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The Well Considered Garden
"The simple magic of color for its own sake can never be displaced, yet a garden in the highest sense means more than this." — E. V. B.
THE broadest consideration of color in gardening would turn our minds to the general color effect of a garden in relation to its large setting of country. Was it not Ruskin who, in spite of his rages at the average mid-Victorian garden, said that gardens as well as houses should be of a general color to harmonize with the surrounding country — certain tones for the simple blue country of England, others for the colder gray country of Italy? Never was sounder color advice given than that contained in the following lines from one of the Oxford Lectures: "Bluish purple is the only flower color which nature ever used in masses of distant effect; this, however, she does in the case of most heathers — with the rhododendron (ferrugineum), and less extensively with the colder color of the wood hyacinth; accordingly, the large rhododendron may be used to almost any extent in masses; the pale varieties of the rose more sparingly, and on the turf the wild violet and the pansy should be sown by chance, so that they may grow in undulations of color, and should be relieved by a few primroses."
There never was so rich a time as the present for the great quantity of material available for use in the study of garden color. The range of tones in flowers to-day is almost measureless. Never before were seen pinks of such richness, such deep velvetlike violets, delicate buffs and salmons, actual blues, vivid orange tones, pale beautiful lavenders. Through the magic of the hybridizers we are to-day without excuse for ugliness in the garden. The horticultural palette is furnished forth indeed. Take perennial phloxes alone: for rich violet-purple we have Lord Rayleigh; for the redder purple, Von Hochberg; for the lavenders which should be used with these, E. Danzanvilliers and Antonin Mercie; for whites, the wondrous von Lassburg and the low but effective Tapis Blanc; while in the list of vivid or delicate pinks not one of these is unworthy of a place in the finest gardens: T. A. Strohlein, Gruppen, Königin, General von Heutz, Selma, Bridesmaid, General Chanzy, Jules Cambon, and Elizabeth Campbell (already an established favorite in England and now offered in America); Ellen Willmott, too, a pale-gray phlox, should be immensely useful.
I have to confess to a faint prejudice against stripes, flakes, or eyes in phloxes, principally because, as a rule, the best effects in color groupings are obtained by the use of flowers of clear, solid tones — otherwise one cannot count upon the result of one's planning. With the eye, an unexpected element enters into our composition.
Among irises what a possible range of color pictures in lavenders, blues, bronzes, yellows, springs up to the mind's eye with the very mention of the flower's musical name! The immense choice of species and varieties, the difference in form and height, and more notably the unending number of their lovely hues, make the iris family a true treasure-house for the good flower gardener. The first-comer of our spring iris festival is the shy, stiff Iris reticulata of four inches; the last of the lovely guests is the great white English iris of four feet; and those showing themselves between the opening and closing days of iris time are of many nations — German, Japanese, Siberian, English, Dutch.
Tulips, so highly developed in our day, present a wonderful field of color from which to choose; so does the dahlia tribe. It is easy to see that the glaring faults in color planting in our gardens are not due to lack of good material.
The question of absolute color is a very nice question indeed, and reminds one of the old proverb of one man's meat being another man's poison. We cannot say that a given color is ugly. Its beauty or lack of beauty depends upon its relation to other colors. To announce that one dislikes mauve is not to prove mauve unbeautiful. Most of us who have prejudices against a certain color would be amazed at the effect upon our color sense of the offensive hue when judiciously used with correlated tones. For instance, what commoner than to hear this exclamation as one wanders in an August garden where a clump of tall phloxes have reverted to the magenta, despised of most of us, and where the hostess's shears have been spared, to the spoiling of the garden: "What a horrible color has that phlox taken on!" But take that same group of flowering stems another year, back it by the pale spires of Physostegia Virginica rosea, see that the phlox Lord Rayleigh blooms beside it, that a good lavender like Antonin Mercie is hard by, let some masses of rich purple petunia have their will below, with perhaps the flat panicles of large-flowered white verbena, a few spikes of the gladiolus Baron Hulot, and some trusses of a pinkish-lavender heliotrope judiciously disposed, and lo! the ugliness of the magenta phlox has been transmuted into a positive beauty and become an active agent toward the loveliness of the whole picture.
What a lucky thing for us delvers into plant and seed lists if the color tests of railways — on a more elaborate and delicate scale, to be sure — could be applied to the eyes of the writers of color descriptions for these publications! The only available guide to the absolute color of flowers of which I happen to know is the "Repertoire de Couleurs," published by the Chrysanthemum Society of France. Of this there is soon to be published a pocket edition; and the American Gladiolus Society has a somewhat similar project under consideration. Here we have in the French publication a criterion, a standard; and if this were oftener consulted the gardening world of this country would be working on a much higher plane than is the case to-day.
So much for the range of color in our flower gardens, for the relative and absolute values of flower colors; but what of the abuse of these things? May I give an instance? Not long since there came to my eye that which it is always my delight to see, the landscape architect's plan of a fine Italian garden. For the spring adornment of this garden such hyacinths and tulips were specified as at once to cause, in my mind at least, grave doubts concerning color harmonies, periods of bloom. Were certain ones early, would certain ones be late? — as, to secure a brilliantly gay effect, two or three varieties should surely flower together. For my own pleasure, I worked out a substitute set of bulbs and sent it to an authority on color in spring-growing things in this country, who thus wrote of the original plan: "In regard to the color combinations upon which you asked my comment, I can only say that they are a fair sample of how little most folks know about bulbs. In the bed of hyacinths, King of the Blues will prove quite too dark for the other colors; Perle Brillante or Electra would have been much better. In the two tulip combinations I can see no harmony at all. Keizerkroon, in my opinion, should never be planted with any other tulips. Its gaudiness is too harsh unless it is seen by itself. Furthermore, both Rose Luisante and White Swan will bloom just enough later not to be right when the others are in their prime."
Now, what is the good of our finest gardens if they are to be thus misused and the owners' taste misdirected in this fashion? We spend our money for that which is not bread.
I have a new profession to propose, a profession of specialists: it should be called that of the garden colorist. The office shall be distinct from that of the landscape architect, distinct indeed from those whose office it already is to prescribe the plants for the garden. The garden colorist shall be qualified to plant beautifully, according to color, the best-planned gardens of our best designers. It shall be his duty, first, to possess a true color instinct; second, to have had much experience in the growing of flowers, notably in the growing of varieties in form and color; third, so to make his planting plans that there shall be successive pictures of loveliness melting into each other with successive months; and last, he must pay, if possible, a weekly visit to his gardens, for no eye but his discerning one will see in them the evil and the good. This profession will doubtless have its first recruits from the ranks of women; at least, according to Mr. W. C. Egan, the color sense is far oftener the attribute of women than of men. Still, there is the art of painting to refute this argument.
Color as an aid to garden design is a matter ever present to my mind where a plan of high beauty has been adopted and already carried out. One occasionally sees a fine garden which, due to the execrable color arrangement, must of necessity be more interesting in winter than in summer. Sir William Eden's plea for the flowerless garden comes to mind:
"I have come to the conclusion that it is flowers that ruin a garden, at any rate many gardens: flowers in a cottage garden, yes, hollyhocks against a gray wall; orange lilies against a white one; white lilies against a mass of green; aubrietia and arabis and thrift to edge your walks. Delphiniums against a yew hedge, and lavender anywhere. But the delight in color, as people say, in large gardens is the offensive thing: flowers combined with shrubs and trees, the gardens of the Riviera, for instance, Cannes, and the much-praised, vulgar Monte Carlo — beds of begonias, cinerarias at the foot of a palm, the terrible crimson rambler trailing around its trunk. I have never seen a garden of taste in France. Go to Italy, go to Tivoli, and then you will see what I mean by the beauty of a garden without flowers: yews, cypresses, statues, steps, fountains — sombre, dignified, restful."
But when planting is right, when great groups of, say, white hydrangea, when tall rows of hollyhocks of harmonious color, when delicate garlands of such a marvellous rambler as Tausendschtin, low flat plantings of some fine verbena like Beauty of Oxford or the purple Dolores — when such fine materials are used to produce an effect of balanced beauty, to heighten the loveliness of proportion and of line already lying before one in stone or brick, in turf or gravel, in well-devised trellis or beautifully groomed hedge, what an eminence of beauty may then be reached!
The form and color of flowers, in my opinion, should be considered as seriously for the formal garden as the soil about their roots.
Effects with tall flowers, lilies, delphiniums; with dwarf flowers, hardy candytuft, for instance; with lacelike flowers, the heucheras, the gypsophilas; with round-trussed flowers, phloxes; with massive-leaved flowers, the funkias or Crambe cordifolia with slender flowers, gladiolus, salpiglossis; with low spreading flowers, statice, annual phloxes; with delicately branching flowers, the annual larkspurs — what an endless array in the matter of form and habit! The trouble with most of us is that we try to get in all the flowers, and also we often go so far as to insist on using all the colors too — with a result usually terrific.
On the other hand, according to a capital English writer, "the present taste is a little too timid about mixtures and contrasts of color. Few of those who advise upon the color arrangements of flowers seem to be aware that nearly all colors go well together in a garden, if only they are thoroughly mixed up. It is the half-hearted contrasts where only two or three colors are employed, and those the wrong ones, that are really ugly. The Orientals know more about color than we do, and in their coloring they imitate the audacity and profusion of nature."
Those who lead us in these matters will, I am sure, gradually and gently conduct us to an austerer taste, a wish for more simplicity of effect in our gardens — the sure path, if the narrow one, to beauty in gardening.
The stream of my horticultural thought runs here a trifle narrower, and I see the charm of gardens of one color alone — these, of course, with the varying tones of such a color, and with the liberal or sparing use of white flowers. It is, I think, a daughter of Du Maurier whose English garden is one lovely riot, the summer through, of mauve, purple, cool pink, and white. I can fancy nothing more lovely if it receive the artist's touch. A garden of rich purples, brilliant blues and their paler shades, with cream and white, could be a masterpiece in the right hand.
Such was, a summer or two since, the garden at Ashridge, Lord Brownlow's fine place in England, the following brief description of which was sent me by the hand that planted it: "Purple and blue beds at Ashridge (very difficult to get enough blue when tall blue delphiniums are over). Blue delphinium, blue salvia (August and September), purple clematis, single petunia, violas, purple sweet peas, salpiglossis, stocks, blue nemesia, blue branching annual delphinium, purple perennial phloxes, purple gladiolus."
The past mistress of the charming art of color combination in gardening is, without doubt, Miss Jekyll, the well-known English writer; and to the practised amateur, I commend her "Colour in the Flower Garden" as the last word in truly artistic planting, and full of valuable suggestion for one who has worked with flowers long enough to have mastered the complications of his soil and climate.
Miss Jekyll's remarks on the varying conceptions of color I must here repeat, in order to make the descriptions below as well understood as possible. "I notice," she writes, on page 227 of "Wood and Garden," "in plant lists, the most reckless and indiscriminate use of the words purple, violet, mauve, lilac, and lavender; and, as they are all related, I think they should be used with greater caution. I should say that mauve and lilac cover the same ground. The word mauve came into use within my recollection. It is French for mallow, and the flower of the wild plant may stand as the type of what the word means. Lavender stands for a colder or bluer range of pale purples, with an inclination to gray; it is a useful word, because the whole color of the flower spike varies so little. Violet stands for the dark garden violet, and I always think of the grand color of Iris reticulata as an example of a rich violet-purple. But purple equally stands for this, and for many shades redder."
In an earlier paragraph the same writer refers to the common color nomenclature of the average seed or bulb list as "slip-slop," and indeed the name is none too hard for the descriptive mistakes in most of our own catalogues. Mrs. Sedgwick in "The Garden Month by Month" provides a valuable color chart; so far as I know, she is the pioneer in this direction in this country. Why should not books for beginners in gardening afford suggestions for color harmony in planting, a juxtaposition of plants slightly out of the ordinary routine, orange near blue, sulphur-yellow near blue, and so on? A well-known book for the amateur is Miss Shelton's "The Seasons in a Flower Garden." This little volume shows charming taste in advice concerning flower groupings for color. I look forward to the day when a serious color standard for flowers shall be established by the appearance in America of such a publication as the "Repertoire de Couleurs" sent out by the Societe Francaise des Cluysanthemistes. To this the makers of catalogues might turn as infallible; and on this those who plant for artistic combination of color might rely.
In the groupings for color effect given below there has been no absolute copying of any one's suggestions. To work out these plantings my plan has always been, first to make notes on the same day of each week of flowers in full bloom. Then, by cutting certain blooms and holding them against others, a happy contrast or harmony of color is readily seen, and noted for trial in the following year.
BLUE AND CREAM-WHITE - MARCH
The earliest blooming color combination of which I can speak from experience is illustrated on the facing page. Here, backed by Mahonia, and blooming in one season as early as late March, thrives a most lovely group of blue and cream-white spring flowers. Tulipa Kaufmanniana, opening full always in the sun, spreads its deep creamy petals, while below these tulips a few hundred Scilla Sibirica show brilliantly blue. To the right bloodroot is white with blossoms at the same moment, while behind this the creamy pointed buds of Narcissus Orange Phoenix carry along the tone of the cream-white tulip. Narcissus Orange Phoenix is a great favorite of mine; leader of all the double daffodils, I think it, with the exception of Narcissus poeticus, var. plenus, the gardenia narcissus, with its true gardenia scent and full ivory-white blooms; with me, however, this narcissus so seldom produces a flower that I have given up growing it. Where this does well, the most delicious color combinations should be possible.
As for Tulipa Kaufmanniana, earliest of all tulips to bloom, it is such a treasure to the lover of spring flowers that the sharp advance in its price made within the last two or three years by the Dutch growers is bad news indeed for the gardener. A tulip of surprising beauty, this, with distinction of form, creamy petals, with a soft daffodil-yellow tone toward the centre, the outside of the petals nearly covered with a very nice tone of rich reddish-pink. Its appearance when closed is unusually good, and its color really excellent with the blue of the Scillas.
BLUE AND PURPLE - APRIL
A very daring experiment this was, but one which proved so interesting in rich color that it will be always repeated. It consisted of sheets of Scilla Sibirica planted near and really running into thick colonies of Crocus purpureus, var. grandiflorus. The two strong tones of color are almost those of certain modern stained glass. The brilliancy of April grass provides a fine setting for this bold planting in a shrubbery border. The little bulbs should be set very close, and the patches of color, in the main, should be well defined. In fact, I prefer a large sheet of each color to several smaller groups with a resultant spotty effect. To my thinking, it is impossible to imagine a finer early spring effect in either a small or a large place than these two bulbs in these two varieties to the exclusion of all else.
The dwarf Iris reticulata — which should be better known, as no early bulb is hardier, richer in color and in scent — with its deep violet-purple flowers, planted closely in large masses, with spreading groups of Scilla near by, would produce an effect of blue and purple nearly like that above described.
PINK, LAVENDER, AND CREAM-WHITE - MAY
A fine effect for late May, that has rejoiced my eye for some years, is shown facing page 16. The flowers form the front of a shrubbery border composed entirely of Lemoine's lilacs in such varieties as Marie le Graye (white), Charles X (deep purplish-red), Madame Abel Chatenay (double, white), Président Grévy (double, blue), Émile Lemoine (double, pinkish), and Azurea (light blue). While these are at their best, drooping sprays of bleeding-heart (dicentra) show their rather bluish pink in groups below, with irregular clumps of a pearly lavender — a very light-grayish lavender — lent by Iris Germanica. A little back of the irises, their tall stems being considered, stand groups now of the fine Darwin tulip Clara Butt, now of tulip Reverend H. Ewbank. The slightly bluish cast of Clara Butt's pink binds the dicentra and the lavender, lilac, and iris to each other, and the whole effect is deepened and almost focussed by the strong lavender of Reverend H. Ewbank tulip, in whose petals it is quite easy to see a pinkish tone. The contrast in form and habit of growth in such a border is worth noticing. The lilacs topping everything with their candlelike trusses of flowers; the dicentra, the next tallest, horizontal lines against the lilacs' perpendicular, as well as a foliage of extreme delicacy, contrasting with the bold dark-green of the lilac leaf; the tulips again, their conventional cups of rich color clear-cut against the taller growth; and grayish clouds of iris bloom, with their spears of leaves below, these last broken here and there by touches of a loose-flung, rather tall forget-me-not, Myosotis dissitiflora — all this creates an ensemble truly satisfying from many points of view.
Speaking of tulips, why is not the May-flowering tulip Brimstone more grown? And what is there more lovely to behold than masses of this pale-lemon-colored double tulip, slightly tinged with pink, with soft mounds and sprays of the earliest forget-me-not gently lifting its sprays of turquoise-blue against the delicately tinted but vigorous heads of this wonderful tulip?
CARMINE, LAVENDER, CREAM-WHITE, AND ORANGE - LATE MAY
On a slope toward the north a few open spaces of poor soil between small white pines are covered by the trailing stems of Rosa Wichuraiana. Up through these thorny stems, along which tiny points of green only are showing, rise in mid-May glowing blooms of the May-flowering tulip Couleur Cardinal, with its deep-carmine petals on the outside of which is the most glorious plumlike bloom that can exist in a flower. The exquisite true lavender of the single hyacinth Holbein, a "drift" of which starts in the midst of the carmine-purple tulip and broadens as it seems to move down the slope, becomes itself merged in a large planting of Narcissus Orange Phoenix. This narcissus with its soft, creamy petals (both perianth and trumpet interspersed with a soft orange) does not, as the heading of this paragraph might suggest, fight with the color of the tulip, which is far above it on the slope and whose purple exterior is beautifully echoed in softer tones of lavender by the hyacinth.
CREAM-WHITE AND REDDISH ORANGE - JULY
In early July a wealth of bloom is in every garden, and the decision in favor of any special combination of color is a matter of some difficulty. A very good planting in a border, however, is so readily obtained, and proves so effective, that it shall be noticed here. Some dozen or fifteen large bushes of the common elder stand in an irregular, rather oblong group; below the cream-white cluster of its charming bloom are seventy-five to a hundred glowing cups of Lilium elegans, one of the most common flowers of our gardens, and one of those rare lilies which render their grower absolutely care-free! Eighteen varieties of this fine lily appear in one English bulb list; many of these are rather lower in height than the one I grow, which is L. elegans, var. fulgens.
Below these lilies again, that the stems may be well hid, clear tones of orange and yellow blanket flower (gaillardia) appear later in the month, carrying on the duration of color and in no way interfering with the truly glorious effect produced by the elder and lilies. While the lilies are tall, the elder rises so well above them that a beautiful proportion of height is obtained.
An improvement on this grouping would be the planting of masses of L. elegans, var. Wallacei, among the gaillardia below the taller lilies. The nearer view of the great mass of July would then be perfect.
BRIGHT ROBE, GRAY-BLUE, PALE LAVENDER, AND WHITE - AUGUST
In the facing cuts an arrangement of color for August bloom is set forth. The first photograph can give no adequate idea of the charming combination of phlox Pantheon, with its large panicles of tall rose-pink flowers, against the cloudy masses of sea-holly (Eryngium amethystinum). While Miss Jekyll generally makes use of sea-holly in a broader way, that is as a partial means of transition between different colors in a large border, I think it beautiful enough in itself to use at nearer range (and always with pink near by) in a small formal garden. Pantheon is a good phlox against it, but Fernando Cortez, that glowing brilliant pink, is better; it is the color of Coquelicot, but lacking the extra touch of yellow which makes the latter too scarlet a phlox for my garden. To the left of the sea-holly is Achillea ptarmica, and far beyond the tall pink phlox Aurore Boreale. In the lower cut phlox E. Danzanvilliers raises its lavender heads above another mass of sea-holly, a few spikes of the white phlox Fräulein G. von Lassberg appear to the left, and Chrysanthemum maximum provides a brilliant contrast in form and tone to its background of the beautiful eryngium.
A use of verbena which does not appear in these illustrations, but which is frequently made with these groupings, is as follows: Below phlox Pantheon, or the Shasta daisy (or Chrysanthemum maximum), whichever chances to be toward the front of the planting, clumps of that clear warm pink verbena Beauty of Oxford complete a color scheme in perfect fashion. The pink of the verbena is precisely that of the Pantheon phlox, and the plants are allowed to grow free of pins.
Like the geranium, the verbena is a garden standby — and, unlike the geranium, it sows itself. The first indulgence in verbenas by the quarter or half hundred is apt to be a trifle costly; but the initial cost is the only one, for if seed-pods are not too carefully removed, large colonies of little seedlings push through the ground the second year, and always, if one clear hue has been used, not only true to color but readily transplantable.