrecked by Snowstorm." title=""/> <span class="caption">Juniper, lately wrecked by Snowstorm.</span> </div> <p class="nofloat"><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_029" id="Page_029"></SPAN>[029]</span>But now, ten years later, so great is their power of recovery, that there are the same Junipers, and, except in the case of those actually broken off, looking as well as ever. For those with many stems that were laid down flat have risen at the tips, and each tip looks like a vigorous young ten-year-old tree. What was formerly a massive, bushy-shaped Juniper, some twelve feet to fifteen feet high, now covers a space thirty feet across, and looks like a thick group of closely-planted, healthy young ones. The half broken-down trees have also risen at the tips, and are full of renewed vigour. Indeed, this breaking down and splitting open seems to give them a new energy, for individual trees that I have known well, and observed to look old and over-worn, and to all appearance on the downward road of life, after being broken and laid down by snow, have some years later, shot up again with every evidence of vigorous young life. It would be more easily accounted for if the branch rooted where it touched the ground, as so many trees and bushes will do; but as far as I have been able to observe, the Juniper does not "layer" itself. I have often thought I had found a fine young one fit for transplanting, but on clearing away the moss and fern at the supposed root have found that it was only the tip of a laid-down branch of a tree perhaps twelve feet away. In the case of one of our trees, among a group of laid-down and grown-up branches, one old central trunk has survived. It is now so thick and strong, and has so <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_030" id="Page_030"></SPAN>[030]</span>little top, that it will be likely to stand till it falls from sheer old age. Close to it is another, whose main stem was broken down about five feet from the ground; now, what was the head rests on the earth nine feet away, and a circle of its outspread branches has become a wholesome group of young upright growths, while at the place where the stem broke, the half-opened wrench still shows as clearly as on the day it was done.</p> <p>Among the many merits of the Juniper, its tenderly mysterious beauty of colouring is by no means the least; a colouring as delicately subtle in its own way as that of cloud or mist, or haze in warm, wet woodland. It has very little of positive green; a suspicion of warm colour in the shadowy hollows, and a blue-grey bloom of the tenderest quality imaginable on the outer masses of foliage. Each tiny, blade-like leaf has a band of dead, palest bluish-green colour on the upper surface, edged with a narrow line of dark green slightly polished; the back of the leaf is of the same full, rather dark green, with slight polish; it looks as if the green back had been brought up over the edge of the leaf to make the dark edging on the upper surface. The stems of the twigs are of a warm, almost foxy colour, becoming darker and redder in the branches. The tips of the twigs curl over or hang out on all sides towards the light, and the "set" of the individual twigs is full of variety. This arrangement of mixed colouring and texture, and infinitely various position of the <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_031" id="Page_031"></SPAN>[031]</span>spiny little leaves, allows the eye to penetrate unconsciously a little way into the mass, so that one sees as much tender shadow as actual leaf-surface, and this is probably the cause of the wonderfully delicate and, so to speak, intangible quality of colouring. Then, again, where there is a hollow place in a bush, or group, showing a cluster of half-dead stems, at first one cannot tell what the colour is, till with half-shut eyes one becomes aware of a dusky and yet luminous purple-grey.</p> <p>The merits of the Juniper are not yet done with, for throughout the winter (the time of growth of moss and lichen) the rugged-barked old stems are clothed with loveliest pale-green growths of a silvery quality. Standing before it, and trying to put the colour into words, one repeats, again and again, pale-green silver&mdash;palest silvery green! Where the lichen is old and dead it is greyer; every now and then there is a touch of the orange kind, and a little of the branched stag-horn pattern so common on the heathy ground. Here and there, as the trunk or branch is increasing in girth, the silvery, lichen-clad, rough outer bark has parted, and shows the smooth, dark-red inner bark; the outer covering still clinging over the opening, and looking like grey ribands slightly interlaced. Many another kind of tree-stem is beautiful in its winter dress, but it is difficult to find any so full of varied beauty and interest as that of the Juniper; it is one of the yearly feasts that never fails to delight and satisfy.</p> <hr style="width: 65%;" /><div class="pagenum">
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