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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Garden Gossip

by S. Armitt.
Volume 12, no. 9, 1901, pgs. 965-967


No. 10

At the end of the first rearrangement, when the garden was cleansed from choking weeds and all the roots and bulbs which could be found were put back in their places, one had to wait patiently and see what they might be, since it was no use to plant things which might already be there, or to add others that might be incongruous to them. Some damage was certainly done in the great clearing away. Afterwards, people who knew the place before my time pointed out where there had been a lot of Adder's Tongue and Moonwort ferns. If I had known that before, we would have tried to save them. Happily, the Adder's Tongue came again, but the Moonwort never did. The spot where Fritillaries had flourished never knew them more, though one would have supposed that the bulbs would have borne lifting and replacing. I have since introduced them into other parts of the garden, but they have not thriven, and the reason is still to be discovered. The agent who let the place had indicated a triangular bed where there had been something very good indeed, but he could not remember what it was! Groups of long stemless leaves emerged from the ground, like huge Hyacinth leaves, but wider and much longer. Flower stems arose from their midst, strong, succulently stiff, studded thick with dark flower buds on all the upper part. They grew two or three feet high, and still higher; white streaks appeared in the dark buds. We all wondered and asked everyone likely to know what they could be, and no one seemed to recognise these strange forms. At last, and long before the flowers opened, it came suddenly to the gardener, and she wondered why she had not seen it sooner; only it was not as garden plants that they had been seen before or in leafy summer, but in the Greek temples at Paestum, and in early March, for these were splendid specimens of Asphodel—the flowers of Death—and growing far finer in a northern garden than in their southern home. I believe the species is Asphodelus ramosus. It mounts up six feet high, its graceful spikes well thrown up by a background of dark Yew. In June days it has been called the queen of the garden. It forms fruit here: orange and red spheres bigger than currants, that look like berries, but are not succulent; and I believe that it seeds itself, for it has appeared recently in a spot that knew it not before. There is a big plant of it in so shady a nook that it never flowers, and it would have been given away long ago but that the digging up is so great a task from the depth to which it grows.

Close to the clump of Asphodel is another important plant that reigns supreme in October and November days, Pampas Grass, Gynerium argenteum, in flowering-time even taller than Asphodel, and thrown up by the same somber background of Yew. What space it takes with its narrow arching leaves, serrated and sharp as a saw! I try to restrain their spreading proclivities by a fine wire some one or two feet above ground. In April or May a long morning may be well spent in patiently cutting out one by one the old and browning canes to set the new ones free from the untidy débris of last year's growth. Living in a spot that is shady in late summer and autumn, this plant sends up sprays of bloom that excel in size rather than number. It sends out offsets too: a smaller plant appearing at the side every other year or so. When moved away, one of these quickly surpassed the parent, as young things are apt to do; but situation may also have had something to do with the production of more numerous flower spikes.

The latest of the garden books, Miss [Gertrude] Jekyll's Wall and Water Gardens, is full of beautiful illustrations: so numerous are they that one is tempted to think that the pictures were the foundation of the work, and had to be written up to. It has been a rather humiliating experience to find how many of these commended plants have been possessed and lost. Linaria hepaticaefolia and Arenaria balearica are referred to again and again, and I have had them both, and both in a flourishing state have spread themselves over much new space, only, alas, to disappear the following year! This has happened not in my garden only, but in another one a mile away. I think these tiny surface creepers like new ground and eagerly spread over it in their favourite situations, then next year or the year after they have used it up and appear no more. There is a good chapter on "How to let well alone." That is a quiescent state difficult to maintain. When one comes into possession of a new garden, one is so full of one's own ideas and so eager to realize them. The joy of action is greater than that of restful appreciation, and so has been spoilt more than one fine old garden.

Another of the many many books on gardens, The Praise of Gardens, [by Albert F. Sieveking] is an epitome of the literature of the garden art, a work not "now for the first time set adrift upon the flowing tide of garden literature, old or new, but one that made a first appearance fifteen years ago almost as a pioneer in the revival of garden books." Beginning with portions of an Egyptian manuscript of the 19th dynasty, about B.C. 1300, with Solomon, with Homer, with Xenophon, it runs through the whole gamut of the unknown and the well-known. A book for a long winter evening, when there is time to wonder at the antiquity, the unchanging ways of human thought and deed, and how there is no new thing under the sun. In a book that is made up of that which is old and of that which is new, the maturer mind turns instinctively to the well-known passages to enjoy them again, and so to Bacon's classic words of some three hundred years ago: "God Almighty first planted a garden; and indeed it is the purest of humane pleasures. It is the greatest refreshment to the spirit of man, without which buildings and palaces are but gross handy-works. And a man shall ever see, that when ages grow to civility and elegancy, men come to build stately, sooner than to garden finely; as if gardening were the greater perfection."

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, Feb 2009