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

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As soon as may be in November the big hardy flower-border has to be thoroughly looked over. The first thing is to take away all "soft stuff." This includes all dead annuals and biennials and any tender things that have been put in for the summer, also Paris Daisies, Zinnias, French and African Marigolds, Helichrysums, Mulleins, and a few Geraniums. Then Dahlias are cut down. The waste stuff is laid in big heaps on the edge of the lawn just across the footpath, to be loaded into the donkey-cart and shot into some large holes that have been dug up in the wood, whose story will be told later.</p> <p>The Dahlias are now dug up from the border, and others collected from different parts of the garden. The labels are tied on to the short stumps that remain, and the roots are laid for a time on the floor of a shed. If the weather has been rainy just before taking them up, it is well to lay them upside down, so that any wet there may be about the bases of the large hollow stalks may drain out. They are left for perhaps a fortnight without shaking out the earth that holds between the tubers, so that they may be fairly dry before they are put away for the winter in a cellar.</p> <p><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_134" id="Page_134"></SPAN>[134]</span>Then we go back to the flower border and dig out all the plants that have to be divided every year. It will also be the turn for some others that only want division every two or three or more years, as the case may be. First, out come all the perennial Sunflowers. These divide themselves into two classes; those whose roots make close clumpy masses, and those that throw out long stolons ending in a blunt snout, which is the growing crown for next year. To the first division belong the old double Sunflower (<i>Helianthus multiflorus</i>), of which I only keep the well-shaped variety Soleil d'Or, and the much taller large-flowered single kind, and a tall pale-yellow flowered one with a dark stem, whose name I do not know. It is not one of the kinds thought much of, and as usually grown has not much effect; but I plant it at the back and pull it down over other plants that have gone out of flower, so that instead of having only a few flowers at the top of a rather bare stem eight feet high, it is a spreading cloud of pale yellow bloom; the training down, as in the case of so many other plants, inducing it to throw up a short flowering stalk from the axil of every leaf along the stem. The kinds with the running roots are <i>Helianthus rigidus</i>, and its giant variety Miss Mellish, <i>H. decapetalus</i> and <i>H. l�tiflorus</i>. I do not know how it may be in other gardens, but in mine these must be replanted every year.</p> <p>Phloxes must also be taken up. They are always difficult here, unless the season is unusually rainy; <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_135" id="Page_135"></SPAN>[135]</span>in dry summers, even with mulching and watering, I cannot keep them from drying up. The outside pieces are cut off and the woody middle thrown away. It is surprising what a tiny bit of Phlox will make a strong flowering plant in one season. The kinds I like best are the pure whites and the salmon-reds; but two others that I find very pretty and useful are Eug�nie, a good mauve, and Le Soleil, a strong pink, of a colour as near a really good pink as in any Phlox I know. Both of these have a neat and rather short habit of growth. I do not have many Michaelmas Daisies in the flower border, only some early ones that flower within September; of these there are the white-flowered <i>A. paniculatus</i>, <i>Shortii</i>, <i>acris</i>, and <i>amellus</i>. These of course come up, and any patches of Gladiolus are collected, to be dried for a time and then stored.</p> <p>The next thing is to look through the border for the plants that require occasional renewal. In the front I find that a longish patch of <i>Heuchera Richardsoni</i> has about half the plants overgrown. These must come up, and are cut to pieces. It is not a nice plant to divide; it has strong middle crowns, and though there are many side ones, they are attached to the main ones too high up to have roots of their own; but I boldly slice down the main stocky stem with straight downward cuts, so as to give a piece of the thick stock to each side bit. I have done this both in winter and spring, and find the spring rather the best, if not followed by drought. Groups of <i>Anemone japonica</i> and <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_136" id="Page_136"></SPAN>[136]</span>of <i>Polygonum compactum</i> are spreading beyond bounds and must be reduced. Neither of these need be entirely taken up. Without going into further detail, it may be of use to note how often I find it advisable to lift and divide some of the more prominent hardy plants.</p> <p>Every year I divide Michaelmas Daisies, Goldenrod, <i>Helianthus</i>, <i>Phlox</i>, <i>Chrysanthemum maximum</i>, <i>Helenium pumilum</i>, <i>Pyrethrum uliginosum</i>, <i>Anthemis tinctoria</i>, <i>Monarda</i>, <i>Lychnis</i>, <i>Primula</i>, except <i>P. denticulata</i>, <i>rosea</i>, and <i>auricula</i>, which stand two years.</p> <p>Every two years, White Pinks, Cranesbills, <i>Spir�a</i>, <i>Aconitum</i>, <i>Gaillardia</i>, <i>Coreopsis</i>, <i>Chrysanthemum indicum</i>, <i>Galega</i>, <i>Doronicum</i>, <i>Nepeta</i>, <i>Geum aureum</i>, <i>&OElig;nothera Youngi</i>, and <i>&OElig;. riparia</i>.</p> <p>Every three years, <i>Tritoma</i>, <i>Megasea</i>, <i>Centranthus</i>, <i>Vinca</i>, <i>Iris</i>, <i>Narcissus</i>.</p> <p>A plasterer's hammer is a tool that is very handy for dividing plants. It has a hammer on one side of the head, and a cutting blade like a small chopper on the other. With this and a cold chisel and a strong knife one can divide any roots in comfort. I never divide things by brutally chopping them across with a spade. Plants that have soft fleshy tubers like Dahlias and P�onies want the cold chisel; it can be cleverly inserted among the crowns so that injury to the tubers is avoided, and it is equally useful in the case of some plants whose points of attachment are almost as hard as wire, like <i>Orobus vernus</i>, or as tough <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_137" id="Page_137"></SPAN>[137]</span>as a door-mat, like <i>Iris graminia</i>. The Michaelmas Daisies of the <i>Nov� Angli�</i> section make root tufts too close and hard to be cut with a knife, and here the chopper of the plasterer's hammer comes in. Where the crowns are closely crowded, as in this Aster, I find it best to chop at the bottom of the tuft, among the roots; when the chopper has cut about two-thirds through, the tuft can be separated with the hands, dividing naturally between the crowns, whereas if chopped from the top many crowns would have been spoilt.</p> <p>Tritomas want dividing with care; it always looks as if one could pull every crown apart, but there is a tender point at the "collar," where they easily break off short; with these also it is best to chop from below or to use the chisel, making the cut well down in the yellow rooty region. Veratrums divide much in the same way, wanting a careful cut low down, the points of their crowns being also very easy to break off. The Christmas Rose is one of the most awkward plants to divide successfully. It cannot be done in a hurry. The only safe way is to wash the clumps well out and look carefully for the points of attachment, and cut them either with knife or chisel, according to their position. In this case the chisel should be narrower and sharper. Three-year-old tufts of St. Bruno's Lily puzzled me at first. The rather fleshy roots are so tightly interlaced that cutting is out of the question; but I found out that if the tuft is held tight in the <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_138" id="Page_138"></SPAN>[138]</span>two hands, and the hands are worked opposite ways with a rotary motion of about a quarter of a circle, that they soon come apart without being hurt in the least. Delphiniums easily break off at the crown if they are broken up by hand, but the roots cut so easily that it ought not to be a difficulty.</p> <p>There are some plants in whose case one can never be sure whether they will divide well or not, such as Oriental Poppies and <i>Eryngium <ins title="Transcriber's Note: original reads 'Olivieranum'">Oliverianum</ins></i>. They behave in nearly the same way. Sometimes a Poppy or an Eryngium comes up with one thick root, impossible to divide, while the next door plant has a number of roots that are ready to drop apart like a bunch of Salsafy.</p> <p>Everlasting Peas do nearly the same. One may dig up two plants&mdash;own brothers of say seven years old&mdash;and a rare job it is, for they go straight down into the earth nearly a yard deep. One of them will have a straight black post of a root 2&frac12; inches thick without a break of any sort till it forks a foot underground, while the other will be a sort of loose rope of separate roots from half to three-quarters of an inch thick, that if carefully followed down and cleverly dissected where they join, will make strong plants at once. But the usual way to get young plants of Everlasting Pea is to look out in earliest spring for the many young growths that will be shooting, for these if taken off with a good bit of the white underground stem will root under a hand-light.</p> <p><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_139" id="Page_139"></SPAN>[139]</span>Most of the Primrose tribe divide pleasantly and easily: the worst are the <i>auricula</i> section; with these, for outdoor planting, one often has to slice a main root down to give a share of root to the offset.</p> <p>When one is digging up plants with running roots, such as Gaultheria, Honeysuckle, Polygonum, Scotch Briars, and many of the <i>Rubus</i> tribe, or what is better, if one person is digging while another pulls up, it never does for the one who is pulling to give a steady haul; this is sure to end in breakage, whereas a root comes up willingly and unharmed in loosened ground to a succession of firm but gentle tugs, and one soon learns to suit the weight of the pulls to the strength of the plant, and to learn its breaking strain.</p> <p>Towards the end of October outdoor flowers in anything like quantity cannot be expected, and yet there are patches of bloom here and there in nearly every corner of the garden. The pretty Mediterranean Periwinkle (<i>Vinca acutiflora</i>) is in full bloom. As with many another southern plant that in its own home likes a cool and shady place, it prefers a sunny one in our latitude. The flowers are of a pale and delicate grey-blue colour, nearly as large as those of the common <i>Vinca major</i>, but they are borne more generously as to numbers on radical shoots that form thick, healthy-looking tufts of polished green foliage. It is not very common in gardens, but distinctly desirable.</p> <p>In the bulb-beds the bright-yellow <i>Sternbergia lutea</i> is in flower. At first sight it looks something like a <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_140" id="Page_140"></SPAN>[140]</span>Crocus of unusually firm and solid substance; but it is an Amaryllis, and its pure and even yellow colouring is quite unlike that of any of the Crocuses. The numerous upright leaves are thick, deep green, and glossy. It flowers rather shyly in our poor soil, even in well-made beds, doing much better in chalky ground.</p> <p>Czar Violets are giving their fine and fragrant flowers on stalks nine inches long. To have them at their best they must be carefully cultivated and liberally enriched. No plants answer better to good treatment, or spoil more quickly by neglect. A miserable sight is a forgotten violet-bed where they have run together into a tight mat, giving only few and poor flowers. I have seen the owner of such a bed stand over it and blame the plants, when he should have laid the lash on his own shoulders. Violets must be replanted every year. When the last rush of bloom in March is over, the plants are pulled to pieces, and strong single crowns from the outer edges of the clumps, or from the later runners, are replanted in good, well-manured soil, in such a place as will be somewhat shaded from summer sun. There should be eighteen inches between each plant, and as they make their growth, all runners should be cut off until August. They are encouraged by liberal doses of liquid manure from time to time, and watered in case of drought; and the heart of the careful gardener is warmed and gratified when friends, seeing them at <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_141" id="Page_141"></SPAN>[141]</span>midsummer, say (as has more than once happened), "What a nice batch of young Hollyhocks!"</p> <p>In such a simple matter as the culture of this good hardy Violet, my garden, though it is full of limitations, and in all ways falls short of any worthy ideal, enables me here and there to point out something that is worth doing, and to lay stress on the fact that the things worth doing are worth taking trouble about. But it is a curious thing that many people, even among those who profess to know something about gardening, when I show them something fairly successful&mdash;the crowning reward of much care and labour&mdash;refuse to believe that any pains have been taken about it. They will ascribe it to chance, to the goodness of my soil, and even more commonly to some supposed occult influence of my own&mdash;to anything rather than to the plain fact that I love it well enough to give it plenty of care and labour. They assume a tone of complimentary banter, kindly meant no doubt, but to me rather distasteful, to this effect: "Oh yes, of course it will grow for you; anything will grow for you; you have only to look at a thing and it will grow." I have to pump up a laboured smile and accept the remark with what grace I can, as a necessary civility to the stranger that is within my gates, but it seems to me evident that those who say these things do not understand the love of a garden.</p> <p>I could not help rejoicing when such a visitor came to me one October. I had been saying how <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_142" id="Page_142"></SPAN>[142]</span>necessary good and deep cultivation was, especially in so very poor and shallow a soil as mine. Passing up through the copse where there were some tall stems of <i>Lilium giganteum</i> bearing the great upturned pods of seed, my visitor stopped and said, "I don't believe a word about your poor soil&mdash;look at the growth of that Lily. Nothing could make that great stem ten feet high in a poor soil, and there it is, just stuck into the wood!" I said nothing, knowing that presently I could show a better answer than I could frame in words. A little farther up in the copse we came upon an excavation about twelve feet across and four deep, and by its side a formidable mound of sand, when my friend said, "Why are you making all this mess in your pretty wood? are you quarrying stone, or is it for the cellar of a building? and what on earth are you going to do with that great heap of sand? why, there must be a dozen loads of it." That was my moment of secret triumph, but I hope I bore it meekly as I answered, "I only wanted to plant a few more of those big Lilies, and you see in my soil they would not have a chance unless the ground was thoroughly prepared; look at the edge of the scarp and see how the solid yellow sand comes to within four inches of the top; so I have a big wide hole dug; and look, there is the donkey-cart coming with the first load of Dahlia-tops and soft plants that have been for the summer in the south border. There will be several of those little cartloads, each holding three <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_143" id="Page_143"></SPAN>[143]</span>barrowfuls. As it comes into the hole, the men will chop it with the spade and tread it down close, mixing in a little sand. This will make a nice cool, moist bottom of slowly-rotting vegetable matter. Some more of the same kind of waste will come from the kitchen garden&mdash;cabbage-stumps, bean-haulm, soft weeds that have been hoed up, and all the greenest stuff from the rubbish-heap. Every layer will be chopped and pounded, and tramped down so that there should be as little sinking as possible afterwards. By this time the hole will be filled to within a foot of the top; and now we must get together some better stuff&mdash;road-scrapings and trimmings mixed with some older rubbish-heap mould, and for the top of all, some of our precious loam, and the soil of an old hotbed and some well-decayed manure, all well mixed, and then we are ready for the Lilies. They are planted only just underground, and then the whole bed has a surfacing of dead leaves, which helps to keep down weeds, and also looks right with the surrounding wild ground. The remains of the heap of sand we must deal with how we can; but there are hollows here and there in the roadway and paths, and a place that can be levelled up in the rubbish-yard, and some kitchen-garden paths that will bear raising, and so by degrees it is disposed of."</p> <hr style="width: 65%;" /><div class="pagenum">
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