BEAUTY OF BACKGROUND
The matter of background does not receive sufficient consideration. It may be admitted that there are cases, as for example hardy flower borders on the margins of lawns, where existing trees and shrubs provide as suitable a background as could be devised. But there are others the boundary of which is an ugly wall, fence or building, and it becomes exposed in autumn and remains so all the winter where the contents of the borders are strictly confined to herbaceous subjects. In such cases a background becomes important, and it can be provided with espaliers or lattice-work. A large bed would be transformed into two borders if such a background was fixed along the middle, and thus there might be a " down the centre of a flower-garden in place of a group of beds.
It is particularly in small gardens that the plan of a central division is helpful, because it increases the area available for plants. The support, whatever it may be, can be planted on both faces, so that room is provided for an increased number of plants, while at the same time those planted in the border itself, on the level, are not robbed. Supports may be of various kinds and materials, including rustic work; but those who are prepared to go to the first expense of iron espaliers must reap their reward in time, for metal espaliers are practically everlasting. Such woodwork as is attached to them—and some is almost indispensable—need not come into contact with the ground, and consequently it also has a long life. Admittedly the erection looks somewhat crude at the outset, but it is covered in a year or two, and thereafter is an object of great beauty. A similar framework may be used at will for the back of a border on the outskirts of a lawn or elsewhere.
THE BEST HERBACEOUS PLANTS
One of the difficulties in the way of colour-harmonies in herbaceous borders is the unexpected extension of coarse-growing kinds, which often affects less rampant subjects injuriously. Thus there are certain plants, by no means without ornamental value—moon and ox-eye daisies, anchusas, Japanese anemones, even Michaelmas daisies—which are apt to become a nuisance. The Japanese anemones are very beautiful, but they are terrible rovers in soils which they like, and their roots penetrate so deeply that if once they get out of hand it is almost impossible to bring them under control again.
As plants which do not encroach, which are easily kept under control, and which yet are exceedingly beautiful, hollyhocks, phloxes, pyrethrums, peonies, lupins and delphiniums must be considered best for the herbaceous border. Hollyhocks are never more beautiful than when used as the back of an informal border beside a walk (Fig. 638), and it is a mistake to suppose that they must necessarily become unsightly through disease, which can be kept in check by spraying with Bordeaux mixture.
Phloxes are almost ideal, and it is very gratifying to know that there are now large numbers of splendid varieties. As a matter of fact, phloxes are well worth growing in beds to themselves, so far as summer effect is concerned; earlier blooms can be got by planting bulbs with them, At Gravetye Manor, Mr. William Robinson‘s place in Sussex, one sees a bed of summer-flowering phioxes which in June is brilliant with the little-grown but exceedingly attractive Tropaeeolum polyphyllum, with its curious, twisted, creeping growth, grey leaves, and masses of canary-coloured flowers; the bed is edged with lavender.
Pyrethrums are good or bad according as they are tended and staked or left uncared for. The stems are not strong enough to sustain the flowers, consequently neglected plants are ugly, but if some light, semi-natural support is used, such as the upper twiggy parts of hazel pea-sticks, both foliage and flower-stems receive welcome support and the plants show their full beauty. They are then capable of giving charming colour-effects in the border.
The one drawback of herbaceous peonies as border plants, and particularly in colour blending, is their spreading, rather floppy habit, which prevents them from fitting in well with more slender and upright growers. A better plan where space permits is to bed them, using orange-coloured tulips to with the bronze of the young peony stems in spring. It is easy to blunder with the staking and tying of peonies, and as a rule the less the better. Nor should root interference go farther with peonies than is absolutely necessary. In light, rather poor soils it is far better to place dressings of manure or fresh soil round the plants than to take them up, divide them, and replant them, for they are apt to sulk after disturbance.
With increased experience of delphiniums, one is disposed to believe that they also resent division, and are best invigorated by the same means as peonies. One has seen cases in which, with a praiseworthy desire to .give clumps of delphiniums a new lease of life, hey have been lifted to permit of the soil being deeply trenched and liberally manured; yet the result has not been good for a long time.
The truth is that the great quartet of hardy herbaceous plants may be divided into two pairs so far as toleration of frequent division is concerned: peonies and delphiniums resenting it, Michaelmas daisies and phloxes appreciating it. In well-managed herbaceous borders, large plants will never be allowed to predominate, however ample the area may be, The best species and varieties of smaller things, such as geums, campanulas, irises, veronicas, gladioli, pentstemons, columbines, and lilies, will have their place.
Whatever may or may not be done with herbaceous borders, there is always a strong case for flower-beds on any level spaces near the house, with grass or paving as the case may be. Crazy paving has deservedly a powerful vogue, but unfortunately one often sees the interstices filled with ugly weeds instead of with dainty low plants like campanulas, alpine pinks, saxifrages, and portulacas; and then one sighs for plain, wholesome grass. The fact is that crazy paving, like most other things in gardens, needs cultivation. It cannot be left to itself.
MONTHS OF ROSE-BLOOM
With flower-beds the line of least resistance in the old days was to cram them with zonal pelargoniums. Now the “geranium” was, and is, a very brilliant and useful plant, which no wise person will despise. But it is garish and it is tender. Being garish it may easily become tedious and even offensive ; and being tender it needs winter protection. Again, it is not a valuable cut flower. Here are three reasons why zonal pelargoniums are inferior to, for example, roses, In the old days it was held against roses as bedders that being leafless in winter, and being purely short-period summer bloomers, they left the beds without interest for the greater part of the year, and consequently the only people who : grew roses in beds were exhibitors, who cared little what their beds looked like nine months in the year, provided there were fine examples of bloom on a few particular exhibition days in July.
Times have changed in several respects. In the first place the flowering season of roses has been lengthened. In the second, a greater demand has arisen for cut flowers, In the third, there has been a development of material suitable for forming a groundwork to roses in beds, and flowering before the roses make much growth. The first and second points may be connected in a system of feeding and pruning under which roses in beds without a groundwork of dwarf plants give a long succession of cut flowers from June to October. By feeding, mostly with superphosphate or other chemical fertilisers, the plants are induced to push long flower-stems and these are cut low in order to get as great a length of stem as possible for the vases and bowls. The low cutting becomes a kind of summer pruning, which, combined with the feeding, induces the plant to push up quickly a fresh set of long flower-stems, So the process goes on, but low pruning is not done after mid-August, because late growth would not ripen. This system of what might be called “pruning-for cutting“ is carried out very successfully at Lympne Castle in Kent, among other places. For many weeks there is always bloom in the beds, because ail the plants are not pruned at the same time; and there is always bloom in the vases, because there are always some flowers ready for cutting.
It is not likely that this system would answer without abundant moisture and liberal feeding, and those who are unable to provide both would probably do better to carpet their rose-beds with some close-growing plant.
There never was an absolute dearth of carpeting material, if people had only thought to look for it. At Gravetye, for example, one sees Viola gracilis, Phacelia campanularia and Verbena chamaedrifolia used in different beds, and all these are old plants. Violas are almost ideal carpeters, and the number of beautiful varieties is legion, Nor is there any valid reason why pinks and carnations should not be associated with roses, as at Gravetye; holding their leaves as they do throughout the winter, the ground is never bare.
In the reaction from the old-style bedding with zonal pelargoniums, many people have discarded bedding altogether, satisfying themselves with rock-gardens and herbaceous borders; but beds are often useful, and it is no more necessary to plant them with tender things than it is to associate them in elaborate and intricate designs, as in the formal “parterres” of the past. There is literally no end of material amongst hardy plants from which to choose; it is merely a matter of studying books and catalogues, and of picking up ideas in good gardens and nurseries. At Gravetye one sees beds of hardy ferns, to which life and outline are given by pillars of clematis. There is no brilliance in such beds, but there is interest, there is beauty, there is character. One should beware of sameness: antirrhinums may easily become as tiresome as “geraniums.”
ROCK PLANTS AND ALPINE GARDENS
Rock-gardening and the cultivation of alpine flowers (these are often, but not as often as they ought to be, permanent parts of one whole) form between them the most remark able and distinctive development in modern English gardening. Probably the progress that has been made in this branch of ornamental gardening has been due at least as much to displays by trade growers at the larger shows as to the efforts of writers and artists, influential though the latter have undoubtedly been. Small but beautiful gardens, ingenious assemblages of rock planted with alpines, generally having a cascade and pooi, appearing in the grounds of large shows, struck the public fancy, were repeated on a larger scale and in increased numbers, and so became firmly established as features of the more important exhibitions.
While it might be possible to exaggerate the effect of miniature alpine scenes in a show-ground in London, one can believe that by bringing the charm of alpine flowers before the eyes of large numbers of cultured people the displays in question must have exercised a very real influence, Certainly the demand for suitable stone as well as the sale of alpine plants increased rapidly. Flower-lovers came to realise that rock-gardens were capable of adding a new and very pleasing feature to their places without making excessive demands on space. Perhaps all did not realise as clearly as they should have done that a Hrock-garden needs a good deal of attention, because one meets with cases in which gross plants, or even weeds, have been allowed to overgrow the more delicate kinds. There should be no misunderstanding on this matter. Hardy plants, including alpines, need as much attention in their way as the old-fashioned tender bedders; some even need glass, ‘although in the form of protecting squares to throw off winter rains rather than in the form of frames and greenhouses.
One might add to this hint a reminder that a rock-garden should have several aspects; or conversely, that if there is but one aspect the choice of plants should be such that the j aspect suits the whole of them. One sees cases in which this point has been overlooked. Similarly, the presence or absence of lime in the natural soil should be considered in connection with the selection of kinds.
Rock-building has been developed into an art by experts, and where alpine gardens on the grand scale have been established inquiry generally reveals the fact that experts have been employed. It was so at Wisley, the famous garden of the Royal Horticultural Society, It is so at almost every considerable undertaking of the kind in public or semi j public gardens. Alas that such cases are so few and that bedding-out still reigns so strongly in these places! And the rule prevails in private gardens where extensive rock-gardening is done, such as Tongswood, near Hawkhurst, in Kent, and other places. He would be a genius indeed who, untutored and unsophisticated, proved capable of handling hundreds I of tons of stone with good effect and at the same time with due economy of labour. An error in choosing a place for a shrub, even a mistake in selecting a site for a flower-bed, can be rectified at no great cost ; but a blunder in placing a pile of rock is a serious matter.
At a period when the cost of transport as well as raw material is high, it would be pardonable for a lover of alpine flowers of limited means to govern his operations in rock- building by the supply of local stone. If ample both in quantity and quality, then he might certainly build up to the full area available, for a rock-garden is not an ephemeral thing, but on the contrary improves year by year. If, however, local supply is deficient or even wholly wanting, then may the alpine home be restricted in extent. One makes these perhaps rather trite suggestions with the less hesitation because there are many rock-gardens in which stone is palpably out of proportion to the plants grown in them. When, however, they are liberally and skilfully planted, as in the frontispiece to Volume I,, and in Figs. 639 and 640, there is no preponderance of stone, no forbidding bareness, but on the contrary charming natural pictures.
There can be no successful rock-garden with an inadequate supply of plants. And while, alike in the interests of economy and of the garden itself, well-known, easily in- creased plants may occupy the greatest amount of space, there should yet as far as possible j be the interest of rarities. In this connection let us glance at some of the plants on a first- class rockery, such as that at Tongswood. On a cool, steep rock-face, imitating the con ditions under which the plant thrives in its Pyrenean home, is a colony of ramondia, obviously very much at home. That exquisitely beautiful grass-leaved gromwell which is supposed to be unsuited to our climate, Lithospermum graminifolium, covers a broad ledge, and is not less delightful than the better-known prostratum and the form Heavenly Blue; among profusely bloomed blue-flowered plants there are few greater June treasures than these gromwells. Overhanging the rockery from a lofty summit are the white masses of the Tasmanian daisy tree (Olearia stellulata, once called Eurybia gunniana), which is not supposed to be hardy, but is here sound and healthy after a bitter spring. On lower sites, spreading into dense mats and sprinkled respectively with blue and with rose flowers, are two botanically related but very different plants in Rhododendron fastigiatum and Azalea rosaeflora.
The old garden antirrhinum, often home-sown on ancient walls, is used for many purposes in these days, but few people, perhaps, recognise at sight its sister the sulphur coloùred species asarina, for the heart-shaped toothed leaves bear little resemblance to the better-known type, and it is only on a closer inspection that the characteristic snap dragon shape of the flower stimulates recognition. Drooping from a sheltered, dry crevice to a depth of two feet or more, it makes an instant impression.
A flowering strawberry which does not set fruit, but has leaves which should perhaps be more shiny than they are, considering that the species bears the name of [Fragaria] lucida, is an interesting novelty. It covers a broad ledge with a mat of typical strawberry leaves, runners and white flowers.
Among floral treasures unknown to earlier generations of rock gardeners is Celmisia spectabilis, an evergreen of low growth which bears a profusion of large flowers, the ray forets white, the disc yellow, a plant which is not of the hardiest, and yet which thrives on a sunny rockery in well-drained friable soil. Rock roses (cistuses), however, and sun roses (helianthemums), are among the oldest and also the best. The cistuses are shrubs, and what plants of this class are more beautiful ? The large blossoms are fleeting, but flower follows flower in such rapid succession and in such profusion that for several weeks the plants are covered with bloom ; and as, when suited by the conditions, they grow to a large size, they become glorious objects. Although less vigorous, the sun roses spread widely and form broad, low, dense masses smothered in beautiful flowers. It is not for spacious rock-gardens alone that sun roses are suitable. Wherever there is a low wall or sunny ledge to cover they come into their own.
The orchid family is represented by a good plant in Orchis foliosa, which forms hand- some masses of oblong leaves and shortish spikes of purple flowers. It likes a cool sheltered spot. The same may be said of many beautiful old and new primulas, such as japonica, cortusoides, bulleyana, littoniana, pulverulenta, cockburniana, and sikkimensis ; also the little low-growing species rosea, which is never so happy as when growing in a cool, moist, shady spot.
What for the rock-garden is a rarity indeed, being generally grown under glass, is an evergreen with lance-shaped leaves and scarlet, lily-like, curiously toothed flowers of great beauty, borne on stems about two feet long—a plant that likes a sandy mixture of peat and loam and will only thrive outdoors, if at all, in a warm, sheltered spot ; this is Tricus pidaria lanceolata, otherwise Crinodendron Hookeri. And yet another rarity for outdoors is an exquisitely beautiful amaryllis-like plant called Habranthus fulgens, which few gardeners dare grow in the open air. The secret of its success at Tongswood is that the bulbs are protected by a mat of heaths.
Special plants like these give interest and distinction to the rock-garden, but the unsophisticated amateur feels more at home with familiar things—the many beautiful alpine pinks, low-creeping phioxes, saxifrages in almost multitudinous variety, and lovely gentians like verna, bavarica, Andrewsii, freyniana, and the splendid but rather capricious acaulis. Nor will he despise the true geraniums, which perhaps receive less attention than they deserve because their name has been usurped by the zonai pelargonium—that gorgeous, glittering king of the old-time flower-garden. In large rock-gardens and in borders alike, true geraniums such as pratense, sanguineurn, and Endressi are equally at herne; while the smaller cinereum and argenteum are good alpines. The beginner finds it helpful and encouraging to handle plants which are responsive, and he will certainly find responsiveness in geraniums, just as he will in sun roses, in rock cresses (aubrietias and arabises), in most of the beilfiowers (campanulas), in alpine pinks (dianthus), in geums (equally good for the border and the rockery), in alpine candytufts (Iberis gibraltarica, sempervirens, garrexiana, etc.), in gromwells (lithospermums), in certain evening primroses (OEnothera) suitable for the rock-garden, such as caespitosa and fruticosa, and in the charming little blue Omphalodes verna, provided it is given a cool, moist, shady spot with other shade-lovers, such as many anemones (blanda, hepatica, etc.), hardy cyclamens (Coum, Europaeum etc.), American cowslips (dodecatheons, especially integrifolium and Meadia), the fumitories (Corydalis), some of which are responsive in shade almost to the extent of weediness, the epimediums with beautiful foliage, Orobus vernus, the mossy saxifrages, the graceful Tiarella cordifolia, the white wood lily (Trillium grandiflorum), Sisyrinchium grandiflorum, and other shade-lovers. Under the stimulus of success with accommodating plants one can go on hopefully to the more difficult gems.