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

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<SPAN name="Page_046" id="Page_046"></SPAN>[046]</div> <h2>CHAPTER V</h2> <h4>APRIL</h4> <blockquote><p>Woodland spring flowers &mdash; Daffodils in the copse &mdash; Grape Hyacinths and other spring bulbs &mdash; How best to plant them &mdash; Flowering shrubs &mdash; Rock-plants &mdash; Sweet scents of April &mdash; Snowy Mespilus, Marsh Marigolds, and other spring flowers &mdash; Primrose garden &mdash; Pollen of Scotch Fir &mdash; Opening seed-pods of Fir and Gorse &mdash; Auriculas &mdash; Tulips &mdash; Small shrubs for rock-garden &mdash; Daffodils as cut flowers &mdash; Lent Hellebores &mdash; Primroses &mdash; Leaves of wild Arum.</p></blockquote> <p><br />In early April there is quite a wealth of flower among plants that belong half to wood and half to garden. <i>Epimedium pinnatum</i>, with its delicate, orchid-like spike of pale-yellow bloom, flowers with its last year's leaves, but as soon as it is fully out the young leaves rush up, as if hastening to accompany the flowers. <i>Dentaria pinnata</i>, a woodland plant of Switzerland and Austria, is one of the handsomest of the white-flowered <i>crucifer�</i>, with well-filled heads of twelve to fifteen flowers, and palmate leaves of freshest green. Hard by, and the best possible plant to group with it, is the lovely Virginian Cowslip (<i>Mertensia virginica</i>), the very embodiment of the freshness of early spring. The sheaf of young leafage comes almost black out <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_047" id="Page_047"></SPAN>[047]</span>of the ground, but as the leaves develop, their dull, lurid colouring changes to a full, pale green of a curious texture, quite smooth, and yet absolutely unreflecting. The dark colouring of the young leaves now only remains as a faint tracery of veining on the backs of the leaves and stalks, and at last dies quite away as the bloom expands. The flower is of a rare and beautiful quality of colour, hard to describe&mdash;a rainbow-flower of purple, indigo, full and pale blue, and daintiest lilac, full of infinite variety and indescribable charm. The flowers are in terminal clusters, richly filled; lesser clusters springing from the axils of the last few leaves and joining with the topmost one to form a gracefully drooping head. The lurid colouring of the young leaves is recalled in the flower-stems and calix, and enhances the colour effect of the whole. The flower of the common Dog-tooth Violet is over, but the leaves have grown larger and handsomer. They look as if, originally of a purplish-red colour, some liquid had been dropped on them, making confluent pools of pale green, lightest at the centre of the drop. The noblest plant of the same family (<i>Erythronium giganteum</i>) is now in flower&mdash;a striking and beautiful wood plant, with turn-cap shaped flowers of palest straw-colour, almost white, and large leaves, whose markings are not drop-like as in the more familiar kind, but are arranged in a regular sequence of bold splashings, reminding one of a <i>Maranta</i>. The flowers, single or in pairs, rise on stems a foot or fifteen <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_048" id="Page_048"></SPAN>[048]</span>inches high; the throat is beautifully marked with flames of rich bay on a yellow ground, and the handsome group of golden-anthered stamens and silvery pistil make up a flower of singular beauty and refinement. That valuable Indian Primrose, <i>P. denticulata</i>, is another fine plant for the cool edge or shady hollows of woodland in rather good, deep soil.</p> <p>But the glory of the copse just now consists in the great stretches of Daffodils. Through the wood run shallow, parallel hollows, the lowest part of each depression some nine paces apart. Local tradition says they are the remains of old pack-horse roads; they occur frequently in the forest-like heathery uplands of our poor-soiled, sandy land, running, for the most part, three or four together, almost evenly side by side. The old people account for this by saying that when one track became too much worn another was taken by its side. Where these pass through the birch copse the Daffodils have been planted in the shallow hollows of the old ways, in spaces of some three yards broad by thirty or forty yards long&mdash;one kind at a time. Two of such tracks, planted with <i>Narcissus princeps</i> and <i>N. Horsfieldi</i>, are now waving rivers of bloom, in many lights and accidents of cloud and sunshine full of pictorial effect. The planting of Daffodils in this part of the copse is much better than in any other portions where there were no guiding track-ways, and where they were planted in haphazard sprinklings.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/48_a.jpg" width="400" height="265" alt="Daffodils in the Copse." title="" /> <span class="caption">Daffodils in the Copse.</span> </div> <p>The Grape Hyacinths are now in full bloom. It <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_049" id="Page_049"></SPAN>[049]</span>is well to avoid the common one (<i>Muscari racemosum</i>), at any rate in light soils, where it becomes a troublesome weed. One of the best is <i>M. conicum</i>; this, with the upright-leaved <i>M. botryoides</i>, and its white variety, are the best for general use, but the Plume Hyacinth, which flowers later, should have a place. <i>Ornithogalum nutans</i> is another of the bulbous plants that, though beautiful in flower, becomes so pestilent a weed that it is best excluded.</p> <p>Where and how the early flowering bulbs had best be planted is a question of some difficulty. Perhaps the mixed border, where they are most usually put, is the worst place of all, for when in flower they only show as forlorn little patches of bloom rather far apart, and when their leaves die down, leaving their places looking empty, the ruthless spade or trowel stabs into them when it is desired to fill the space with some other plant. Moreover, when the border is manured and partly dug in the autumn, it is difficult to avoid digging up the bulbs just when they are in full root-growth. Probably the best plan is to devote a good space of cool bank to small bulbs and hardy ferns, planting the ferns in such groups as will leave good spaces for the bulbs; then as their leaves are going the fern fronds are developing and will cover the whole space. Another way is to have them among any groups of newly planted small shrubs, to be left there for spring blooming until the shrubs have covered their allotted space.</p> <p><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_050" id="Page_050"></SPAN>[050]</span>Many flowering shrubs are in beauty. <i>Andromeda floribunda</i> still holds its persistent bloom that has endured for nearly two months. The thick, drooping, tassel-like bunches of bloom of <i>Andromeda japonica</i> are just going over. <i>Magnolia stellata</i>, a compact bush some five feet high and wide, is white with the multitude of its starry flowers; individually they look half double, having fourteen to sixteen petals. <i>Forsythia suspensa</i>, with its graceful habit and tender yellow flower, is a much better shrub than <i>F. viridissima</i>, though, strangely enough, that is the one most commonly planted. Corchorus, with its bright-yellow balls, the fine old rosy Ribes, the Japan Quinces and their salmon-coloured relative <i>Pyrus Mauleii</i>, <i>Spir�a Thunbergi</i>, with its neat habit and myriads of tiny flowers, these make frequent points of beauty and interest.</p> <p>In the rock-garden, <i>Cardamine trifoliata</i> and <i>Hutchinsia alpina</i> are conspicuous from their pure white flowers and neat habit; both have leaves of darkest green, as if the better to show off the bloom. <i>Ranunculus montanus</i> fringes the cool base of a large stone; its whole height not over three inches, though its bright-yellow flowers are larger than field buttercups. The surface of the petals is curiously brilliant, glistening and flashing like glass. <i>Corydalis capnoides</i> is a charming rock-plant, with flowers of palest sulphur colour, one of the neatest and most graceful of its family.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/50_a.jpg" width="400" height="266" alt="Magnolia stellata." title="" /> <span class="caption">Magnolia stellata.</span> </div> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 271px;"><SPAN name="image51" id="image51"></SPAN> <ANTIMG src="images/51_a.jpg" width="271" height="400" alt="Daffodils among Junipers where Garden Joins Copse." title="" /> <span class="caption">Daffodils among Junipers where Garden Joins Copse.</span> </div> <p><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_051" id="Page_051"></SPAN>[051]</span>Border plants are pushing up vigorous green growth; finest of all are the Veratrums, with their bold, deeply-plaited leaves of brilliant green. Delphiniums and Oriental Poppies have also made strong foliage, and Daylilies are conspicuous from their fresh masses of pale greenery. Flag Iris have their leaves three parts grown, and P�onies are a foot or more high, in all varieties of rich red colouring. It is a good plan, when they are in beds or large groups, to plant the dark-flowered Wallflowers among them, their colour making a rich harmony with the reds of the young P�ony growths.</p> <p>There are balmy days in mid-April, when the whole garden is fragrant with Sweetbriar. It is not "fast of its smell," as Bacon says of the damask rose, but gives it so lavishly that one cannot pass near a plant without being aware of its gracious presence. Passing upward through the copse, the warm air draws a fragrance almost as sweet, but infinitely more subtle, from the fresh green of the young birches; it is like a distant whiff of Lily of the Valley. Higher still the young leafage of the larches gives a delightful perfume of the same kind. It seems as if it were the office of these mountain trees, already nearest the high heaven, to offer an incense of praise for their new life.</p> <p>Few plants will grow under Scotch fir, but a notable exception is the Whortleberry, now a sheet of brilliant green, and full of its arbutus-like, pink-tinged <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_052" id="Page_052"></SPAN>[052]</span>flower. This plant also has a pleasant scent in the mass, difficult to localise, but coming in whiffs as it will.</p> <p>The snowy Mespilus (<i><ins title="Transcriber's Note: original reads 'Amelancheir'">Amelanchier</ins></i>) shows like puffs of smoke among the firs and birches, full of its milk-white, cherry-like bloom&mdash;a true woodland shrub or small tree. It loves to grow in a thicket of other trees, and to fling its graceful sprays about through their branches. It is a doubtful native, but naturalised and plentiful in the neighbouring woods. As seen in gardens, it is usually a neat little tree of shapely form, but it is more beautiful when growing at its own will in the high woods.</p> <p>Marshy hollows in the valleys are brilliant with Marsh Marigold (<i>Caltha palustris</i>); damp meadows have them in plenty, but they are largest and handsomest in the alder-swamps of our valley bottoms, where their great luscious clumps rise out of pools of black mud and water.</p> <p><i>Adonis vernalis</i> is one of the brightest flowers of the middle of April, the flowers looking large for the size of the plant. The bright-yellow, mostly eight-petalled, blooms are comfortably seated in dense, fennel-like masses of foliage. It makes strong tufts, that are the better for division every four years. The spring Bitter-vetch (<i>Orobus vernus</i>) blooms at the same time, a remarkably clean-looking plant, with its cheerful red and purple blossom and handsomely divided leaves. It is one of the toughest of plants to divide, the mass of <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_053" id="Page_053"></SPAN>[053]</span>black root is like so much wire. It is a good plan with plants that have such roots, when dividing-time comes, to take the clumps to a strong bench or block and cut them through at the crown with a sharp cold-chisel and hammer. Another of the showiest families of plants of the time is <i>Doronicum</i>. <i>D. Austriacum</i> is the earliest, but it is closely followed by the fine <i>D. Plantagineum</i>. The large form of wood Forget-me-not (<i>Myosotis sylvatica major</i>) is in sheets of bloom, opening pink and changing to a perfect blue. This is a great improvement on the old smaller one. Grouped with it, as an informal border, and in patches running through and among its clumps, is the Foam-flower (<i>Tiarella cordifolia</i>), whose flower in the mass looks like the wreaths of foam tossed aside by a mountain torrent. By the end of the month the Satin-leaf (<i>Heuchera Richardsoni</i>) is pushing up its richly-coloured leaves, of a strong bronze-red, gradating to bronze-green at the outer edge. The beauty of the plant is in the colour and texture of the foliage. To encourage full leaf growth the flower stems should be pinched out, and as they push up rather persistently, they should be looked over every few days for about a fortnight.</p> <div class="floatleft" style="width: 259px"> <ANTIMG src="images/53left_a.jpg" width="259" height="350" alt="Tiarella cordifolia." title=""/> <span class="caption">Tiarella cordifolia. <br />Height, 12 inches.</span> </div> <div class="floatright" style="width: 260px"> <ANTIMG src="images/53right_a.jpg" width="260" height="350" alt="Hollyhock, Pink Beauty." title=""/> <span class="caption">Hollyhock, Pink Beauty.<br /> See page <SPAN href="#image105">105</SPAN>. <br />Height, 9 feet.</span> </div> <p class="nofloat">The Primrose garden is now in beauty, but I have so much to say about it that I have given it a chapter to itself towards the end of the book.</p> <p>The Scotch firs are shedding their pollen; a flowering branch shaken or struck with a stick throws out a <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_054" id="Page_054"></SPAN>[054]</span>pale-yellow cloud. Heavy rain will wash it out, so that after a storm the sides of the roads and paths look as if powdered sulphur had been washed up in drifts. The sun has gained great power, and on still bright days sharp <i>snicking</i> sounds are to be heard from the firs. The dry cones of last year are opening, and the flattened seeds with their paper-like edges are fluttering down. Another sound, much like it but just a shade sharper and more <i>staccato</i>, is heard from the Gorse bushes, whose dry pods are flying open and letting fall the hard, polished, little bean-like seeds.</p> <p>Border Auriculas are making a brave show. Nothing in the flower year is more interesting than a bed of good seedlings of the Alpine class. I know nothing better for pure beauty of varied colouring among early flowers. Except in varieties of <i>Salpiglossis</i>, such rich gradation of colour, from pale lilac to rich purple, and from rosy pink to deepest crimson, is hardly to be found in any one family of plants. There are varieties of cloudings of smoky-grey, sometimes approaching black, invading, and at the same time enhancing, the purer colours, and numbers of shades of half-tones of red and purple, such as are comprised within the term <i>murrey</i> of heraldry, and tender blooms of one colour, sulphurs and milk-whites&mdash;all with the admirable texture and excellent perfume that belong to the "Bear's-ears" of old English gardens. For practical purposes the florist's definition of a good Auricula is of little value; that is for the show-table, and, as Bacon says, "Nothing to the <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_055" id="Page_055"></SPAN>[055]</span>true pleasure of a garden." The qualities to look for in the bed of seedlings are not the narrowing ones of proportion of eye to tube, of exact circle in the circumference of the individual pip, and so on, but to notice whether the plant has a handsome look and stands up well, and is a delightful and beautiful thing as a whole.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/55top_a.jpg" width="400" height="294" alt="Tulipa Retroflexa." title="" /> <span class="caption">Tulipa Retroflexa.</span> </div> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"><SPAN name="image55" id="image55"></SPAN> <ANTIMG src="images/55bottom_a.jpg" width="400" height="298" alt="Late single Tulips, Breeders and Bybl&oelig;men." title="" /> <span class="caption">Late single Tulips, Breeders and Bybl&oelig;men.</span> </div> <p>Tulips are the great garden flowers in the last week of April and earliest days of May. In this plant also the rule of the show-table is no sure guide to garden value; for the show Tulip, beautiful though it is, is of one class alone&mdash;namely, the best of the "broken" varieties of the self-coloured seedlings called "breeders." These seedlings, after some years of cultivation, change or "break" into a variation in which the original colouring is only retained in certain flames or feathers of colour, on a ground of either white or yellow. If the flames in each petal are symmetrical and well arranged, according to the rules laid down by the florist, it is a good flower; it receives a name, and commands a certain price. If, on the other hand, the markings are irregular, however beautiful the colouring, the flower is comparatively worthless, and is "thrown into mixture." The kinds that are the grandest in gardens are ignored by the florist. One of the best for graceful and delicate beauty is <i>Tulipa retroflexa</i>, of a soft lemon-yellow colour, and twisted and curled petals; then Silver Crown, a white flower with a delicate picotee-like thread of scarlet along the edge of the sharply pointed and <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_056" id="Page_056"></SPAN>[056]</span>reflexed petals. A variety of this called Sulphur Crown is only a little less beautiful. Then there is Golden Crown, also with pointed petals and occasional threadings of scarlet. Nothing is more gorgeous than the noble <i>Gesneriana major</i>, with its great chalice of crimson-scarlet and pools of blue in the inner base of each petal. The gorgeously flamed Parrot Tulips are indispensable, and the large double Yellow Rose, and the early double white La Candeur. Of the later kinds there are many of splendid colouring and noble port; conspicuous among them are <i>Reine d'Espagne</i>, <i>Couleur de vin</i>, and <i>Bleu celeste</i>. There are beautiful colourings of scarlet, crimson, yellow, chocolate, and purple among the "breeders," as well as among the so-called <i>bizarres</i> and <i>bybloemen</i> that comprise the show kinds.</p> <p>The best thing now in the rock-garden is a patch of some twenty plants of <i>Arnebia echioides</i>, always happy in our poor, dry soil. It is of the Borage family, a native of Armenia. It flowers in single or double-branching spikes of closely-set flowers of a fine yellow. Just below each indentation of the five-lobed corolla is a spot which looks black by contrast, but is of a very dark, rich, velvety brown. The day after the flower has expanded the spot has faded to a moderate brown, the next day to a faint tinge, and on the fourth day it is gone. The legend, accounting for the spots, says that Mahomet touched the flower with the tips of his fingers, hence its English name of Prophet-flower.</p> <p><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_057" id="Page_057"></SPAN>[057]</span>The upper parts of the rock-garden that are beyond hand-reach are planted with dwarf shrubs, many of them sweetly scented either as to leaf or flower&mdash;<i>Gaultherias</i>, Sweet Gale, Alpine Rhododendron, <i>Skimmias</i>, <i>Pernettyas</i>, <i>Ledums</i>, and hardy Daphnes. <i>Daphne pontica</i> now gives off delicious wafts of fragrance, intensely sweet in the evening.</p> <p>In March and April Daffodils are the great flowers for house decoration, coming directly after the Lent Hellebores. Many people think these beautiful late-flowering Hellebores useless for cutting because they live badly in water. But if properly prepared they live quite well, and will remain ten days in beauty. Directly they are cut, and immediately before putting in water, the stalks should be slit up three or four inches, or according to their length, and then put in deep, so that the water comes nearly up to the flowers; and so they should remain, in a cool place, for some hours, or for a whole night, after which they can be arranged for the room. Most of them are inclined to droop; it is the habit of the plant in growth; this may be corrected by arranging them with something stiff like Box or Berberis.</p> <p><i>Anemone fulgens</i> is a grand cutting flower, and looks well with its own leaves only or with flowering twigs of Laurustinus. Then there are Pansies, delightful things in a room, but they should be cut in whole branches of leafy stem and flower and bud. At first the growths are short and only suit dish-shaped things, <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_058" id="Page_058"></SPAN>[058]</span>but as the season goes on they grow longer and bolder, and graduate first into bowls and then into upright glasses. I think Pansies are always best without mixture of other flowers, and in separate colours, or only in such varied tints as make harmonies of one class of colour at a time.</p> <p>The big yellow and white bunch Primroses are delightful room flowers, beautiful, and of sweetest scent. When full-grown the flower-stalks are ten inches long and more. Among the seedlings there are always a certain number that are worthless. These are pounced upon as soon as they show their bloom, and cut up for greenery to go with the cut flowers, leaving the root-stock with all its middle foliage, and cutting away the roots and any rough outside leaves.</p> <p>When the first Daffodils are out and suitable greenery is not abundant in the garden (for it does not do to cut their own blades), I bring home handfuls of the wild Arum leaves, so common in roadside hedges, grasping the whole plant close to the ground; then a steady pull breaks it away from the tuber, and you have a fine long-stalked sheaf of leafage held together by its own underground stem. This should be prepared like the Lent Hellebores, by putting it deep in water for a time. I always think the trumpet Daffodils look better with this than with any other kind of foliage. When the wild Arum is full-grown the leaves are so large and handsome that they do quite well to accompany the white Arum flowers from the greenhouse.</p> <hr style="width: 65%;" /><div class="pagenum">
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