Beelingo.com

English Audio Books

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

SPONSORED LINKS
<SPAN name="Page_188" id="Page_188"></SPAN>[188]</div> <h2>CHAPTER XV</h2> <h4>BEGINNING AND LEARNING</h4> <blockquote><p>The ignorant questioner &mdash; Beginning at the end &mdash; An example &mdash; Personal experience &mdash; Absence of outer help &mdash; Johns' "Flowers of the Field" &mdash; Collecting plants &mdash; Nurseries near London &mdash; Wheel-spokes as labels &mdash; Garden friends &mdash; Mr. Robinson's "English Flower-Garden" &mdash; Mr. Nicholson's "Dictionary of Gardening" &mdash; One main idea desirable &mdash; Pictorial treatment &mdash; Training in fine art &mdash; Adapting from Nature &mdash; Study of colour &mdash; Ignorant use of the word "artistic."</p></blockquote> <p><br />Many people who love flowers and wish to do some practical gardening are at their wit's end to know what to do and how to begin. Like a person who is on skates for the first time, they feel that, what with the bright steel runners, and the slippery surface, and the sense of helplessness, there are more ways of tumbling about than of progressing safely in any one direction. And in gardening the beginner must feel this kind of perplexity and helplessness, and indeed there is a great deal to learn, only it is pleasant instead of perilous, and the many tumbles by the way only teach and do not hurt. The first few steps are perhaps the most difficult, and it is only when we know something of the subject and an eager beginner comes with questions <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_189" id="Page_189"></SPAN>[189]</span>that one sees how very many are the things that want knowing. And the more ignorant the questioner, the more difficult it is to answer helpfully. When one knows, one cannot help presupposing some sort of knowledge on the part of the querist, and where this is absent the answer we can give is of no use. The ignorance, when fairly complete, is of such a nature that the questioner does not know what to ask, and the question, even if it can be answered, falls upon barren ground. I think in such cases it is better to try and teach one simple thing at a time, and not to attempt to answer a number of useless questions. It is disheartening when one has tried to give a careful answer to have it received with an Oh! of boredom or disappointment, as much as to say, You can't expect me to take all that trouble; and there is the still more unsatisfactory sort of applicant, who plies a string of questions and will not wait for the answers! The real way is to try and learn a little from everybody and from every place. There is no royal road. It is no use asking me or any one else how to dig&mdash;I mean sitting indoors and asking it. Better go and watch a man digging, and then take a spade and try to do it, and go on trying till it comes, and you gain the knack that is to be learnt with all tools, of doubling the power and halving the effort; and meanwhile you will be learning other things, about your own arms and legs and back, and perhaps a little robin will come and give you moral support, and at the same time keep a <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_190" id="Page_190"></SPAN>[190]</span>sharp look-out for any worms you may happen to turn up; and you will find out that there are all sorts of ways of learning, not only from people and books, but from sheer trying.</p> <p>I remember years ago having to learn to use the blow-pipe, for soldering and other purposes connected with work in gold and silver. The difficult part of it is to keep up the stream of air through the pipe while you are breathing the air in; it is easy enough when you only want a short blast of a few seconds, within the compass of one breath or one filling of the bellows (lungs), but often one has to go on blowing through several inspirations. It is a trick of muscular action. My master who taught me never could do it himself, but by much trying one day I caught the trick.</p> <p>The grand way to learn, in gardening as in all things else, is to wish to learn, and to be determined to find out&mdash;not to think that any one person can wave a wand and give the power and knowledge. And there will be plenty of mistakes, and there must be, just as children must pass through the usual childish complaints. And some people make the mistake of trying to begin at the end, and of using recklessly what may want the utmost caution, such, for instance, as strong chemical manures.</p> <p>Some ladies asked me why their plant had died. They had got it from the very best place, and they were sure they had done their very best for it, and&mdash;there it was, dead. I asked what it was, and how <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_191" id="Page_191"></SPAN>[191]</span>they had treated it. It was some ordinary border plant, whose identity I now forget; they had made a nice hole with their new trowel, and for its sole benefit they had bought a tin of Concentrated Fertiliser. This they had emptied into the hole, put in the plant, and covered it up and given it lots of water, and&mdash;it had died! And yet these were the best and kindest of women, who would never have dreamed of feeding a new-born infant on beefsteaks and raw brandy. But they learned their lesson well, and at once saw the sense when I pointed out that a plant with naked roots just taken out of the ground or a pot, removed from one feeding-place and not yet at home in another, or still more after a journey, with the roots only wrapped in a little damp moss and paper, had its feeding power suspended for a time, and was in the position of a helpless invalid. All that could be done for it then was a little bland nutriment of weak slops and careful nursing; if the planting took place in the summer it would want shading and only very gentle watering, until firm root-hold was secured and root-appetite became active, and that in rich and well-prepared garden ground such as theirs strong artificial manure was in any case superfluous.</p> <p>When the earlier ignorances are overcome it becomes much easier to help and advise, because there is more common ground to stand on. In my own case, from quite a small child, I had always seen gardening going on, though not of a very interesting <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_192" id="Page_192"></SPAN>[192]</span>kind. Nothing much was thought of but bedding plants, and there was a rather large space on each side of the house for these, one on gravel and one on turf. But I had my own little garden in a nook beyond the shrubbery, with a seat shaded by a <i>Boursault elegans</i> Rose, which I thought then, and still think, one of the loveliest of its kind. But my first knowledge of hardy plants came through wild ones. Some one gave me that excellent book, the Rev. C. A. Johns' "Flowers of the Field." For many years I had no one to advise me (I was still quite small) how to use the book, or how to get to know (though it stared me in the face) how the plants were in large related families, and I had not the sense to do it for myself, nor to learn the introductory botanical part, which would have saved much trouble afterwards; but when I brought home my flowers I would take them one by one and just turn over the pages till I came to the picture that looked something like. But in this way I got a knowledge of individuals, and afterwards the idea of broad classification and relationship of genera to species may have come all the easier. I always think of that book as the most precious gift I ever received. I distinctly trace to its teaching my first firm steps in the path of plant knowledge, and the feeling of assured comfort I had afterwards in recognising the kinds when I came to collect garden plants; for at that time I had no other garden book, no means of access to botanic gardens or private collections, and no helpful adviser.</p> <p><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_193" id="Page_193"></SPAN>[193]</span>One copy of "Johns" I wore right out; I have now two, of which one is in its second binding, and is always near me for reference. I need hardly say that this was long before the days of the "English Flower-Garden," or its helpful predecessor, "Alpine Plants."</p> <p>By this time I was steadily collecting hardy garden plants wherever I could find them, mostly from cottage gardens. Many of them were still unknown to me by name, but as the collection increased I began to compare and discriminate, and of various kinds of one plant to throw out the worse and retain the better, and to train myself to see what made a good garden plant, and about then began to grow the large yellow and white bunch Primroses, whose history is in another chapter. And then I learnt that there were such places (though then but few) as nurseries, where such plants as I had been collecting in the cottage gardens, and even better, were grown. And I went to Osborne's at Fulham (now all built over), and there saw the original tree of the fine Ilex known as the Fulham Oak, and several spring-flowering bulbs I had never seen before, and what I felt sure were numbers of desirable summer-flowering plants, but not then in bloom. Soon after this I began to learn something about Daffodils, and enjoyed much kind help from Mr. Barr, visiting his nursery (then at Tooting) several times, and sometimes combining a visit to Parker's nursery just over the way, a perfect paradise of good hardy plants. I shall never forget my first sight here <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_194" id="Page_194"></SPAN>[194]</span>of the Cape Pondweed (<i>Aponogeton distachyon</i>) in full flower and great vigour in the dipping tanks, and overflowing from them into the ditches.</p> <p>Also I was delighted to see the use as labels of old wheel-spokes. I could not help feeling that if one had been a spoke of a cab-wheel, and had passed all one's working life in being whirled and clattered over London pavements, defiled with street mud, how pleasant a way to end one's days was this; to have one's felloe end pointed and dipped in nice wholesome rot-resisting gas-tar and thrust into the quiet cool earth, and one's nave end smoothed and painted and inscribed with some such soothing legend as <i>Vinca minor</i> or <i>Dianthus fragrans</i>!</p> <p>Later I made acquaintance with several of the leading amateur and professional gardeners, and with Mr. Robinson, and to their good comradeship and kindly willingness to let me "pick their brains" I owe a great advance in garden lore. Moreover, what began by the drawing together of a common interest has grown into a still greater benefit, for several acquaintances so made have ripened into steady and much-valued friendships. It has been a great interest to me to have had the privilege of watching the gradual growth, through its several editions, of Mr. Robinson's "English Flower-Garden," the one best and most helpful book of all for those who want to know about hardy flowers, offering as it does in the clearest and easiest way a knowledge of the garden-treasures <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_195" id="Page_195"></SPAN>[195]</span>of the temperate world. No one who has not had occasional glimpses behind the scenes can know how much labour and thought such a book represents, to say nothing of research and practical experiment, and of the trouble and great expense of producing the large amount of pictorial illustration. Another book, though on quite different lines, that I find most useful is Mr. Nicholson's "Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening," in eight handy volumes. It covers much the same ground as the useful old Johnson's "Gardener's Dictionary," but is much more complete and comprehensive, and is copiously illustrated with excellent wood-cuts. It is the work of a careful and learned botanist, treating of all plants desirable for cultivation from all climates, and teaching all branches of practical horticulture and such useful matters as means of dealing with insect pests. The old "Johnson" is still a capital book in one volume; mine is rather out of date, being the edition of 1875, but it has been lately revised and improved. It would be delightful to possess, or to have easy access to, a good botanical library; still, for all the purposes of the average garden lover, these books will suffice.</p> <p>I think it is desirable, when a certain degree of knowledge of plants and facility of dealing with them has been acquired, to get hold of a clear idea of what one most wishes to do. The scope of the subject is so wide, and there are so many ways to choose from, that having one general idea helps one to concentrate <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_196" id="Page_196"></SPAN>[196]</span>thought and effort that would otherwise be wasted by being diluted and dribbled through too many probable channels of waste.</p> <p>Ever since it came to me to feel some little grasp of knowledge of means and methods, I have found that my greatest pleasure, both in garden and woodland, has been in the enjoyment of beauty of a pictorial kind. Whether the picture be large as of a whole landscape, or of lesser extent as in some fine single group or effect, or within the space of only a few inches as may be seen in some happily-disposed planting of Alpines, the intention is always the same; or whether it is the grouping of trees in the wood by the removal of those whose lines are not wanted in the picture, or in the laying out of broad grassy ways in woody places, or by ever so slight a turn or change of direction in a wood path, or in the alteration of some arrangement of related groups for form or for massing of light and shade, or for any of the many local conditions that guide one towards forming a decision, the intention is still always the same&mdash;to try and make a beautiful garden-picture. And little as I can as yet boast of being able to show anything like the number of these I could wish, yet during the flower-year there is generally something that at least in part answers to the effort.</p> <p>I do not presume to urge the acceptance of my own particular form of pleasure in a garden on those to whom, from different temperament or manner of <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_197" id="Page_197"></SPAN>[197]</span>education, it would be unwelcome; I only speak of what I feel, and to a certain degree understand; but I had the advantage in earlier life of some amount of training in appreciation of the fine arts, and this, working upon an inborn feeling of reverent devotion to things of the highest beauty in the works of God, has helped me to an understanding of their divinely-inspired interpretations by the noblest minds of men, into those other forms that we know as works of fine art.</p> <p>And so it comes about that those of us who feel and understand in this way do not exactly attempt to imitate Nature in our gardens, but try to become well acquainted with her moods and ways, and then discriminate in our borrowing, and so interpret her methods as best we may to the making of our garden-pictures.</p> <p>I have always had great delight in the study of colour, as the word is understood by artists, which again is not a positive matter, but one of relation and proportion. And when one hears the common chatter about "artistic colours," one receives an unpleasant impression about the education and good taste of the speaker; and one is reminded of an old saying which treats of the unwisdom of rushing in "where angels fear to tread," and of regret that a good word should be degraded by misuse. It may be safely said that no colour can be called artistic in itself; for, in the first place, it is bad English, and in the second, it is nonsense. Even if the first objection were waived, <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_198" id="Page_198"></SPAN>[198]</span>and the second condoned, it could only be used in a secondary sense, as signifying something that is useful and suitable and right in its place. In this limited sense the scarlet of the soldier's coat, and of the pillar-box and mail-cart, and the bright colours of flags, or of the port and starboard lights of ships, might be said to be just so far "artistic" (again if grammar would allow), as they are right and good in their places. But then those who use the word in the usual ignorant, random way have not even this simple conception of its meaning. Those who know nothing about colour in the more refined sense (and like a knowledge of everything else it wants learning) get no farther than to enjoy it only when most crude and garish&mdash;when, as George Herbert says, it "bids the rash gazer wipe his eye," or when there is some violent opposition of complementary colour&mdash;forgetting, or not knowing, that though in detail the objects brought together may make each other appear brighter, yet in the mass, and especially when mixed up, the one actually neutralises the other. And they have no idea of using the colour of flowers as precious jewels in a setting of quiet environment, or of suiting the colour of flowering groups to that of the neighbouring foliage, thereby enhancing the value of both, or of massing related or harmonious colourings so as to lead up to the most powerful and brilliant effects; and yet all these are just the ways of employing colour to the best advantage.</p> <p><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_199" id="Page_199"></SPAN>[199]</span>But the most frequent fault, whether in composition or in colour, is the attempt to crowd too much into the picture; the simpler effect obtained by means of temperate and wise restraint is always the more telling.</p> <hr style="width: 65%;" /><div class="pagenum">
SPONSORED LINKS