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"As midsummer approaches the energies of the gardener must be directed towards keeping the garden at a high level of excellence, and this can only be done by unceasing care and attention."
— "Saturday in my Garden," FARTHING.
When sudden clouds darken a hot June sky, the gardener and I, taking plenty of twine or raffia, hurriedly tie into sheaves the taller and more delicate flower-stems such as delphiniums, Canterbury bells, pyrethrums, physostegias, and taller phloxes, and other especially precious things. Taller or shorter stakes are hastily driven in, and this support and close tying has saved for us many a raceme and panicle of later bloom. I commend this plan as excellent, particularly if one's Garden Club is expected on the following day and the hostess's heart sickens before the possible devastation by wind and rain.
Flower cutting is a subject by itself and one not frankly enough discussed. It may be — it constantly is — done wastefully, and there is not among us a true gardener who would willingly waste a flower. It may be done too sparingly, and, to my thinking, sparing the garden shears spoils the garden more quickly than the proverbial rod the child. After years of cutting, certain habits become instinctive, and these I will give as numbered suggestions.
First: If your cutting is done in a formal garden, give a comprehensive look at the whole before taking up your basket and shears. If it is a question of which matters more to you, your house or your garden, always consider the garden. Notice where flowers are spindling up, where a ragged spot exists, where bloom is so luxuriant as to injure the effect, where the blessed requirements of balance should be looked after. In the case of overluxuriance of bloom, a constant happening, the plant which is advertised as being "covered with flowers" is considered by discriminating gardeners as either a monstrosity or a curiosity. I have no doubt that a painter of gardens such as Mr. George Elgood insists upon cutting away a bit here, a mass of color there, before placing his easel in final position for the painting of the delicious garden pictures for which he is renowned. Wealth of bloom! When shall we learn that this is a phrase which seldom or never leads to beauty P Not in quantity dwell the best joys of gardening! The advantage in the idea of too many flowers lies in the fact that here we have material for picture-making by skilled and judicious cutting. Who does not love to so attenuate the rambler rose over the good gateway by taking out here and there a cane, as to leave it a characteristic climbing one, throwing its lovely garlands lightly over their support and permitting all the beauties of stem, thorn, leaf, and flower to be clearly seen and gratefully enjoyed?
And now for brief mention of a minor convenience of mine for recording spring or fall orders of plants or bulbs. Taking a strip of heavy manila paper twenty-four inches long and four deep, I fold it to open after the manner of those small books of so-called "views" which one can buy at any watering-place here or abroad, making a crease at every two and three-quarters inches, which secures eight pages at once. On each of these pages I paste a sheet of writing-paper torn from a small block of about the size of the page. The book then, with the addition of a gummed label for title affixed to outside of upper cover, is ready for use. The advantage of such a trifle is that by taking each end of the little note-book at once and moving the hands in opposite directions, the whole inner surface of notes lies open at once before one. Each spring and fall I make a fresh book of this type. I find it an immeasurable help where time is precious. Now my bills or invoices may be left indoors instead of proving fluttering anxieties in the garden!
Of the little kneeling-mat I use, I would like to say one word. It is an oblong mat, dark crimson in color, and is made of nothing more nor less than two thicknesses of woollen-plush covering from an old "Shaker" chair. This mat might in one way be better. Its color might be a bit brighter, so that the small convenience should be more easily discernible on the grass before a border, or between the beds of a garden. I would suggest a bright blue or a yellow. Aside from this, the little arrangement is very perfect for its purpose. Soft, thick, and light, it is the faithful companion for all seasons when planting, transplanting, or cultivating is the order of the day.
For carrying flowers, if baskets happen to be less conveniently at hand than usual, or where it might prove a burden to the flower-recipient to have to return baskets, I often cut double sheets of heavy wrapping-paper into a roughly graceful shape of some picturesque arching basket which is in my memory, leaving two strips at top for handle. These strips are fastened together by pins at their ends, the sides of the papers are joined in the same manner, and the whole pressed gently open from within, when a practical and satisfactory receptacle is created for holding and keeping cool the stems.
Frosts, with us, are due in early September. Heliotropes are apt to blacken then, Japanese anemones to receive that baptism of cold from which they do not recover. To offset such diminishings of the garden's color, I keep hidden away back of some white spruces a number of pots of the good geranium Mrs. E. G. Hill, whose color, according to Ridgway, is appropriately enough geranium pink. These, when set among the foliage of plants which have done their duty by the garden, give a look of gayety at once, and help enormously to prolong the feeling of summer which with each day becomes more dear. Miss Jekyll it surely was who first suggested this expedient, but I cannot at the moment give chapter and verse.
Not long ago a delightful defense of the geranium appeared in "The Point of View" in "Scribner's Magazine": "The truth of the matter is, we can none of us get along without the geranium. Or, if we do, we all of us suffer the consequences of great empty crying holes in our flower-beds. We all know how it is. During May and June and part of July our gardens exult in crowded ranks of glory upon glory. Most of our temperamental flowers catch enthusiasm from one another and have their fling all together. The result is intoxicating while it lasts, but it is followed by a disheartening midsummer slump. Suddenly the mood changes, the petals fall, and the color and the fragrance are gone. As dull and sober as they were erewhile brilliant and animated, our irises, peonies, roses, foxgloves, larkspurs, rockets, present a monotonous sequence of barren green leaves to our disappointed eyes. The hopeful annuals are not yet more than in dubious promise; the phlox and dahlias have hardly set their buds. The whole garden suffers eclipse.
"This is precisely the geranium's opportunity, and we are as cruel as we are stupid if we deny it to her. She would only fain prevent an entire collapse and would gently keep the garden's head above water until such time as it feels like swimming again. She can do this as no one else can, blooming brightly and quietly here and there among the discouraged plants, keeping up general appearances, saving the gardener's self-respect when passing wayfarers pause to look over his fence in quest of the color which they have come to expect of him."
Where shall we look for a stock of geraniums from which to choose our colors and our types? No farther than to Maryland, where from White Marsh Mr. Richard Vincent sends forth a list of hundreds of beautiful examples, single and double, ivy-leaved, plants with variegated foliage, seventeen varieties of scented-leaved, one so-called Regal pelargonium, and nine cactus-flowering geraniums. All this is a most sumptuous illustrated list, a perfect treasure-house for those who plan gay color for their borders. On page 8 of this list is not only a geranium shown of loveliest delicate pink, Berthe de Presilly by name, but immediately below this picture is another with a really most happy use of geranium and sweet alyssum together. I do not stand for the copious use of Scarlet Bedder, no, not at all; but who could not find a spot where Alpha with its lovely small blooms, not unlike a scarlet lychnis, might not be useful, or, near cream-white stock, Baron Grubbisch or Rosalda might not create a picture? In the geranium lies an almost untouched field of beautiful and practical resource for gardens. I am perhaps not too rash in saying that I believe most of us have not seen over ten varieties of this flower. We bring to any consideration of it a preconceived idea of ugly misuse. Why not devote a small portion of ground another season to trials of the geranium for uses of our own devising?
If, therefore, the geranium, being a garden standby and a garden adornment, may be called a garden expedient, as indeed it may, one other faithful flower may aspire to the like honor. The zinnia has during these last years of gardening furor come into its own. Among all the charming things for garden and for house it holds high place. If one buys, as has before been hinted, packets of seed of white and flesh-color only, almost all the softer tones of creamy white and pink, with often wonderfully arresting hues hardly describable, are forthcoming. A flower of splendid form and substance, a flower of great rigidity of stem, a flower of generous freedom of bloom, a flower of the most fascinating decorative possibilities, where would my garden — my September garden — be without the zinnia!
As for other planting expedients, to my thinking, none are better than that of alternate planting in the row. This, of course, is for formal effect. Two periods of bloom are so easily thus secured in practically the same spot. My first experiment in this matter was with Michaelmas daisies, early and late, as has been told in a former chapter; my next was with a close-set row of pentstemon barbatus coccineus and hardy phlox; the latest and most ambitious was with a border of spring flowers arranged with the idea of securing much bloom and some beauty in a small given place. This, too, is fully described elsewhere. A note in a recent number of "The Garden Magazine" seemed to me full of practical possibilities. It concerned a system of "planting-cards," and I will tell of these in the contributor's own words:
"I cut cards of strong white pasteboard, measuring eight by twelve inches, and in the middle of the narrow side of these I put a loop of string for hanging. The back of the card is left blank so that garden notes and memoranda may be written there, and on the face of the card I paste the names of the vegetables to be planted and their cultural directions. These I obtain from the catalogues of the seedsman from whom I order my seeds. For example, with ' Corn' I paste first their cultural directions, then under this the names and descriptions of the four varieties I intend planting, in the order of their earliness and lateness. By each variety I make a note in ink of the quantity of seed ordered and another note, `Plant every two weeks till July 15.' This is done for each kind of vegetable and toward the right I leave a margin of one and one-half inches on which to note the dates of sowings. These cards will not take the place of garden note-books or of systematic garden records, but have the advantage of costing nothing and of being ever ready."
The writer prefaces this description of what seems a really useful, if slight, gardening expedient by the remark that such cards save much time and trouble of a fine spring morning. They are ready to hand to a man who does garden work, and form an excellent reminder for oneself besides. I cannot see why such a little card arrangement might not be equally good for the recording of notes of flower-seed sowing as well as for that of seeds of vegetables.