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

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<SPAN name="Page_112" id="Page_112"></SPAN>[112]</div> <h2>CHAPTER X</h2> <h4>SEPTEMBER</h4> <blockquote><p>Sowing Sweet Peas &mdash; Autumn-sown annuals &mdash; Dahlias &mdash; Worthless kinds &mdash; Staking &mdash; Planting the rock-garden &mdash; Growing small plants in a wall &mdash; The old wall &mdash; Dry-walling &mdash; How built &mdash; How planted &mdash; Hyssop &mdash; A destructive storm &mdash; Berries of Water-elder &mdash; Beginning ground-work.</p></blockquote> <p><br />In the second week of September we sow Sweet Peas in shallow trenches. The flowers from these are larger and stronger and come in six weeks earlier than from those sown in the spring; they come too at a time when they are especially valuable for cutting. Many other hardy Annuals are best sown now. Some indeed, such as the lovely <i>Collinsia verna</i> and the large white Iberis, only do well if autumn-sown. Among others, some of the most desirable are Nemophila, Platystemon, Love-in-a-Mist, Larkspurs, Pot Marigold, Virginian Stock, and the delightful Venus's Navel-wort (<i>Omphalodes linifolia</i>). I always think this daintily beautiful plant is undeservedly neglected, for how seldom one sees it. It is full of the most charming refinement, with its milk-white bloom and grey-blue leaf and neat habit of growth. Any one who has never before tried Annuals autumn-sown would be astonished at their <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_113" id="Page_113"></SPAN>[113]</span>vigour. A single plant of Nemophila will often cover a square yard with its beautiful blue bloom; and then, what a gain it is to have these pretty things in full strength in spring and early summer, instead of waiting to have them in a much poorer state later in the year, when other flowers are in plenty.</p> <p>Hardy Poppies should be sown even earlier; August is the best time.</p> <p>Dahlias are now at their full growth. To make a choice for one's own garden, one must see the whole plant growing. As with many another kind of flower, nothing is more misleading than the evidence of the show-table, for many that there look the best, and are indeed lovely in form and colour as individual blooms, come from plants that are of no garden value. For however charming in humanity is the virtue modesty, and however becoming is the unobtrusive bearing that gives evidence of its possession, it is quite misplaced in a Dahlia. Here it becomes a vice, for the Dahlia's first duty in life is to flaunt and to swagger and to carry gorgeous blooms well above its leaves, and on no account to hang its head. Some of the delicately-coloured kinds lately raised not only hang their heads, but also hide them away among masses of their coarse foliage, and are doubly frauds, looking everything that is desirable in the show, and proving worthless in the garden. It is true that there are ways of cutting out superfluous green stuff and thereby encouraging the blooms to show up, but at a busy <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_114" id="Page_114"></SPAN>[114]</span>season, when rank leafage grows fast, one does not want to be every other day tinkering at the Dahlias.</p> <p>Careful and strong staking they must always have, not forgetting one central stake to secure the main growth at first. It is best to drive this into the hole made for the plant before placing the root, to avoid the danger of sending the point of the stake through the tender tubers. Its height out of the ground should be about eighteen inches less than the expected stature of the plant. As the Dahlia grows, there should be at least three outer stakes at such distance from the middle one as may suit the bulk and habit of the plant; and it is a good plan to have wooden hoops to tie to these, so as to form a girdle round the whole plant, and for tying out the outer branches. The hoop should be only loosely fastened&mdash;best with roomy loops of osier, so that it may be easily shifted up with the growth of the plant. We make the hoops in the winter of long straight rent rods of Spanish Chestnut, bending them while green round a tub, and tying them with tarred twine or osier bands. They last several years. All this care in staking the Dahlias is labour well bestowed, for when autumn storms come the wind has such a power of wrenching and twisting, that unless the plant, now grown into a heavy mass of succulent vegetation, is braced by firm fixing at the sides, it is in danger of being broken off short just above the ground, where its stem has become almost woody, and therefore brittle.</p> <p><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_115" id="Page_115"></SPAN>[115]</span>Now is the moment to get to work on the rock-garden; there is no time of year so precious for this work as September. Small things planted now, while the ground is still warm, grow at the root at once, and get both anchor-hold and feeding-hold of the ground before frost comes. Those that are planted later do not take hold, and every frost heaves them up, sometimes right out of the ground. Meanwhile those that have got a firm root-hold are growing steadily all the winter, underground if not above; and when the first spring warmth comes they can draw upon the reserve of strength they have been hoarding up, and make good growth at once.</p> <p>Except in the case of a rockery only a year old, there is sure to be some part that wants to be worked afresh, and I find it convenient to do about a third of the space every year. Many of the indispensable Alpines and rock-plants of lowly growth increase at a great rate, some spreading over much more than their due space, the very reason of this quick-spreading habit being that they are travelling to fresh pasture; many of them prove it clearly by dying away in the middle of the patch, and only showing vigorous vitality at the edges.</p> <p>Such plants as <i>Silene alpestris</i>, <i>Hutchinsia alpina</i>, <i>Pterocephalus</i>, the dwarf alpine kinds of <i>Achillea</i> and <i>Artemisia</i>, <i>Veronica</i> and <i>Linaria</i>, and the mossy Saxifrages, in my soil want transplanting every two years, and the silvery Saxifrages every three years. As in <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_116" id="Page_116"></SPAN>[116]</span>much else, one must watch what happens in one's own garden. We practical gardeners have no absolute knowledge of the constitution of the plant, still less of the chemistry of the soil, but by the constant exercise of watchful care and helpful sympathy we acquire a certain degree of instinctive knowledge, which is as valuable in its way, and probably more applicable to individual local conditions, than the tabulated formulas of more orthodox science.</p> <p>One of the best and simplest ways of growing rock-plants is in a loose wall. In many gardens an abrupt change of level makes a retaining wall necessary, and when I see this built in the usual way as a solid structure of brick and mortar&mdash;unless there be any special need of the solid wall&mdash;I always regret that it is not built as a home for rock-plants. An exposure to north or east and the cool backing of a mass of earth is just what most Alpines delight in. A dry wall, which means a wall without mortar, may be anything between a wall and a very steep rock-work, and may be built of brick or of any kind of local stone. I have built and planted a good many hundred yards of dry walling with my own hands, both at home and in other gardens, and can speak with some confidence both of the pleasure and interest of the actual making and planting, and of the satisfactory results that follow.</p> <p>The best example I have to show in my own garden is the so-called "Old Wall," before mentioned. It is the bounding and protecting fence of the P�ony <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_117" id="Page_117"></SPAN>[117]</span>ground on its northern side, and consists of a double dry wall with earth between. An old hedge bank that was to come away was not far off, within easy wheeling distance. So the wall was built up on each side, and as it grew, the earth from the hedge was barrowed in to fill up. A dry wall needs very little foundation; two thin courses underground are quite enough. The point of most structural importance is to keep the earth solidly trodden and rammed behind the stones of each course and throughout its bulk, and every two or three courses to lay some stones that are extra long front and back, to tie the wall well into the bank. A local sandstone is the walling material. In the pit it occurs in separate layers, with a few feet of hard sand between each. The lowest layer, sometimes thirty to forty feet down, is the best and thickest, but that is good building stone, and for dry walling we only want "tops" or "seconds," the later and younger formations of stone in the quarry. The very roughness and almost rotten state of much of this stone makes it all the more acceptable as nourishment and root-hold to the tiny plants that are to grow in its chinks, and that in a few months will change much of the rough rock-surface to green growth of delicate vegetation. Moreover, much of the soft sandy stone hardens by exposure to weather; and even if a stone or two crumbles right away in a few years' time, the rest will hold firmly, and the space left will make a little cave where some small fern will live happily.</p> <p><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_118" id="Page_118"></SPAN>[118]</span>The wall is planted as it is built with hardy Ferns&mdash;<i>Blechnum</i>, Polypody, Hartstongue, <i>Adiantum</i>, <i>Ceterach</i>, <i>Asplenium</i>, and <i>Ruta muraria</i>. The last three like lime, so a barrow of old mortar-rubbish is at hand, and the joint where they are to be planted has a layer of their favourite soil. Each course is laid fairly level as to its front top edge, stones of about the same thickness going in course by course. The earth backing is then carefully rammed into the spaces at the uneven backs of the stones, and a thin layer of earth over the whole course, where the mortar would have been in a built wall, gives both a "bed" for the next row of stones and soil for the plants that are to grow in the joints.</p> <div class="floatleft" style="width: 258px"> <ANTIMG src="images/117left_a.jpg" width="258" height="350" alt="Jack." title="" /> <span class="caption">Jack. (See page <SPAN href="#Page_079">79</SPAN>.)</span> </div> <div class="floatright" style="width: 260px"> <ANTIMG src="images/117right_a.jpg" width="260" height="350" alt="The 'Old Wall.'" title=""/> <span class="caption">The "Old Wall."</span> </div> <p class="nofloat">The face of the wall slopes backward on both sides, so that its whole thickness of five feet at the bottom draws in to four feet at the top. All the stones are laid at a right angle to the plane of the inclination&mdash;that is to say, each stone tips a little down at the back, and its front edge, instead of being upright, faces a little upward. It follows that every drop of gentle rain that falls on either side of the wall is carried into the joints, following the backward and downward pitch of the stones, and then into the earth behind them.</p> <p>The mass of earth in the middle of the wall gives abundant root-room for bushes, and is planted with bush Roses of three kinds, of which the largest mass is of <i>Rosa lucida</i>. Then there is a good stretch of Berberis; then Scotch Briars, and in one or two <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_119" id="Page_119"></SPAN>[119]</span>important places Junipers; then more Berberis, and Ribes, and the common Barberry, and neat bushes of <i>Olearia Haastii</i>.</p> <p>The wall was built seven years ago, and is now completely clothed. It gives me a garden on the top and a garden on each side, and though its own actual height is only 4&frac12; feet, yet the bushes on the top make it a sheltering hedge from seven to ten feet high. One small length of three or four yards of the top has been kept free of larger bushes, and is planted on its northern edge with a very neat and pretty dwarf kind of Lavender, while on the sunny side is a thriving patch of the hardy Cactus (<i>Opuntia Raffinesquiana</i>). Just here, in the narrow border at the foot of the wall, is a group of the beautiful <i>Crinum Powelli</i>, while a white Jasmine clothes the face of the wall right and left, and rambles into the Barberry bushes just beyond. It so happened that these things had been planted close together because the conditions of the place were likely to favour them, and not, as is my usual practice, with any intentional idea of harmonious grouping. I did not even remember that they all flower in July, and at nearly the same time; and one day seeing them all in bloom together, I was delighted to see the success of the chance arrangement, and how pretty it all was, for I should never have thought of grouping together pink and lavender, yellow and white.</p> <p>The northern face of the wall, beginning at its eastern end, is planted thus: For a length of ten or <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_120" id="Page_120"></SPAN>[120]</span>twelve paces there are Ferns, Polypody and Hartstongue, and a few <i>Adiantum nigrum</i>, with here and there a Welsh Poppy. There is a clump of the wild Stitchwort that came by itself, and is so pretty that I leave it. At the foot of the wall are the same, but more of the Hartstongue; and here it grows best, for not only is the place cooler, but I gave it some loamy soil, which it loves. Farther along the Hartstongue gives place to the wild Iris (<i>I. f&oelig;tidissima</i>), a good long stretch of it. Nothing, to my mind, looks better than these two plants at the base of a wall on the cool side. In the upper part of the wall are various Ferns, and that interesting plant, Wall Pennywort (<i>Cotyledon umbilicus</i>). It is a native plant, but not found in this neighbourhood; I brought it from Cornwall, where it is so plentiful in the chinks of the granite stone-fences. It sows itself and grows afresh year after year, though I always fear to lose it in one of our dry summers. Next comes the common London Pride, which I think quite the most beautiful of the Saxifrages of this section. If it was a rare thing, what a fuss we should make about it! The place is a little dry for it, but all the same, it makes a handsome spreading tuft hanging over the face of the wall. When its pink cloud of bloom is at its best, I always think it the prettiest thing in the garden. Then there is the Yellow Everlasting (<i>Gnaphalium orientale</i>), a fine plant for the upper edge of the wall, and even better on the sunny side, and the white form of <i>Campanula c�spitosa</i>, with its crowd of <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_121" id="Page_121"></SPAN>[121]</span>delicate little white bells rising in June, from the neatest foliage of tender but lively green. Then follow deep-hanging curtains of Yellow Alyssum and of hybrid rock Pinks. The older plants of Alyssum are nearly worn out, but there are plenty of promising young seedlings in the lower joints.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 269px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/121_a.jpg" width="269" height="400" alt="Erinus Alpinus, clothing Steps in Rock-Wall." title="" /> <span class="caption">Erinus Alpinus, clothing Steps in Rock-Wall.</span> </div> <p>Throughout the wall there are patches of Polypody Fern, one of the best of cool wall-plants, its creeping root-stock always feeling its way along the joints, and steadily furnishing the wall with more and more of its neat fronds; it is all the more valuable for being at its best in early winter, when so few ferns are to be seen. Every year, in some bare places, I sow a little seed of <i>Erinus alpinus</i>, always trying for places where it will follow some other kind of plant, such as a place where rock Pink or Alyssum has been. All plants are the better for this sort of change. In the seven years that the wall has stood, the stones have become weathered, and the greater part of the north side, wherever the stone work shows, is hoary with mosses, and looks as if it might have been standing for a hundred years.</p> <p>The sunny side is nearly clear of moss, and I have planted very few things in its face, because the narrow border at its foot is so precious for shrubs and plants that like a warm, sheltered place. Here are several Choisyas and Sweet Verbenas, also <i>Escallonia</i>, <i>Stuartia</i>, and <i>Styrax</i>, and a long straggling group of some very fine Pentstemons. In one space that was fairly clear I planted a bit of Hyssop, an old sweet herb whose <span class="pagenum">
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