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

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<SPAN name="Page_216" id="Page_216"></SPAN>[216]</div> <h2>CHAPTER XVII</h2> <h4>THE PRIMROSE GARDEN</h4> <p><br />It must be some five-and-twenty years ago that I began to work at what I may now call my own strain of Primroses, improving it a little every year by careful selection of the best for seed. The parents of the strain were a named kind, called Golden Plover, and a white one, without name, that I found in a cottage garden. I had also a dozen plants about eight or nine years ago from a strong strain of Mr. Anthony Waterer's that was running on nearly the same lines; but a year later, when I had flowered them side by side, I liked my own one rather the best, and Mr. Waterer, seeing them soon after, approved of them so much that he took some to work with his own. I hold Mr. Waterer's strain in great admiration, and, though I tried for a good many years, never could come near him in red colourings. But as my own taste favoured the delicately-shaded flowers, and the ones most liked in the nursery seemed to be those with strongly contrasting eye, it is likely that the two strains may be working still farther apart.</p> <p>They are, broadly speaking, white and yellow <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_217" id="Page_217"></SPAN>[217]</span>varieties of the strong bunch-flowered or Polyanthus kind, but they vary in detail so much, in form, colour, habit, arrangement, and size of eye and shape of edge, that one year thinking it might be useful to classify them I tried to do so, but gave it up after writing out the characters of sixty classes! Their possible variation seems endless. Every year among the seedlings there appear a number of charming flowers with some new development of size, or colour of flower, or beauty of foliage, and yet all within the narrow bounds of&mdash;white and yellow Primroses.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/217_a.jpg" width="400" height="265" alt="Evening in the Primrose Garden." title="" /> <span class="caption">Evening in the Primrose Garden.</span> </div> <p>Their time of flowering is much later than that of the true or single-stalked Primrose. They come into bloom early in April, though a certain number of poorly-developed flowers generally come much earlier, and they are at their best in the last two weeks of April and the first days of May. When the bloom wanes, and is nearly overtopped by the leaves, the time has come that I find best for dividing and replanting. The plants then seem willing to divide, some almost falling apart in one's hands, and the new roots may be seen just beginning to form at the base of the crown. The plants are at the same time relieved of the crowded mass of flower-stem, and, therefore, of the exhausting effort of forming seed, a severe drain on their strength. A certain number will not have made more than one strong crown, and a few single-crown plants have not flowered; these, of course, do not divide. During the flowering time I keep a <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_218" id="Page_218"></SPAN>[218]</span>good look-out for those that I judge to be the most beautiful and desirable, and mark them for seed. These are also taken up, but are kept apart, the flower stems reduced to one or two of the most promising, and they are then planted in a separate place&mdash;some cool nursery corner. I find that the lifting and replanting in no way checks the growth or well-being of the seed-pods.</p> <p>I remember some years ago a warm discussion in the gardening papers about the right time to sow the seed. Some gardeners of high standing were strongly for sowing it as soon as ripe, while others equally trustworthy advised holding it over till March. I have tried both ways, and have satisfied myself that it is a matter for experiment and decision in individual gardens. As nearly as I can make out, it is well in heavy soils to sow when ripe, and in light ones to wait till March. In some heavy soils Primroses stand well for two years without division; whereas in light ones, such as mine, they take up the food within reach in a much shorter time, so that by the second year the plant has become a crowded mass of weak crowns that only throw up poor flowers, and are by then so much exhausted that they are not worth dividing afterwards. In my own case, having tried both ways, I find the March sown ones much the best.</p> <p>The seed is sown in boxes in cold frames, and pricked out again into boxes when large enough to handle. The seedlings are planted out in June, when <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_219" id="Page_219"></SPAN>[219]</span>they seem to go on without any check whatever, and are just right for blooming next spring.</p> <p>The Primrose garden is in a place by itself&mdash;a clearing half shaded by Oak, Chestnut, and Hazel. I always think of the Hazel as a kind nurse to Primroses; in the copses they generally grow together, and the finest Primrose plants are often nestled close in to the base of the nut-stool. Three paths run through the Primrose garden, mere narrow tracks between the beds, converging at both ends, something like the lines of longitude on a globe, the ground widening in the middle where there are two good-sized Oaks, and coming to a blunt point at each end, the only other planting near it being two other long-shaped strips of Lily of the Valley.</p> <p>Every year, before replanting, the Primrose ground is dug over and well manured. All day for two days I sit on a low stool dividing the plants; a certain degree of facility and expertness has come of long practice. The "rubber" for frequent knife-sharpening is in a pail of water by my side; the lusciously fragrant heap of refuse leaf and flower-stem and old stocky root rises in front of me, changing its shape from a heap to a ridge, as when it comes to a certain height and bulk I back and back away from it. A boy feeds me with armfuls of newly-dug-up plants, two men are digging-in the cooling cow-dung at the farther end, and another carries away the divided plants tray by tray, and carefully replants them. The <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_220" id="Page_220"></SPAN>[220]</span>still air, with only the very gentlest south-westerly breath in it, brings up the mighty boom of the great ship guns from the old seaport, thirty miles away, and the pheasants answer to the sound as they do to thunder. The early summer air is of a perfect temperature, the soft coo of the wood-dove comes down from the near wood, the nightingale sings almost overhead, but&mdash;either human happiness may never be quite complete, or else one is not philosophic enough to contemn life's lesser evils, for&mdash;oh, the midges!</p> <hr style="width: 65%;" /><div class="pagenum">
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