Letters From A Little Garden by Juliana Horatia Ewing

Story type: Literature


“All is fine that is fit.”–Old Proverb.


When, with the touching confidence of youth that your elders have made-up as well as grown-up minds on all subjects, you asked my opinion on Ribbon-gardening, the above proverb came into my head, to the relief of its natural tendency to see an inconvenient number of sides to every question. The more I reflect upon it, the more I am convinced it is a comfortably compact confession of my faith on all matters decorative, and thence on the decoration of gardens.

I take some credit to myself for having the courage of my moderation, since you obviously expect a more sweeping reply. The bedding-out system is in bad odor just now; and you ask, “Wasn’t it hideous?” and “Wasn’t it hateful?” and “Will it ever come into fashion again, to the re-extermination of the dear old-fashioned flowers which we are now slowly, and with pains, recalling from banishment?”

To discover one’s own deliberate opinion upon a subject is not always easy–prophetic opinions one must refuse to offer. But I feel no doubt whatever that the good lady who shall coddle this little garden at some distant date after me will be quite as fond of her borders as I am of mine; and I suspect that these will be about as like each other as our respective best bonnets.

The annals of Fashion must always be full of funny stories. I know two of the best amateur gardeners of the day; they are father and son. The father, living and gardening still (he sent me a specimen lily lately by parcel post, and is beholden to no one for help, either with packing or addressing, in his constant use of this new convenience), is making good way between ninety and a hundred years of age. What we call old-fashioned flowers were the pets of his youth. About the time when ribbon-bordering “came in,” he changed his residence, and, in the garden where he had cultivated countless kinds of perennials, his son reigned in his stead. The horticultural taste proved hereditary, but in the younger man it took the impress of the fashion of his day. Away went the “herbaceous stuff” on to rubbish heaps, and the borders were soon gay with geraniums, and kaleidoscopic with calceolarias. But “the whirligig of Time brings in his revenges,” and, perhaps, a real love for flowers could never, in the nature of things, have been finally satisfied by the dozen or by the score; so it came to pass that the garden is once more herbaceous, and far-famed as such. The father–a perennial gardener in more senses than one, long may he flourish!–has told me, chuckling, of many a penitential pilgrimage to the rubbish-heaps, if haply fragments could be found of the herbaceous treasures which had been so rashly cast away.

Doubtless there were many restorations. Abandoned “bedding stuff” soon perishes, but uprooted clumps of “herbaceous stuff” linger long in shady corners, and will sometimes flower pathetically on the heap where they have been thrown to rot.

I once saw a fine “Queen Anne” country house–an old one; not a modern imitation. Chippendale had made the furniture. He had worked in the house. Whether the chairs and tables were beautiful or not is a matter of taste, but they were well made and seasoned; so, like the herbaceous stuff, they were hardy. The next generation decided that they were ugly. New chairs and tables were bought, and the Chippendale “stuff” was sent up into the maids’ bedrooms, and down to the men’s. It drifted into the farmhouses and cottages on the estate. No doubt, a good deal was destroyed. The caprices of fashion are not confined to one class, and the lower classes are the more prodigal and destructive. I have seen the remains of Elizabethan bedsteads under hayricks, and untold “old oak” has fed the cottage fire. I once asked a village maiden why the people made firewood of carved armchairs, when painted pinewood, upholstered in American cloth, is, if lovelier, not so lasting. Her reply was–“They get stalled on[3] ’em.” And she added: “Maybe a man ‘ll look at an old arm chair that’s stood on t’ hearth-place as long as he can remember, and he’ll say–‘I’m fair sick o’ t’ seet o’ yon. We mun have a new ‘un for t’ Feast. I’l chop thee oop!‘”

[Footnote 3: “Stalled on”–tired of. “T’ feast”–the village feast, an annual festival and fair, for which most houses in that district are cleaned within and whitewashed without.]

Possibly some of the Chippendale chairs also fell to the hatchet and fed the flames, but most of them bore neglect as well as hardy perennials, and when Queen Anne houses and “Old Chips” came into fashion again, there was routing and rummaging from attic to cellar, in farmhouse and cottage, and the banished furniture went triumphantly back to its own place.

I first saw single dahlias in some “little gardens” in Cheshire, five or six years ago. No others had ever been cultivated there. In these quiet nooks the double dahlia was still a new-fangled flower. If the single dahlias yet hold their own, those little gardens must now find themselves in the height of the floral fashion, with the unusual luck of the conservative old woman who “wore her bonnet till the fashions came round again.”

It is such little gardens which have kept for us the Blue Primrose, the highly fragrant Summer Roses (including Rose de Meaux, and the red and copper Briar), countless beautiful varieties of Daffy-down-dillies, and all the host of sweet, various and hardy flowers which are now returning, like the Chippendale chairs, from the village to the hall.

It is still in cottage gardens chiefly that the Crown Imperial hangs its royal head. One may buy small sheaves of it in the Taunton market-place on early summer Saturdays. What a stately flower it is! and, in the paler variety of what an exquisite yellow! I always fancy Fritillaria Imperialis flava to be dressed in silk from the Flowery Land–that robe of imperial yellow which only General Gordon and the blood royal of China are entitled to wear!

“All is fine that is fit.” And is the “bedding-out” system–Ribbon-gardening–ever fit, and therefore ever fine? My little friend, I am inclined to think that it sometimes is. For long straight borders in parks and public promenades, for some terrace gardens on a large scale, viewed perhaps from windows at a considerable distance, and in a general way for pleasure grounds, ordered by professional skill, and not by an amateur gardener (which, mark you, being interpreted, is gardener for love!), the bedding-out style is good for general effect, and I think it is capable of prettier ingenuities than one often sees employed in its use. I think that, if I ever gardened in this expensive and mechanical style, I should make “arrangements,” a la Whistler, with flowers of various shades of the same color. But harmony and gradation of color always give me more pleasure than contrast.

Then, besides the fitness of the gardening to the garden, there is the fitness of the garden to its owner; and the owner must be considered from two points of view, his taste and his means. Indeed, I think it would be fair to add a third, his leisure.

Now, there are owners of big gardens and little gardens, who like to have a garden (what Englishman does not?) and like to see it gay and tidy, but who don’t know one flower from the rest. On the other hand, some scientists are acquainted with botany and learned in horticulture. They know every plant and its value, but they care little about tidiness. Cut flowers are feminine frivolities in their eyes, and they count nosegays as childish gauds, like daisy chains and cowslip balls. They are not curious in colors, and do not know which flowers are fragrant and which are scentless. For them every garden is a botanical garden. Then, many persons fully appreciate the beauty and the scent of flowers, and enjoy selecting and arranging them for a room, who can’t abide to handle a fork or meddle with mother earth.

Others again, amongst whom I number myself, love not only the lore of flowers, and the sight of them, and the fragrance of them, and the growing of them, and the picking of them, and the arranging of them, but also inherit from Father Adam a natural relish for tilling the ground from whence they were taken and to which they shall return.

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With little persons in little gardens, having also little strength and little leisure, this husbandry may not exceed the small uses of fork and trowel, but the earth-love is there, all the same. I remember once, coming among some family papers, upon an old letter from my grandmother to my grandfather. She was a clever girl (she did not outlive her youth), and the letter was natural and full of energy and point. My grandfather seems to have apologized to his bride for the disorderly state of the garden to which she was about to go home, and in reply she quaintly and vehemently congratulates herself upon this unpromising fact. For—-“I do so dearly love grubbing.” This touches another point. She was a botanist, and painted a little. So were most of the lady gardeners of her youth. The education of women was, as a rule, poor enough in those days; but a study of “the Linnean system” was among the elegant accomplishments held to “become a young woman;” and one may feel pretty sure that even a smattering of botanical knowledge, and the observation needed for third or fourth-rate flower-painting, would tend to a love of variety in beds and borders which Ribbon-gardening would by no means satisfy. Lobelia erinus speciosa does make a wonderfully smooth blue stripe in sufficient quantities, but that would not console any one who knew or had painted Lobelia cardinalis, and fulgens for the banishment of these from the garden.

I think we may dismiss Ribbon-gardening as unfit for a botanist, or for any one who happens to like grubbing, or tending his flowers.

Is it ever “fit” in a little garden?

Well, if the owner has either no taste for gardening, or no time, it may be the shortest and brightest plan to get some nurseryman near to fill the little beds and borders with spring bedding plants for spring (and let me note that this spring bedding, which is of later date than the first rage for ribbon-borders, had to draw its supplies very largely from “herbaceous stuff” myosotis, viola, aubretia, iberis, etc., and may have paved the way for the return of hardy perennials into favor), and with Tom Thumb Geranium, Blue Lobelia, and Yellow Calceolaria for the summer and autumn. These latter are most charming plants. They are very gay and persistent whilst they last, and it is not their fault that they cannot stand our winters. They are no invalids till frost comes. With my personal predilections, I like even “bedding stuff” best in variety. The varieties of what we call geraniums are many and most beautiful. I should always prefer a group of individual specimens to a band of one. And never have I seen the canary yellow of calceolarias to such advantage as in an “old-fashioned” rectory-garden in Yorkshire, where they were cunningly used as points of brilliancy at corners of beds mostly filled with “hardy herbaceous stuff.”

But there, again, one begins to spend time and taste! Let us admit that, if a little garden must be made gay by the neighboring nurseryman, it will look very bright, on the “ribbon” system, at a minimum cost of time and trouble–but not of money!

Even for a little garden, bedding plants are very expensive. For you must either use plenty, or leave it alone. A ragged ribbon-border can have no admirers.

If time and money are both lacking, and horticulture is not a hobby, divide what sum you are prepared to spend on your little garden in two. Lay out half in making good soil, and spend the rest on a limited range of hardy plants. If mother earth is well fed, and if you have got her deep down, and not a surface layer of half a foot on a substratum of builder’s rubbish, she will take care of every plant you commit to her hold. I should give up the back of the borders (if the aspect is east or south) to a few very good “perpetual” roses to cut from; dwarfs, not standards; and for the line of color in front it will be no great trouble to arrange roughly to have red, white, blue, and yellow alternately.

One of the best cheap bedders is Pink Catchfly (Silene pendula). Its rosy cushions are as neat and as lasting as Blue Lobelia. It is a hardy annual, but the plants should be autumn sown of the year before. It flowers early and long, and its place might be taken for the autumn by scarlet dwarf nasturtiums, or clumps of geranium. Pink Catchfly, Blue Forget-me-not, White Arabis, and Yellow Viola would make gay any spring border. Then to show, to last, and to cut from, few flowers rival the self-colored pansies (Viola class). Blue, white, purple, and yellow alternately, they are charming, and if in good soil, well-watered in drought, and constantly cut from, they bloom the whole summer long. And some of them are very fragrant. The secret of success with these is never to leave a flower to go to seed. They are not cut off by autumnal frosts. On the contrary, you can take them up, and divide, and reset, and send a portion to other little gardens where they are lacking.

All mine (and they have been very gay this year and very sweet) I owe to the bounty of friends who garden non sibi sed toti.

Lastly, if there is even a very little taste and time to spare, surely nothing can be so satisfactory as a garden full of such flowers as (in the words of John Parkinson) “our English ayre will permitt to be noursed up.” Bearing in mind these counsels:

Make a wise selection of hardy plants. Grow only good sorts, and of these choose what suit your soil and climate. Give them space and good feeding. Disturb the roots as little as possible, and cut the flowers constantly. Then they will be fine as well as fit.

Good-bye, Little Friend,

Yours, etc.


“The tropics may have their delights; but they have not turf, and the world without turf is a dreary desert. The original Garden of Eden could not have had such turf as one sees in England.

* * * * *

“Woman always did, from the first, make a muss in a garden.

* * * * *

“Nevertheless, what a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it.”

Pusley; or, My Summer in a Garden.–C. D. WARNER.


Do you know the little book from which these sayings are quoted? It is one you can laugh over by yourself, again and again. A very good specimen of that curious, new-world kind of wit–American humor; and also full of the truest sense of natural beauty and of gardening delights.

Mr. Warner is not complimentary to woman’s work in the garden, though he displays all the graceful deference of his countrymen to the weaker sex. In the charming dedication to his wife, whilst desiring “to acknowledge an influence which has lent half the charm to my labor,” he adds: “If I were in a court of justice, or injustice, under oath, I should not like to say that, either in the wooing days of spring, or under the suns of the summer solstice, you had been, either with hoe, rake, or miniature spade, of the least use in the garden.” Perhaps our fair cousins on the other side of the Atlantic do not grub so energetically as we do. Certainly, with us it is very common for the ladies of the family to be the practical gardeners, the master of the house caring chiefly for a good general effect, with tidy walks and grassplots, and displaying less of that almost maternal solicitude which does bring flowers to perfection.

I have sometimes thought that it would be a good division of labor in a Little Garden, if, where Joan coddles the roses and rears the seedlings, Darby would devote some of his leisure to the walks and grassplots.

Few things in one’s garden are pleasanter to one’s own eye, or gain more admiration from others, than well-kept turf. Green grass is one of the charms of the British Isles, which are emerald isles throughout, though Ireland is so par excellence. It is so much a matter of course to us that we hardly realize this till we hear or read what foreigners say about it, and also our own American and colonial cousins. We go abroad and revel in real sunshine, and come home with glowing memories to abuse our own cloudy skies; but they come from burnt-up landscapes to refresh their eyes with our perpetual green.

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Even a little grassplot well repays pains and care. If you have to make it, never use cheap seed. Buy the very best from seedsmen of repute, or you will get a conglomeration of weeds instead of a green-sward of fine grasses and white clover. Trench the ground to an even depth, tread it firm, and have light, finely-sifted soil uppermost. Sow thickly early in April, cover lightly, and protect from birds. If the soil is good, and the seed first-rate, your sward will be green the first season.

Turfs make a lawn somewhat quicker than seed. The best are cut from the road-side, but it is a hateful despoiling of one of the fairest of travellers’ joys. Those who commit this highway robbery should reckon themselves in honor bound to sow the bare places they leave behind. Some people cut the pieces eighteen inches square, some about a yard long and twelve inches wide. Cut thin, roll up like thin bread and butter. When they are laid down, fit close together, like bits of a puzzle, and roll well after laying. If they gape with shrinking, fill in between with finely sifted soil, and roll again and again.

Strictly speaking, a grassplot should be all grass, grass and a little white clover. “Soldiers” (of the plaintain type) are not to be tolerated on a lawn, but I have a weak corner for dog-daisies. I once owned a little garden in Canada, but never a dog-daisy grew there. A lady I knew had one–in a pot–sent from “Home.” But even if you have a sentimental fondness for “the pretty things” (as their botanical name signifies), and like to see their little white faces peeping out of the grass, this must not be carried too far. In some soils dog-daisies will soon devour the whole lawn.

How are they, and “soldiers,” and other weeds to be extirpated? There are many nostrums, but none so effectual as a patient digging up (with a long “daisy fork”) of plant after plant by the roots. The whole family party and any chance visitors will not be too many for the work, and, if each laborer is provided with a cast-iron back with a hinge in it, so much the better. A writer in the Garden seems to have been very successful with salt, used early in the season and with great care. He says: “After the first cutting in the spring put as much salt on each weed, through the palm of the hand, as will distinctly cover it. In two or three days, depending on the weather, they will turn brown. Those weeds that have escaped can be distinctly seen, and the operation should be repeated. The weeds thus treated die, and in about three weeks the grass will have grown, and there will not be a vestige of disturbance left. Two years ago I converted a rough pasture into a tennis-ground for six courts. Naturally the turf was a mass of rough weeds. It took three days to salt them, and the result was curiously successful.”

Another prescription is to cut off the crowns of the offending plants, and dose them with a few drops of carbolic acid.

Grass will only grow dense by constant cutting and moisture. The scythe works best when the grass is wet, and the machine when it is dry. Sweep it and roll it during the winter. Pick off stones, sticks, or anything that “has no business” on it, as you would pick “bits” off a carpet.

If grass grows rank and coarse, a dressing of sand will improve it; if it is poor and easily burned up, give it a sprinkling of soot, or guano, or wood ashes (or all three mixed) before rain. “Slops” are as welcome to parched grass as to half-starved flowers. If the weather is hot and the soil light, it is well occasionally to leave the short clippings of one mowing upon the lawn to protect the roots.

I do not know if it becomes unmanageable, but, in moderation, I think chamomile a very charming intruder on a lawn, and the aromatic scent which it yields to one’s tread to be very grateful in the open air. It is pleasant, too, to have a knoll or a bank somewhere, where thyme can grow among the grass. But the subject of flowers that grow well through grass is a large one. It is one also on which the members of our Parkinson Society would do kindly to give us any exceptional experiences, especially in reference to flowers which not only flourish among grass, but do not resent being mown down. The lovely blue windflower (Anemone Apennina), is, I believe, one of these.

There is no doubt that now and then plants prefer to meet with a little resistance, and despise a bed that is made too comfortable. Self-sown ones often come up much more vigorously through the hard path than when the seed has fallen within the border. The way to grow the parsley fern is said to be to clap a good big stone on his crown very early in the spring, and let him struggle out at all corners from underneath it. It is undoubtedly a comfort to rock-plants and creeping things to be planted with a stone over their feet to keep them cool!

Which reminds me of stones for bordering. I think they make the best of all edgings for a Little Garden. Box-edgings are the prettiest, but they are expensive, require good keeping, and harbor slugs. For that matter, most things seem to harbor slugs in any but a very dry climate, and there are even more prescriptions for their destruction than that of lawn weeds. I don’t think lime does much, nor soot. Wet soon slakes them. Thick slices of turnip are attractive. Slugs really do seem to like them, even better than one’s favorite seedlings. Little heaps of bran also, and young lettuces. My slugs do not care for cabbage leaves, and they are very untidy. Put thick slices of turnip near your auriculas, favorite primroses and polyanthuses, and Christmas roses, and near anything tender and not well established, and overhaul them early in the morning. “You can’t get up too early, if you have a garden,” says Mr. Warner; and he adds: “Things appear to go on in the night in the garden uncommonly. It would be less trouble to stay up than it is to get up so early!”

To return to stone edgings. When quite newly laid, like miniature rockwork, they are, perhaps, the least bit cockneyfied, and suggestive of something between oyster-shell borderings and mock ruins. But this effect very rapidly disappears as they bury themselves in cushions of pink catch-fly (v. compacta), or low-growing pinks, tiny campanulas, yellow viola, London pride, and the vast variety of rock-plants, “alpines,” and low-growing “herbaceous stuff,” which delight in squeezing up to a big cool stone that will keep a little moisture for their rootlets in hot summer weather. This is a much more interesting kind of edging than any one kind of plant can make, I think, and in a Little Garden it is like an additional border, leaving the other free for bigger plants. If one kind is preferred, for a light soil there is nothing like thrift. And the white thrift is very silvery and more beautiful than the pink. There is a large thrift, too, which is handsome. But I prefer stones, and I like varieties of color–bits of gray boulder, and red and yellow sandstone.

I like warm color also on the walks. I should always have red walks if I could afford them. There is a red material, the result of some process of burning, which we used to get in the iron and coal districts of Yorkshire, which I used to think very pretty, but I do not know what it is called.

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Good walks are a great luxury. It is a wise economy to go round your walks after rain and look for little puddles; make a note of where the water lodges and fill it up. Keep gratings swept. If the grating is free and there is an overflow not to be accounted for, it is very possible that a drain-pipe somewhere is choke-full of the roots of some tree.

Some people advise hacking up your walks from time to time, and other people advise you not. Some people say there is nothing like salt to destroy walk weeds and moss, and brighten the gravel, and some people say that salt in the long run feeds the ground and the weeds. I am disposed to think that, in a Little Garden, there is nothing like a weeding woman with an old knife and a little salt afterwards. It is also advisable to be your own weeding woman, that you may be sure that the weeds come up by the roots! Next to the cast-iron back before mentioned, I recommend a housemaid’s kneeling mat (such as is used for scrubbing floors), as a gardener’s comfort.

I hope, if you have been bulb planting, that you got them all in by Lord Mayor’s Day. Whether bulbs should be planted deep or shallow is another “vexed question.” In a Little Garden, where you don’t want to disturb them, and may like to plant out some small rooted annuals on the top of them later on, I should plant deep.

If you are planting roses, remember that two or three, carefully planted in good stuff that goes deep, will pay you better than six times the number stuck into a hole in cold clay or sand or builders’ rubbish, and left to push their rootlets as best they can, or perish in the attempt. Spread out these rootlets very tenderly when planting. You will reap the reward of your gentleness in flowers. Rose roots don’t like being squeezed, like a Chinese lady’s feet. I was taught this by one who knows,–He has a good name for the briar suckers and sprouts which I hope you carefully cut off from your grafted roses,–He calls it “the old Adam!”

Yours, etc.


A good rule
Is a good tool.


January is not a month in which you are likely to be doing much in your little garden. Possibly a wet blanket of snow lies thick and white over all its hopes and anxieties. No doubt you made all tidy, and some things warm, for the winter, in the delicious opportunities of S. Luke’s and S. Martin’s little summers, and, like the amusing American I told you of, “turned away writing resurgam on the gate-post.”

I write resurgam on labels, and put them wherever bulbs lie buried, or such herbaceous treasures as die down, and are, in consequence, too often treated as mere mortal remains of the departed, by the undiscriminating hand of the jobbing gardener.

Winter is a good time to make plans, and to put them down in your Garden-book. Have you a Garden-book? A note-book, I mean, devoted to garden memoranda. It is a very useful kind of commonplace book, and soon becomes as fascinating as autumn and spring catalogues.

One has to learn to manage even a Little Garden chiefly by experience, which is slow teaching, if sure. Books and gardeners are helpful; but, like other doctors, they differ. I think one is often slower to learn anything than one need be, from not making at once for first principles. If one knew more of these, it would be easier to apply one’s own experience, and to decide amid conflicting advice.

Here are a few rough and ready “first principles” for you.

Hardy flowers in hedges and ditches are partly fed, and are also covered from cold and heat, and winds, and drought, by fallen leaves and refuse. Hardy flowers in gardens have all this tidied away from them, and, being left somewhat hungry and naked in proportion, are all the better for an occasional top-dressing and mulching, especially in autumn. It is not absolutely necessary to turn a flower border upside down and dig it over every year. It may (for some years at any rate), if you find this more convenient, be treated on the hedge system, and fed from the top; thinning big clumps, pulling up weeds, moving and removing in detail.

Concentrated strength means large blooms. If a plant is ripening seed, some strength goes to that; if bursting into many blooms, some goes to each of them; if it is trying to hold up against blustering winds, or to thrive on exhausted ground, or to straighten out cramped and clogged roots, these struggles also demand strength. Moral: Plant carefully, support your tall plants, keep all your plants in easy circumstances, don’t put them to the trouble of ripening seed (unless you specially want it). To this end cut off fading flowers, and also cut off buds in places where they would not show well when they came out, and all this economized strength will go into the blossoms that remain.

You cannot grow everything. Grow what suits your soil and climate, and the best kinds of these, as well as you can. You may make soil to suit a plant, but you cannot make the climate to suit it, and some flowers are more fastidious about the air they breathe than about the soil they feed upon. There are, however, scores of sturdy, handsome flowers, as hardy as highlanders, which will thrive in almost any soil, and under all the variations of climate of the British Isles. Some will even endure the smoke-laden atmosphere of towns and town suburbs; which, sooner or later, is certain death to so many. It is a pity that small florists and greengrocers in London do not know more about this; and it would be a great act of kindness to them and to their customers to instruct them. Then, instead of encouraging the ruthless slaughter of primroses, scores and hundreds of plants of which are torn up and then sold in a smoky atmosphere to which they never adapt themselves, these small shopkeepers might offer plants of the many beautiful varieties of poppies, from the grand Orientalis onwards, chrysanthemums, stocks, wall-flowers, Canterbury bells, salvias, oenotheras, snapdragons, perennial lobelias, iris, and other plants which are known to be very patient under a long course of soot. Most of the hardy California annuals bear town life well. Perhaps because they have only to bear it for a year. Convolvulus major–the Morning Glory, as our American cousins so prettily call it–flourishes on a smutty wall as generously as the Virginian creeper.

North borders are safest in winter. They are free from the dangerous alternation of sunshine and frost. Put things of doubtful hardihood under a north wall, with plenty of sandy soil or ashes over their roots, some cinders on that, and perhaps a little light protection, like bracken, in front of them, and their chances will not be bad. Apropos to tender things, if your little garden is in a cold part of the British Isles, and has ungenial conditions of soil and aspect, don’t try to keep tender things out of doors in winter; but, if it is in the south or west of the British Isles, I should be tempted to very wide experiments with lots of plants not commonly reckoned “hardy.” Where laurels flower freely you will probably be successful eight years out of ten. Most fuchsias, and tender things which die down, may be kept.

Very little will keep Jack Frost out, if he has not yet been in, either in the garden or the house. A “hot bottle” will keep frost out of a small room where one has stored geraniums, etc., so will a small paraffin lamp (which–N. B.–will also keep water-pipes from catastrophe). How I have toiled, in my young days, with these same hot water bottles in a cupboard off the nursery, which was my nearest approach to a greenhouse! And how sadly I have experienced that where Mr. Frost goes out Mr. Mould is apt to slink in! Truly, as Mr. Warner says, “the gardener needs all the consolations of a high philosophy!”

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It is a great satisfaction if things will live out of doors. And in a little garden a good deal of coddling may be done. I am going to get some round fruit hampers to turn over certain tender pets this winter. When one has one’s flowers by the specimen and not by the score, such cossetting is possible. Ashes and cinders are excellent protection for the roots, and for plants–like roses–which do not die back to the earth level, and which sometimes require a screen as well as a quilt; bracken, fir branches, a few pea sticks, and matting or straw are all handy helps. The old gentleman who ran out–without his dressing gown–to fling his own bed-quilt over some plants endangered by an unexpected frost, came very near to having a fine show of bloom and not being there to see it; but, short of this excessive zeal, when one’s garden is a little one, and close to one’s threshold, one may catch Jack Frost on the surface of many bits of rough and ready fencing on very cold nights.

In drought, one good soaking with tepid water is worth six sprinklings. Watering is very fatiguing, but it is unskilled labor, and one ought to be able to hire strong arms to do it at a small rate. But I never met the hired person yet who could be persuaded that it was needful to do more than make the surface of the ground look as if it had been raining.

There is a “first principle” of which some gardeners are very fond, but in which I do not believe, that if you begin to water you must go on, and that too few waterings do harm. What I don’t believe is that they do harm, nor did I ever meet with a gardener who complained of an odd shower, even if the skies did not follow it up. An odd sprinkling does next to no good, but an odd soaking may save the lives of your plants. In very hot weather don’t grudge a few waterings to your polyanthuses and primroses. If they are planted in open sunny borders with no shade or hedge-mulching, they suffer greatly from drought.

Flowers, like human beings, are, to some extent, creatures of habit. They get used to many things which they can’t at all abide once in a way. If your little garden (like mine) is part of a wandering establishment, here to-day and there to-morrow, you may get even your roses into very good habits of moving good humoredly, and making themselves quickly at home. If plants from the first are accustomed to being moved about,–every year, or two years,–they do not greatly resent it. A real “old resident,” who has pushed his rootlets far and wide, and never tried any other soil or aspect, is very slow to settle elsewhere, even if he does not die of nostalgia and nervous shock! In making cuttings, consider the habits and customs of the parent plant. If it has been grown in heat, the cuttings will require heat to start them. And so on, as to dry soil or moist, etc. If somebody gives you “a root” in hot weather, or a bad time for moving, when you have made your hole pour water in very freely. Saturate the ground below, “puddle in” your plants with plenty more, and you will probably save it, especially if you turn a pot or basket over it in the heat of the day. In warm weather plant in the evening, the new-comers then have a round of the clock in dews and restfulness before the sun is fierce enough to make them flag. In cold weather move to the morning, and for the same period they will be safe from possible frost. Little, if any, watering is needed for late autumn plantings.

Those parts of a plant which are not accustomed to exposure are those which suffer from it. You may garden bare-handed in a cold wind and not be the worse for it, but, if both your arms were bared to the shoulders, the consequences would probably be very different. A bundle of rose-trees or shrubs will bear a good deal on their leaves and branches, but for every moment you leave their roots exposed to drying and chilling blasts they suffer. When a plant is out of the ground, protect its crown and its roots at once. If a plant is moved quickly, it is advantageous, of course, to take it up with as much earth as possible, if the roots remain undisturbed in their little plat. Otherwise, earth is no better than any other protection; and in sending plants by post, etc. (when soil weighs very heavily), it is better to wash every bit of soil out of the roots, and then thoroughly wrap them in moss, and outside that in hay or tow, or cotton wool. Then, if the roots are comfortably spread in nice mould at the other end of the journey, all should go well.

I reserve a sneaking credulity about “lucky-fingers.” Or rather, I should say, a belief that some people have a strange power (or tact) in dealing with the vegetable world, as others have in controlling and coaxing animals.

It is a vivid memory of my childhood that (amongst the box-edged gardens of a family of eight), that of my eldest brother was almost inconvenienced by the luck of his fingers. “Survival of the fittest” (if hardiest does mean fittest!) kept the others within bounds; but what he begged, borrowed, and stole, survived, all of it, conglomerate around the “double velvet” rose, which formed the centrepiece. We used to say that when the top layer was pared off, a buried crop came up.

An old friend with lucky fingers visited my Little Garden this autumn. He wanders all over the world, and has no garden of his own except window-boxes in London, where he seems to grow what he pleases. He is constantly doing kindnesses, and likes to do them his own way. He christened a border (out of which I had not then turned the builders’ rubbish) Desolation Border, with more candor than compliment. He said it wanted flowers, and he meant to sow some. I suggested that, sown at that period of the summer, they would not flower this season. He said they would. (They did.) None of my suggestions met with favor, so I became gratefully passive, and watched the lucky fingers from a distance, fluttering small papers, and making mystic deposits here and there, through the length and breadth of the garden. I only begged him to avoid my labels. The seeds he sowed ranged from three (rather old) seeds of bottle gourd to a packet of mixed Virginian stock. They all came up. He said, “I shall put them in where I think it is desirable, and when they come up you’ll see where they are.” I did.

For some days after his departure, on other country visits, I received plants by post. Not in tins, or boxes, but in envelopes with little or no packing. In this way came sea lavender in full bloom, crimson monkey plant from the London window box, and cuttings of mesembryanthemum. They are all alive and thriving.

The bottle gourd and the annuals have had their day, and it is over; but in the most unexpected places there still rise, like ghosts, certain plants which completely puzzle me.[4] They have not blossomed, but they grow on in spite of frost. Some of them are nearly as tall as myself. They almost alarm me when I am dividing violas, and trifling with Alpines. They stand over me (without sticks) and seem to say, “We are up, you see where we are! We shall grow as long as we think it desirable.”

Farewell for the present, Little Friend,

Yours, etc.

[Footnote 4: When fully grown these plants proved to be the Tree-Mallow, Lavatera arborea, the seeds were gathered from specimens on the shores of the Mediterranean.]


When Candlemas Day is come and gone,
The snow lies on a hot stone.–Old Saw.


Among all the changes and chances of human life which go to make up fiction as well as fact, there is one change which has never chanced to any man; and yet the idea has been found so fascinating by all men that it appears in the literature of every country. Most other fancied transformations are recorded as facts somewhere in the history of our race. Poor men have become rich, the beggar has sat among princes, the sick have been made whole, the dead have been raised, the neglected man has awoke to find himself famous, rough and kindly beasts have been charmed by lovely ladies into very passable Princes, and it would be hard to say that the ugly have not seen themselves beautiful in the mirror of friendly eyes; but the old have never become young. The elixir of youth has intoxicated the imagination of many, but no drop of it has ever passed human lips.

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If we ever do just taste anything of the vital, hopeful rapture, the elastic delight of the old man of a fairy tale, who leaves his cares, his crutches, and his chimney-corner, to go forth again young amongst the young,–it is when the winter is ended and the spring is come. Some people may feel this rising of the sap of life within them more than others, but there are probably very few persons whom the first mild airs and bursting buds and pushing flower-crowns do not slightly intoxicate with a sort of triumphant pleasure.

What then, dear little friend, must be the February feelings of the owner of a Little Garden? Knowing, as we do, every plant and its place,–having taken just pride in its summer bloom,–having preserved this by cares and trimmings and proppings to a picturesque and florid autumn, though wild flowers have long been shrivelled and shapeless,–having tidied it up and put a little something comforting round it when bloom and outline were absolutely no more: what must we feel when we first detect the ruddy young shoots of our favorite peonies, or perceive that the brown old hepaticas have become green and young again and are full of flower-buds?

The process of strolling, with bent back and peering eyes, by the side of the still frosty borders is so deeply interesting, and a very little sunshine on a broad band of crocuses has such a summer-like effect, that one is apt to forget that it is one of the cheapest ways of catching cold. The last days of the gardening year not unfrequently lead from the flower-bed to the sick-bed. But though there is for susceptible folk a noxious influence in the decaying vegetation of autumn, from which spring is free, there is bitter treachery in many a spring wind, and the damp of the ground seems to reek with the exuding chill of all the frosts that have bound it in mid-winter.

I often wonder that, for some exigencies of weather, outdoor red-flannel knickerbockers which one wears in Canada are not more in use here. The very small children have all their clothes stuffed into them, and tumble safely about in the snow like little Dutchmen. Older wearers of petticoats cram all in except the outermost skirt. It is a very simple garment made of three pieces,–two (straight) legs and a large square. The square is folded like a kerchief, and the leg pieces attached to the two sloping sides. A broad elastic and small openings on each side and at the top enable these very baggy knickerbockers to be easily pulled on for going out (where they effectually exclude cold exhalations from snow or damp ground), and pulled off on coming in.

Short of such coddling as this, I strongly urge fleecy cork socks inside your garden boots; and I may add that if you’ve never tried them, you can have no idea of the warmth and comfort of a pair of boy’s common yellow-leather leggings, but the buttons will require some adjusting.

Of course, very robust gardeners are independent of these troublesome considerations; but the gardening members of a family, whether young or old, are very often not those vigorous people who can enjoy their fresh air at unlimited tennis or a real good stretching walk over the hills. They are oftener those weaker vessels who have to be content with strolls, and drives, and sketching, and “pottering about the garden.”

Now, pottering about the garden in spring and autumn has many risks for feeble vitalities, and yet these are just the seasons when everything requires doing, and there is a good hour’s work in every yard of a pet border any day. So verbum sap. One has to “pay with one’s person” for most of one’s pleasures, if one is delicate; but it is possible to do a great deal of equinoctial grubbing with safety and even benefit, if one is very warmly protected, especially about the feet and legs. These details are very tedious for young people, but not so tedious as being kept indoors by a cold.

And not only must delicate gardeners be cossetted with little advantages at these uncertain seasons, the less robust of the flowers gain equally by timely care. Jack Frost comes and goes, and leaves many plants (especially those planted the previous autumn) half jumped out of the ground. Look out for this, and tread them firmly in again. A shovel-full of cinder-siftings is a most timely attention round the young shoots of such as are poking up their noses a little too early, and seem likely to get them frost-bitten. Most alpines and low-growing stuff will bear light rolling after the frost has unsettled them. This is done in large gardens, but in a Little Garden they can be attended to individually. Give a little protection to what is too forward in growth, or badly placed, or of doubtful hardihood, or newly planted. Roses and hardy perennials can be planted in open weather.

But you will not really be very busy outside till March, and we are not concerning ourselves with what has to be done “in heat,” where a good deal is going on.

Still, in mild climates or seasons (and one must always remember how greatly the British Isles vary in parts, as to climate), the idea of seedlings and cuttings will begin to stir our souls, when February “fills dike,” if it is “with black and not with white,” i. e., with rain and not snow. So I will just say that for a Little Garden, and a mixed garden, demanding patches, not scores of things, you can raise a wonderfully sufficient number of half-hardy things in an ordinary room, with one or two bell-glasses to give the moist atmosphere in which sitting-rooms are wanting. A common tumbler will cover a dozen “seedlings,” and there you have two nice little clumps of half a dozen plants each, when they are put out. (And mind you leave them space to spread.) A lot of little cuttings can be rooted in wet sand. Hardwooded cuttings may grow along slowly in cool places; little juicy soft ones need warmth, damp, and quick pushing forward. The very tips of fuchsias grow very easily struck early in wet sand, and will flower the same year. Kind friends will give you these, and if they will also give you “tips” of white, yellow, and blue Marguerites (this last is Agathea celestis), these strike as easily as chrysanthemums, and are delightful afterwards to cut from. They are not very tender, though not quite hardy.

For the few pots and pans and boxes of cuttings and seedlings which you require, it is well worth while to get a small stock of good compost from a nursery gardener; leaf mould, peat, and sand, whether for seedlings or cuttings. Always sink your pot in a second covering. Either have your pots sunk in a box of sand, which you can keep damp, or have small pots sunk in larger ones. A great coat to prevent evaporation, in some shape, is invaluable.

Yours, etc.,

J. H. E.

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