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IV

A BY-PRODUCT OF CONSERVATION 

THE torrent of conservation surged over our community in war-time with a mighty roar, carrying with it all thought of flowers and lawns, and making chaos of our cherished plans for a summer garden. With a velocity which only social enterprise could initiate, New England became a market garden from Eastport to Greenwich. Conservation developed back yards and vacant lots into gardens, and bank clerks into farmers, enthusiastic at the prospect, and innocent of the coming torments which weeds and pests would soon bring with them. And so, for this same reason, our flower garden on the Cape simmered down to a few nasturtiums and whatever blossoms of a perennial nature cared to show themselves, while our spring borders, usually a riot of color, were given over to vegetables.

What, then, should we have in our vases to reflect the profusion of the outdoor season? For a room without flowers in summer is as devoid of character and charm as a man without a necktie. The solution, naturally, was soon found by many in the wild flowers, and if conservation has accomplished nothing else, its gift to us of an appreciation of the beauty and variety of these exquisite plants will more than repay our efforts to grow potatoes, beans, and corn at exorbitant prices with doubtful success.

The last days of school for the children and certain affairs at the office, together with fixed habits which tyrannize over the household, kept us from leaving for the Cape until late in June, so that we missed the mayflowers which have made Cape Cod famous for generations. The iris and violets, too, had disappeared, as well as the dogwood with its delicate and generous pink-and-white petals. A few short hours after our arrival, my little daughter discovered near by some exquisite specimens of the wild lupine growing just as I had last seen it upon the slopes of Mount Tamalpais near San Francisco, although perhaps not in the same profusion.

From that first day until well into September, our living-room was made joyous by a succession of flowers as delicate and graceful as ever came from the highly cultivated gardens of the idle rich -- a term which will soon vanish and justly so.

The wild roses were late and never more plentiful or more perfect. The daisies, arranged amid clusters of shiny bayberry and huckleberry leaves, were transformed into stately decorations. The broom, as it is often called, which abounds in certain sections of the Cape, planted there in past years without doubt, gave one a sense of having been ferried across the sea overnight, while our own columbine and wild geranium made a pleasing variety, especially when arranged with the soft green of the wild sarsaparilla.

With the coming of July, the Hudsonia, or beach heather, clothed our foreground with brilliant yellow spots, touches of the sun here and there, while the low wild shrubs and grasses seemed to grow overnight in their desire to hide our view of the water. After a week of rain in which we were confined to the flowers about the house - succulent clover, Queen Anne's lace, and a wide variety of tall grasses, which, mingled with pine branches, form admirable wall decoration - our desire for botanical information led us to scour the near-by country, not with guide-book, motor-maps, or even a copy of "How to Know the Wild Flowers," but to journey simply forth, either on foot or tucked tightly into our Ford car. To come unexpectedly upon one of the many ponds dotted with lilies and fringed with a variety of flowering shrubs caused as delightful a sensation as the same sight a few years ago would have aroused, only then it would have stimulated a very different desire --the thought of a possible bass, lazily drifting below the surface, to be tempted, perhaps, by a fly, would have been uppermost. But this summer our sport lay in securing wild flowers, a harmless and charming pastime in which for the first time all the members of the family found equal enjoyment, and even our near neighbors, confirmed golfers, admitted the fascination of our newly acquired sport. To return laden with lilies, wild clematis, marsh mallows, delicately pink upon their tall, stately stems, cat-tails, red lilies, the fragrant clethra, and a variety of other flowers whose names are to be discovered in the winter over a "complete botanical guide," savored of a veritable triumph.

Our growing interest in this wild garden was amply rewarded, for now in August the flowers were at their height and it became doubly interesting. Whether the discovery of new varieties or the satisfaction of gathering and arranging the commonest weeds brought the greater pleasure, it is hard to judge. The recollection of a tall, graceful copper vase filled with the despised chicory and bouncing Bet, the blue of the one and the delicate, pinkish purple of the other blending charmingly and supported in contrast by a few sprays of sumac leaves, lingers as one of the floral discoveries of the summer. A mass of fireweed, interspersed with slender sprays of salt grass in full bloom, is another.

And yet to the sportsman or the embryonic scientist, individuals of very similar characteristics, an excursion into the back country through the woods, a good, long, honest tramp in pursuit of new floral game, and the finding, now a clump of cardinal flowers and again the deadly nightshade (for the sportsman and scientist alike are fearless), is keen pleasure.

At times we would return with little booty to show for our trouble, a gathering of St. John's-wort, perhaps, or a few stalks of mallow or one-eyed daisies, but never empty-handed and always with the exhilaration of the thought that here was a garden without limit, without weeds, and without the cares and expenses to which we were accustomed.

In arrangement, it must be confessed that discussion often arose. Certain members of the family, who shall be nameless, preferred a few blooms alone in each vase, while others clamored loudly for garnishings of salt grasses and other green decorations. Upon such  flowers as butterfly-weed and tansy, such discussions nearly ended in riots, and only a tactful distribution of these blooms to those who had gathered them with full authority as to arrangement secured peace.

The goldenrod made its appearance earlier than usual, the handsome, sturdy variety which grows close to the tidewater being especially fine. With it came the purple and white wild asters, which are in reality so much more beautiful than the cultivated kind, and the sea lavender vying with baby's-breath in its delicacy.

In this September a pleasant surprise came in the discovery of a flower which we called -- and possibly incorrectly so -- the wild primrose, growing close to the coast among the pines and scrub oaks; and blooming at this same time was the beach pea, a long, climbing vine of a pinkish-violet color, luxuriating amid the desolation of the sand-dunes.

Close upon the heels of these blossoms, which both seemed to belong to the springtime, the turning of the leaves, the crispness of the air, the short evenings, and the aforesaid three governing reasons, school, office, and domestic domination, decided us with more reluctance than ever to close the cottage. It was not until our luggage was packed and ready that our final gatherings of the season's wild flowers were removed and the vases put away against the coming of next spring.

It still remains to be seen whether conservation will ultimately lead to a saving in the cost of food (for Americans are more given to preaching than to practice) but it has served us well in our appreciation of certain of the good things in life.


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