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

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<SPAN name="Page_144" id="Page_144"></SPAN>[144]</div> <h2>CHAPTER XII</h2> <h4>NOVEMBER</h4> <blockquote><p>Giant Christmas Rose &mdash; Hardy Chrysanthemums &mdash; Sheltering tender shrubs &mdash; Turfing by inoculation &mdash; Transplanting large trees &mdash; Sir Henry Steuart's experience early in the century &mdash; Collecting fallen leaves &mdash; Preparing grubbing tools &mdash; Butcher's Broom &mdash; Alexandrian Laurel &mdash; Hollies and Birches &mdash; A lesson in planting.</p></blockquote> <p><br />The giant Christmas Rose (<i>Helleborus maximus</i>) is in full flower; it is earlier than the true Christmas Rose, being at its best by the middle of November. It is a large and massive flower, but compared with the later kinds has a rather coarse look. The bud and the back of the flower are rather heavily tinged with a dull pink, and it never has the pure-white colouring throughout of the later ones.</p> <p>I have taken some pains to get together some really hardy November-blooming Chrysanthemums. The best of all is a kind frequent in neighbouring cottage-gardens, and known hereabouts as Cottage Pink. I believe it is identical with Emperor of China, a very old sort that used to be frequent in greenhouse cultivation before it was supplanted by the many good kinds now grown. But its place is not indoors, but in <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_145" id="Page_145"></SPAN>[145]</span>the open garden; if against a south or west wall, so much the better. Perhaps one year in seven the bloom may be spoilt by such a severe frost as that of October 1895, but it will bear unharmed several degrees of frost and much rain. I know no Chrysanthemum of so true a pink colour, the colour deepening to almost crimson in the centre. After the first frost the foliage of this kind turns to a splendid colour, the green of the leaves giving place to a rich crimson that sometimes clouds the outer portion of the leaf, and often covers its whole expanse. The stiff, wholesome foliage adds much to the beauty of the outdoor kinds, contrasting most agreeably with the limp, mildewed leafage of those indoors. Following Cottage Pink is a fine pompone called Soleil d'Or, in colour the richest deep orange, with a still deeper and richer coloured centre. The beautiful crimson Julie Lagrav�re flowers at the same time. Both are nearly frost-proof, and true hardy November flowers.</p> <p>The first really frosty day we go to the upper part of the wood and cut out from among the many young Scotch Firs as many as we think will be wanted for sheltering plants and shrubs of doubtful hardiness. One section of the high wall at the back of the flower border is planted with rather tender things, so that the whole is covered with sheltering fir-boughs. Here are Loquat, Fuchsia, Pomegranate, <i>Edwardsia</i>, <i>Piptanthus</i>, and <i>Choisya</i>, and in the narrow border at the foot of the wall, <i>Crinum</i>, <i>Nandina</i>, <i>Clerodendron</i>, and <i>Hydrangea</i>. <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_146" id="Page_146"></SPAN>[146]</span>In the broad border in front of the wall nothing needs protection except Tritomas; these have cones of coal-ashes heaped over each plant or clump. The Crinums also have a few inches of ashes over them.</p> <p>Some large Hydrangeas in tubs are moved to a sheltered place and put close together, a mound of sand being shovelled up all round to nearly the depth of the tubs; then a wall is made of thatched hurdles, and dry fern is packed well in among the heads of the plants. They would be better in a frost-proof shed, but we have no such place to spare.</p> <p>The making of a lawn is a difficulty in our very poor sandy soil. In this rather thickly-populated country the lords of the manor had been so much pestered for grants of road-side turf, and the privilege when formerly given had been so much abused, that they have agreed together to refuse all applications. Opportunities of buying good turf do not often occur, and sowing is slow, and not satisfactory. I am told by a seedsman of the highest character that it is almost impossible to get grass seed clean and true to name from the ordinary sources; the leading men therefore have to grow their own.</p> <p>In my own case, having some acres of rough heath and copse where the wild grasses are of fine-leaved kinds, I made the lawn by inoculation. The ground was trenched and levelled, then well trodden and raked, and the surface stones collected. Tufts of the wild grass were then forked up, and were pulled into pieces <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_147" id="Page_147"></SPAN>[147]</span>about the size of the palm of one's hand, and laid down eight inches apart, and well rolled in. During the following summer we collected seed of the same grasses to sow early in spring in any patchy or bare places. One year after planting the patches had spread to double their size, and by the second year had nearly joined together. The grasses were of two kinds only, namely, Sheep's Fescue (<i>Festuca ovina</i>) and Crested Dog's-tail (<i>Agrostis canina</i>). They make a lawn of a quiet, low-toned colour, never of the bright green of the rather coarser grasses; but in this case I much prefer it; it goes better with the Heath and Fir and Bracken that belong to the place. In point of labour, a lawn made of these fine grasses has the great merit of only wanting mowing once in three weeks.</p> <hr style="width: 45%;" /> <p>I have never undertaken the transplanting of large trees, but there is no doubt that it may be done with success, and in laying out a new place where the site is bare, if suitable trees are to be had, it is a plan much to be recommended. It has often been done of late years, but until a friend drew my attention to an article in the <i>Quarterly Review</i>, dated March 1828, I had no idea that it had been practised on a large scale so early in the century. The article in question was a review of "The Planter's Guide," by Sir Henry Steuart, Bart., LL.D. (Edinburgh, 1828.) It quoted the opinion and observation of a committee of gentlemen, among whom was Sir Walter Scott, who visited <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_148" id="Page_148"></SPAN>[148]</span>Allanton (Sir Henry Steuart's place) in September 1828, when the trees had been some years planted. They found them growing "with vigour and luxuriance, and in the most exposed situations making shoots of eighteen inches.... From the facts which they witnessed the committee reported it as their unanimous opinion that the art of transplantation, as practised by Sir Henry Steuart, is calculated to accelerate in an extraordinary degree the power of raising wood, whether for beauty or shelter."</p> <p>The reviewer then quotes the method of transplantation, describing the extreme care with which the roots are preserved, men with picks carefully trying round the ground beneath the outer circumference of the branches for the most outlying rootlets, and then gradually approaching the bole. The greatest care was taken not to injure any root or fibre, these as they were released from the earth being tied up, and finally the transplanting machine, consisting of a strong pole mounted on high wheels, was brought close to the trunk and attached to it, and the tree when lowered, carefully transported to its new home. Every layer of roots was then replanted with the utmost care, with delicate fingering and just sufficient ramming, and in the end the tree stood without any artificial support whatever, and in positions exposed to the fiercest gales.</p> <p>The average size of tree dealt with seems to have had a trunk about a foot in diameter, but some were <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_149" id="Page_149"></SPAN>[149]</span>removed with complete success whose trunks were two feet thick. In order that his trees might be the better balanced in shape, Sir Henry boldly departed from the older custom of replanting a tree in its original aspect, for he reversed the aspect, so that the more stunted and shorter-twigged weather side now became the lee side, and could grow more freely.</p> <p>He insists strongly on the wisdom of transplanting only well-weathered trees, and not those of tender constitution that had been sheltered by standing among other close growths, pointing out that these have a tenderer bark and taller top and roots less well able to bear the strain of wind and weather in the open.</p> <p>He reckons that a transplanted tree is in full new growth by the fourth or fifth year, and that an advantage equal to from thirty to forty years' growth is gained by the system. As for the expense of the work, Sir Henry estimated that his largest trees each cost from ten to thirteen shillings to take up, remove half a mile, and replant. In the case of large trees the ground that was to receive them was prepared a twelvemonth beforehand.</p> <hr style="width: 45%;" /> <p>Now, in the third week of November, the most pressing work is the collecting of leaves for mulching and leaf-mould. The oaks have been late in shedding their leaves, and we have been waiting till they are down. Oak-leaves are the best, then hazel, elm, and Spanish chestnut. Birch and beech are not so good; beech-leaves <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_150" id="Page_150"></SPAN>[150]</span>especially take much too long to decay. This is, no doubt, the reason why nothing grows willingly under beeches. Horse and cart and three hands go out into the lanes for two or three days, and the loads that come home go three feet deep into the bottom of a range of pits. The leaves are trodden down close and covered with a layer of mould, in which winter salad stuff is immediately planted. The mass of leaves will soon begin to heat, and will give a pleasant bottom-heat throughout the winter. Other loads of leaves go into an open pen about ten feet square and five feet deep. Two such pens, made of stout oak post and rail and upright slabs, stand side by side in the garden yard. The one newly filled has just been emptied of its two-year-old leaf-mould, which has gone as a nourishing and protecting mulch over beds of Daffodils and choice bulbs and Alstr�merias, some being put aside in reserve for potting and various uses. The other pen remains full of the leaves of last year, slowly rotting into wholesome plant-food.</p> <p>With works of wood-cutting and stump-grubbing near at hand, we look over the tools and see that all are in readiness for winter work. Axes and hand-bills are ground, fag-hooks sharpened, picks and mattocks sent to the smithy to be drawn out, the big cross-cut saw fresh sharpened and set, and the hand-saws and frame-saws got ready. The rings of the bittle are tightened and wedged up, so that its heavy head may not split when the mighty blows, flung into the tool <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_151" id="Page_151"></SPAN>[151]</span>with a man's full strength, fall on the heads of the great iron wedges.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/150top_a.jpg" width="400" height="301" alt="Pens for Storing Dead Leaves." title="" /> <span class="caption">Pens for Storing Dead Leaves.</span> </div> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"><SPAN name="image150" id="image150"></SPAN> <ANTIMG src="images/150bottom_a.jpg" width="400" height="300" alt="Careful Wild-Gardening&mdash;White Foxgloves at the Edge of the Fir Wood." title="" /> <span class="caption">Careful Wild-Gardening&mdash;White Foxgloves at the Edge of the Fir Wood. (See page <SPAN href="#Page_270">270</SPAN>.)</span> </div> <p>Some thinning of birch-trees has to be done in the lowest part of the copse, not far from the house. They are rather evenly distributed on the ground, and I wish to get them into groups by cutting away superfluous trees. On the neighbouring moorland and heathy uplands they are apt to grow naturally in groups, the individual trees generally bending outward towards the free, open space, the whole group taking a form that is graceful and highly pictorial. I hope to be able to cut out trees so as to leave the remainder standing in some such way. But as a tree once cut cannot be put up again, the condemned ones are marked with bands of white paper right round the trunks, so that they can be observed from all sides, thus to give a chance of reprieve to any tree that from any point of view may have pictorial value.</p> <p>Frequent in some woody districts in the south of England, though local, is the Butcher's Broom (<i>Ruscus aculeatus</i>). Its stiff green branches that rise straight from the root bear small, hard leaves, armed with a sharp spine at the end. The flower, which comes in early summer, is seated without stalk in the middle of the leaf, and is followed by a large red berry. In country places where it abounds, butchers use the twigs tied in bunches to brush the little chips of meat off their great chopping-blocks, that are made of solid sections of elm trees, standing three and a half <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_152" id="Page_152"></SPAN>[152]</span>feet high and about two and a half feet across. Its beautiful garden relative, the Alexandrian or Victory Laurel (<i>Ruscus racemosus</i>), is also now just at its best. Nothing makes a more beautiful wreath than two of its branches, suitably arched and simply bound together near the butts and free ends. It is not a laurel, but a <i>Ruscus</i>, the name laurel having probably grown on to it by old association with any evergreen suitable for a victor's wreath. It is a slow-growing plant, but in time makes handsome tufts of its graceful branches. Few plants are more exquisitely modelled, to use a term familiar to the world of fine art, or give an effect of more delicate and perfect finish. It is a valuable plant in a shady place in good, cool soil. Early in summer, when the young growths appear, the old, then turning rusty, should be cut away.</p> <p>No trees group together more beautifully than Hollies and Birches. One such happy mixture in one part of the copse suggested further plantings of Holly, Birches being already in abundance. Every year some more Hollies are planted; those put in nine years ago are now fifteen feet high, and are increasing fast. They are slow to begin growth after transplanting, perhaps because in our very light soil they cannot be moved with a "ball"; all the soil shakes away, and leaves the root naked; but after about three years, when the roots have got good hold and begun to ramble, they grow away well. The trunk of an old Holly has a smooth pale-grey bark, and sometimes <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_153" id="Page_153"></SPAN>[153]</span>a slight twist, that makes it look like the gigantic bone of some old-world monster. The leaves of some old trees, especially if growing in shade, change their shape, losing the side prickles and becoming longer and nearly flat and more of a dark bottle-green colour, while the lower branches and twigs, leafless except towards their ends, droop down in a graceful line that rises again a little at the tip.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 266px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/153_a.jpg" width="266" height="400" alt="Holly Stems in an Old Hedge-Row." title="" /> <span class="caption">Holly Stems in an Old Hedge-Row.</span> </div> <p>The leaves are all down by the last week of November, and woodland assumes its winter aspect; perhaps one ought rather to say, some one of its infinite variety of aspects, for those who live in such country know how many are the winter moods of forest land, and how endless are its variations of atmospheric effect and pictorial beauty&mdash;variations much greater and more numerous than are possible in summer.</p> <p>With the wind in the south-west and soft rain about, the twigs of the birches look almost crimson, while the dead bracken at their foot, half-draggled and sodden with wet, is of a strong, dark rust colour. Now one sees the full value of the good evergreens, and, rambling through woodland, more especially of the Holly, whether in bush or tree form, with its masses of strong green colour, dark and yet never gloomy. Whether it is the high polish of the leaves, or the lively look of their wavy edges, with the short prickles set alternately up and down, or the brave way the tree has of shooting up among other thick growth, <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_154" id="Page_154"></SPAN>[154]</span>or its massive sturdiness on a bare hillside, one cannot say, but a Holly in early winter, even without berries, is always a cheering sight. John Evelyn is eloquent in his praise of this grand evergreen, and lays special emphasis on this quality of cheerfulness.</p> <p>Near my home is a little wild valley, whose planting, wholly done by Nature, I have all my life regarded with the most reverent admiration.</p> <p>The arable fields of an upland farm give place to hazel copses as the ground rises. Through one of these a deep narrow lane, cool and dusky in summer from its high steep banks and over-arching foliage, leads by a rather sudden turn into the lower end of the little valley. Its grassy bottom is only a few yards wide, and its sides rise steeply right and left. Looking upward through groups of wild bushes and small trees, one sees thickly-wooded ground on the higher levels. The soil is of the very poorest; ridges of pure yellow sand are at the mouths of the many rabbit-burrows. The grass is of the short fine kinds of the heathy uplands. Bracken grows low, only from one to two feet high, giving evidence of the poverty of the soil, and yet it seems able to grow in perfect beauty clumps of Juniper and Thorn and Holly, and Scotch Fir on the higher ground.</p> <p>On the steeply-rising banks are large groups of Juniper, some tall, some spreading, some laced and wreathed about with tangles of Honeysuckle, now in brown winter dress, and there are a few bushes of <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_155" id="Page_155"></SPAN>[155]</span>Spindle-tree, whose green stems and twigs look strangely green in winter. The Thorns stand some singly, some in close companionship, impenetrable masses of short-twigged prickly growth, with here and there a wild Rose shooting straight up through the crowded branches. One thinks how lovely it will be in early June, when the pink Rose-wreaths are tossing out of the foamy sea of white Thorn blossom. The Hollies are towering masses of health and vigour. Some of the groups of Thorn and Holly are intermingled; all show beautiful arrangements of form and colour, such as are never seen in planted places. The track in the narrow valley trends steadily upwards and bears a little to the right. High up on the left-hand side is an old wood of Scotch Fir. A few detached trees come half-way down the valley bank to meet the gnarled, moss-grown Thorns and the silver-green Junipers. As the way rises some Birches come in sight, also at home in the sandy soil. Their graceful, lissome spray moving to the wind looks active among the stiffer trees, and their white stems shine out in startling contrast to the other dusky foliage. So the narrow track leads on, showing the same kinds of tree and bush in endless variety of beautiful grouping, under the sombre half-light of the winter day. It is afternoon, and as one mounts higher a pale bar of yellow light gleams between the farther tree-stems, but all above is grey, with angry, blackish drifts of ragged wrack. Now the valley opens out to a nearly level space of rough <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_156" id="Page_156"></SPAN>[156]</span>grass, with grey tufts that will be pink bell-heather in summer, and upstanding clumps of sedge that tell of boggy places. In front and to the right are dense fir-woods. To the left is broken ground and a steep-sided hill, towards whose shoulder the track rises. Here are still the same kinds of trees, but on the open hillside they have quite a different effect. Now I look into the ruddy heads of the Thorns, bark and fruit both of rich warm colouring, and into the upper masses of the Hollies, also reddening into wealth of berry.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/154_a.jpg" width="400" height="269" alt="Wild Junipers." title="" /> <span class="caption">Wild Junipers.</span> </div> <p>Throughout the walk, pacing slowly but steadily for nearly an hour, only these few kinds of trees have been seen, Juniper, Holly, Thorn, Scotch Fir, and Birch (a few small Oaks excepted), and yet there has not been once the least feeling of monotony, nor, returning downward by the same path, could one wish anything to be altered or suppressed or differently grouped. And I have always had the same feeling about any quite wild stretch of forest land. Such a bit of wild forest as this small valley and the hilly land beyond are precious lessons in the best kind of tree and shrub planting. No artificial planting can ever equal that of Nature, but one may learn from it the great lesson of the importance of moderation and reserve, of simplicity of intention, and directness of purpose, and the inestimable value of the quality called "breadth" in painting. For planting ground is painting a landscape with living things; and as I hold that good <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_157" id="Page_157"></SPAN>[157]</span>gardening takes rank within the bounds of the fine arts, so I hold that to plant well needs an artist of no mean capacity. And his difficulties are not slight ones, for his living picture must be right from all points, and in all lights.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/156top_a.jpg" width="400" height="302" alt="Wild Junipers." title="" /> </div> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/156bottom_a.jpg" width="400" height="304" alt="Wild Junipers." title="" /> <span class="caption">Wild Junipers.</span> </div> <p>No doubt the planting of a large space with a limited number of kinds of trees cannot be trusted to all hands, for in those of a person without taste or the more finely-trained perceptions the result would be very likely dull or even absurd. It is not the paint that make the picture, but the brain and heart and hand of the man who uses it.</p> <hr style="width: 65%;" /><div class="pagenum">
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