The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

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

by S. Armitt.
Volume 12, no. 9, 1901, pgs. 884-886

No. 9

"The principal value of a private garden is not understood. It is not to give the possessor vegetables and fruit (that can be better and cheaper done by the market gardener), but to teach him patience and philosophy, and the higher virtues—hope deferred and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation and sometimes alienation. The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of character, as it was in the beginning."— My Summer in a Garden (Chas. Dudley Warner).

I came into possession of my garden when it was in a very wild state. An originally good garden, full of good things, it had been neglected for years; its former owner had been a summer resident only, coming to it for a month or two at a time, so it had been superficially cleared out and tidied up just for those times alone, and for the rest of the years, all things had been left to their own rambling devices. The creepers had lost their hold upon the walls and were prostrate at the base, bindweed had got among them and enveloped them. The Box borders had grown to be two feet high; the fern beds had been invaded and choked by yellow Welsh Poppy; the rockeries were mere masses of Rose of Sharon and the Greater Periwinkle. Shrubs had grown into trees beyond cutting back, and compelling removal. What a task it seemed to begin upon this chaos! and we knew not what the good things were that might get destroyed, nor where they were—and some of them did get destroyed in the inevitable clearing out. The creepers took some years to get righted, for they had grown stiff and strong in their recumbency and broke continually when erected; the removal of the bindweed disturbed their root growth continually, for it sprang from earth again and again, half an inch of its root left in the soil springing into life and needing a new and deep digging up; it was three years quite before it was finally vanquished, and still longer before the Roses and Jessamines and Clematis got up to any considerable height on the walls. Among the creepers that I thus came into possession of was one very good thing uninjured by neglect—a yellow Chrysanthemum that all November through, and every November, makes a brightness on that wall, just a mass of golden flowers; since it dies to the ground in severe winters, and achieves its eight or nine feet of height in spring and summer growth, it is practically a new plant each year, at least that part of it which is above ground. It is easily kept in order behind wide-meshed wire netting which, masked by leaves and flowers, is practically invisible. Of course it would grow out between the meshes if it were allowed, a little gentle pushing back every two or three days keeps it quite in order, while as much as a fortnight's neglect is not irretrievable disaster. A coarse Virginian creeper had alone any considerable height in those first years, and so it was valuable, but in autumn it was disappointing, as it did not turn a bright or good colour, and its leaves dropped early. A friendly neighbour suggested that the Virginian creeper be removed, and I have been grateful for the support that suggestion gave to my decision. So, when the roses and other things were high enough, that creeper was sawn off; the roots could not have been removed without interfering unduly with much besides; of course it sprouted again, but the young green sappy shoots were removed as they came. A great and unexpected change came to the whole of that bed skirting the side of the house where the Virginian creeper had been; hitherto it had always been dry and parched, it seemed as if the rain never fell there owing to the eaves of the house, and the neighbouring roses were watered invariably twice a day, night and morning, and still the bed was always dry; after cutting down the Virginian creeper, that watering had to be stopped at once, for that bed henceforth was no drier than the rest of the garden; it had simply been the home of a great water consumer, and all the rest of the plants located there had suffered thirst.

What a great process was the digging up of the overgrown Box edging, the pulling of it all to pieces and the setting together again of the smaller fragments, and the eventual burning of the larger masses! Well clipped each spring, the Box borders last long; I thought I must re-divide after four years, but it was not done, as after four, or even five years, it seemed still unnecessary. The books recommend the planting of Box in September, but March or early April will do equally well; the clipping should be done in June, with a little supplementary snipping later on as may be needed. The Box edgings are no new things, they date from the great Elizabethan age of gardening, and were used for enclosing what were then called "open knots." Shakespeare speaks of the "curiously knotted garden," and all books of that time give designs for "knots," or beds as we call them now. Parkinson recommends "French or Dutch Box chiefly and above all other herbs, such as Thrift, Germander, Marjerome, Savorie," because not so liable to overgrow the beds and distort the pattern, and because it stands better the frost and snow in winter and the drought in summer. Besides all this, Box edgings are so green and cheerful all the winter through. One difficulty with them is that seedling plants spring up in their crannies and are not easy to remove. They do not always restrain the plants they enclose, the Oak Fern escapes through easily, and the Box suffers, being of lower growth in all the region where the Fern passes through it and invades the walk.

There was a rockery, or what had once been a rockery, but the rocks thereof were now entirely obliterated by a dense mass of Rose of Sharon, mixed up with the Greater Periwinkle. All that rockery was pulled to pieces, the great blocks of white stone removed, and the soil below and about dug out to get rid of the roots of these two greedy space devourers; the debris thereof was heaped up and burnt. It seemed to be thoroughly well done, and yet there must have been some scrap of root of Rose of Sharon left in, for next year it came again, and from so deep that it was not feasible, without damage to the newly planted and growing things, to upset again and get it out. Ever since we have been fighting that plant, cutting it off, pulling it up and reducing it as far as may be without entire reconstruction of that part; but we are no match for its strong and persistent growth; every year it is a little larger than the last, and the time is not far distant when we must try again the deep digging and disturb all its neighbourhood or be vanquished and leave it to reign alone on the rockery. The Periwinkle, too, came again in one spot, but that perpetual cutting back is successfully kept to its one spot.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, Mar 2009