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THE DAY BEFORE SPRING AND THE NEXT

  “There is a faltering crimson by the wall,  
        Now on a vine, and now on brier thinned.  
        As though one bearing lantern through the wind  
   
     Here hides his light, but yonder lets it fall.”

 — Lizzette Woodford Reese.

  WILL any one gainsay that his most poignant gardening emotions are experienced in March? What other month can arouse such turbulent feelings within us as March with her smiling interludes which come unexpectedly out of the cold and fierce storms like the singing melody that suddenly breaks through a thunder of complicated orchestration. The sky is bluer than blue; the sun is warm upon our backs, and from the eaves of the house the water drips in hilarious chuckles; the voice of the little brook near the house, which we call “The Singing Water,” is unloosed in a wild medley of exuberant sound, and suddenly there comes the piercing call of the Phoebe, the most arousing bird note of the spring. And we can resist no longer, but rush recklessly hatless to the garden, feeling, if not actually repeating, Lowell’s lines:  

“Every clod feels a stir of might,  
        An instinct within it which reaches and towers.”  

Such days must cause tremulous heartbeats beneath the sodden earth,’ for very certain it is that if this strange, disturbing something, which has crept into the world over night, pierces my fur jacket and stirs my hibernating emotions, so much more surely does it reach and stir those sleeping green things so divinely sensitive to this “elemental tenderness.” The morrow may find our throbbing senses quieted by a soft cold hand of snow, icicles may hang fiercely where yesterday sounded the thrilling drip, and winds may flourish their banners of dun-coloured cloud; but within that sunny rift, between two storms, the baby Spring was born and straightway we and the waiting world capitulate and owe allegiance to none other. Down to the garden one goes, eager for miracles, and, sure enough, a fat robin struts the walk, a song-sparrow tilts joyously on the Sweet Brier and splits his little spring-tuned throat —  and lo! in a sheltered corner, a miracle indeed, for what yesterday was snow, to-day is tender flowers, pure as the snow, but boasting a tiny spot of green upon each cold white inner petal, mute assurance of the Snowdrop’s fealty to the new order, else should we not mistake her for the child of gray old winter? Often above the Snowdrops the Naked Jasmine has lighted a pale candle or two, and if our eyes are sharp, doubtless we shall find some fat little bundles of Crocus spears heaved through the winter blanket. More than likely the Crown Imperials, those stout but easily demoralized monarchs, have shot a reckless three inches into the air, and would be utterly and everlastingly nipped in the bud did we not watch the weather signs and bundle them up at the slightest hint of a “change.”

When the baby Spring is old enough to sit up and keep an eye upon her domain, the time has come to awaken the flowers, and I always do it myself, for I would not miss for anything their first sleepy greetings and the sight of their tumbled heads as we turn back the brown blanket and know that they are stretching their cramped limbs and drawing long, ecstatic breaths of the wonderful, winter-sweetened air.

Here we have not yet acquired Christmas Roses or Winter Aconites, so the Snowdrop is the first corner, though often accompanied by Crocus Imperati in a south border and closely followed by the brilliant flowers of Iris reticulata. In a north border, where the sun reaches them for part of the day only, the Snowdrops have a long period of bloom, and are often on hand to gleam shyly with the corpulent Dutch Crocuses and early Daffodils. But in the more sheltered situations they come so early as to have the field almost to themselves. They are charming grown beneath a ground cover of English Ivy or in woodland places where they pierce and shine above a carpet of brown leaves, and are most effective when planted in large numbers. They will do well almost anywhere, but in a rather moist, loamy soil and partial shade they increase more rapidly than in dry, sunny places. Here we have only two kinds:

Galanthus nivalis, the kind ordinarily planted, and the great G. Elwesii, giant of the family and much taller and more substantial.

Very similar to Galanthus is Leucojum vernum, the Spring Snowflake, which blooms nearly as early and sheds a fine fragrance from its drooping green-tipped flowers. It grows from eight to ten inches tall and loves a sandy loam.

The first Crocus to burst bubble-like from the earth behind our garden walls is C. Imperati, a wild species of great charm, wearing without the tenderest buff colour, lightly feathered with rosy lavender, while within is pure lavender against which the orange stigmata show hotly. They grow in a south corner beneath some bushes and are treasured, for they bloom always when I am most impatient for the spring and stay my eagerness as the Snowdrops never do. Despite their frail appearance, they will stand the wind and rains of March triumphantly and last in beauty for a longtime. Next to bloom here is C. Susianus, the Cloth-of-gold Crocus, in a gold-lined brown jacket. This is a much less rare and elegant person than Imperati, but is so instinct with warmth and life that I adore its burning trails along two borders. Another early-flowering Crocus is the Scotch, C. Biflorus, gleaming white lined with pale purple. Then come the great splashes of colour which proclaim the Dutch Crocuses--valiant purple and orange, clean lavender, gleaming white, and the pretty striped sorts like Madam Mina. There are many fine sorts, but President Lincoln, a rich purple of fine vase-like form, is my favourite. Crocuses love a nice sandy loam and are planted in September and October about three inches deep. They may be left to themselves until they show, by falling off in their bloom, that they are overcrowded, when they may be dug up and given more room.

Three dainty blue-flowered bulbs belong to the early spring: Chionodoxa, Muscari, and Scilla. The Chionodoxas bloom first with me — C. Luciliae and sardensis —  the first, bright sky blue with a clear white centre; the second, of that rare Gentian blue so seldom seen in flowers. Both are but a few inches high, and are pretty planted in spreading patches about the drifts of snowy Arabis in bloom at the same time. The common Grape Hyacinth, Muscari botryoides, with its pretty beaded blue flower spikes, is well known to most of us, and also the refined white variety. But there are others too lovely not to be included in every garden. Of those, Heavenly Blue, well named, is the best, but azureum, blooming very early, is most attractive, and plumosum, the Feathered Hyacinth, more mauve than blue. Muscari moschatum, also leaning to lavender, is large and fragrant of musk, and requires a warm, dry border. The Muscaris like a rich, well-drained soil and plenty of grit, and should be planted three inches deep in early autumn. They do well either in the grass or in the beds and borders.

The contemplation of Scillas, Squills, or Bluebells is pleasant indeed, for they are among the loveliest of spring flowers. They like a little shade and so for woody places are ideal. In this garden we grow them beneath the flowering trees and shrubs, but have not nearly enough. There is S. sibirica, with spikes of bright blue flowers three inches high, and S. bifolia, blooming a little earlier, with dainty heads of azure flowers; Scilla nutans, the English Bluebell, growing fourteen inches high with arching stems of drooping bells, and S. hispanica (syn. campanulata), almost the loveliest of all, with erect spikes fifteen inches tall carrying bells of various colours — white, lilac, and rose, but none so satisfying as the blue. The bulbs of Scillas should be planted five or six inches deep, and they will thrive under evergreen trees where few other plants will grow.

Before April has got very far along her fairy way the great Crown Imperials are in gorgeous bloom. This is a plant of old times but is so truly magnificent and vibrant in its form and colouring that it should never have gone out of fashion. Parkinson calls it sonorously, Corona Imperialis, and considered it a Lily. Thus he writes: “The Crowne Imperiall for his stately beautifulness, deservith the first place in this our Garden of Delight, to be here entreated before all other Lillies.” His quaint and appreciative description of this flower that he so greatly admired is too long to give in full, and my own words are poor and cold in comparison, though I share his admiration. The great nose appears above ground at the very first hint of reassuring weather and attains, in an incredibly short time, a height of two and one-half to three feet. At the top is a triumphant tuft of greenery, and just below hangs the circular crown of bells — sometimes two crowns — this kind called Crown upon Crown; sometimes orange, again yellow or scarlet, but always imperial and striking. It is Turkish and looks its nationality. One fault it has, but I, with Parkinson, am so under its spell that we make light of it. He says: “The whole plant and every part thereof, as well rootes, as leaves and flowers, does smell somewhat strong as it were the savour of a Foxe, so that if any one does but come near it, he cannot but smell it, which yet is not unwholesome.” I am not familiar with the “savour of a Foxe,” but this splendid plant has to my nose exactly the “savour” of a skunk-cabbage, and seems to permeate the world. It is at its worst, I have observed, when it first appears above ground, as if it were just “letting it-self go” after the long winter confinement; but, as Parkinson says, it is not “unwholesome.” Ruskin speaks of the perfume of a flower as its soul, and it would seem a worthy task for some patient missionary hybridist to take in hand the terrible soul of Fritillaria imperialis.

A rich soil is generally recommended for Crown Imperials, and I have found that the bulbs here planted in a south border, where the soil is warm and dry, are in the best condition and have increased. Those in a north border, where the soil is heavy, disappeared after two years. The bulb should be planted in September, the tops five inches below the ground and the bulb laid upon its side to prevent moisture lodging between the scales. It will require a year to become established before it does anything very striking in the way of a display. If at any time the bulbs must be moved, the best time is just after the leaves have withered.

Fritillaries are rather numerous, but I am not acquainted with many. Just once have I been able to flower the brilliant red F. recurva, though I have planted it several times under flattering conditions. The Snakes-head Fritillary, Guineahen flower, or Checker Lily, as Parkinson calls it, Fritillaria Meleagris, with its lovely white variety, alba, may and should be had by every one. In moist, partially shaded places, the curving bell-hung stalk grows a foot high, but in the dryer soil of the garden it is not so tall. There are new varieties, Cassandra, Orion, and Triton, all described as most attractive; the “Checkers” on their gray or silvery-white ground. are more or less distinct. The bulbs should be planted six inches deep with a covering of sharp sand.

When one comes to Daffodils, it is difficult to write with moderation or even to think connectedly — one wants to go into ecstasies and to run, in spirit, from one sunshiny group to another inhaling the ineffable wet-earth-and-sun perfume which is their birthright, quite forgetting to tell of the best varieties and how to grow them. When down in the garden sweet Daffodil “unties her yellow bonnet,” it is a “time o’ dreams” —  Cherry Blossoms cast their pale shadow; Peach trees fling pink spray against the garden wall; Japanese Quince makes a hot splash against the cold stone. Early Tulips proudly lead one up and down the garden paths displaying here a snowy drift of Arabis, there a purple trail of Aubrietia, and here again a mound of green-gold Alyssum — and disappear beneath the scented skirts of the flowering Currant or march in prim, upstanding array in the shadow of a scarlet-budded Crabapple. A thousand delights are spread before us, but wonder of wonders is that nodding horde of Daffodils, all up and down the borders, under the trees, beside the paths, shining with the sunshine, gleaming with the gentle rain, restless with the attentive wind. It was Mahamet who said more than a thousand years ago, “He that hath two cakes of bread, let him sell one of them and buy Narcissus, for bread is food for the body but Narcissus is food for the soul.” And verily it is true — food for the soul and delight for the eyes, these gleaming things lying like patches of light among the fallen Cherry Blossoms, glorifying the brown earth, and lifting the most sodden into a rarer atmosphere. Daffodil time is the very height of spring, the epitome of springing youth and hope.  


"When down in the garden sweet daffodil 'unties her bonnet,' 
it is a 'time o' dreams'"

The classification of the Narcissus family is rather confusing to me, there are so many divisions and subdivisions, but it is not necessary to be very well grounded in these distinctions to know and grow these flowers. There are long trumpets and short trumpets, large cups, small cups, and flat cups, double-flowered, single-flowered, and cluster-flowered, and each of these blossoms forth into such an astonishing company, all lovely, that one is bewitched as well as bewildered. My experience of growing Daffodils is as yet confined to the garden — I have not tasted the joy of planting them by the thousand in orchards and meadows. Most of those we have tried have flourished and increased, a few have languished; and in the case of those wee things, Angles Tears, Queen of Spain, Hoop-petticoat, minimus and nanus — fit only for the sequestered safety of rockwork, but which, for the life of me, I cannot help trying to cajole into border life-I meet heart-sickening failure. These small things are quite hardy, but the great world of the open garden literally frightens them out of their lives.

The soil for Daffodils should not be heavy and stiff, but light, rich, and porous. Sand and wood ashes will do much toward putting a heavy soil into the proper condition, and the Rev. Joseph Jacob in his helpful book “Daffodils” suggests a little bone meal in the soil below the bulbs. As in the case of all bulbs, no manure Should come into contact with them, though a top dressing in winter is both beneficial and a safeguard. We plant the bulbs from four to six inches deep, according to size, and it is well to get them into the ground as early in the fall as they can be procured. If blooming well they may be left undisturbed until by “falling off” they testify to being overcrowded. Then they may be dug up in spring, when the leaves have yellowed and lie upon the ground, dried and stored in open paper bags or boxes in a dry place, until it is time to replant them in late August and September.

It is difficult to go wrong in the selection of these all-beautiful flowers, but the following is a list of moderate priced sorts, which are doing well in our garden:

Of the Great Yellow Trumpets, we have Emperor, Glory of Leiden, Golden Spur, Henry Irving, Obvallaris, P. R. Barr, and maximus.  

Of the lovely White Trumpets, we have Albicans, Madame de Graff, Mrs. Camm, and Moschatus of  Haworth, the fair Daffodil of Spain. All these white  Trumpets are very grateful for partial shade.

The Bicolour Trumpets are a charming race with many representatives. Here we have Empress, Grandee, Horsfeildii, J. B. M. Camm, Madame Plemp, Oriana, Wm. Goldring.

The various kinds of Chalice-Cupped Daffodils, or Star Narcissi, comprising the Incomparabilis, Barrii, and Leedsii sections, have ever been to me the loveliest of these lovely flowers. They are truly star-like and seem to shed a soft radiance about them.

Of the Incomparabilis group there are Beauty, C. J. Backhouse, Cynosure, Frank Miles, Lulworth, Queen Bess, Sir Watkin, Stella Superba, and Will Scarlet.

Among the Barrii group are Albatros, Conspicuus, Falstaff, Oriflamme, and Seagull. The cups of these are red rimmed.

The Eucharis-flowered or Leedsii group are softly coloured and delicately fragrant. Ariadne, Duchess of Westminster, Katherine Spurrell, Mary Magdelin de Graff, Minnie Hume, and Mrs. Langtry.

Besides these we must have the little Jonquils or Rush-leaved Narcissi, with several bright yellow, sweetly scented flowers to a stalk. Of these, N. Jonquilla and N. odorus (or campernella) are the only ones we have. The bulbs are very small and the flower stems slender so they should be planted with a generous hand.

The glistening white circle of petals and scarlet “eye” of the Poet’s Narcissus is well known and beloved. The old Pheasant’s Eye is very inexpensive and one of the best bulbs for naturalizing, but of late years some very fine varieties of this type have been given to the world. Of those, some of the less expensive are, Almira, Glory, Herrick, Minerva.

The Poet’s Narcissus is one parent of a new race called Poetaz, having several rather thick-fleshed flowers on a stem, the cups of which are orange or gold or scarlet. The only ones we have are Elvira, Aspasia, and Irene — but there are a number of others.

Double Daffodils lack something of the sprightly grace of the single sorts, but the fat old Van Sion, with its rumpled green-gold petals, is ever welcome, and there are few more beautiful flowers at any season than the double poeticus, or Gardenia-flowered. It is important that the bulbs of this sort should be planted early in a deep, cool soil, not too dry. Then there are the double Incomparabilis Narcissi, the Sulphur Phoenix and Orange Phoenix, known respectively as Codlins-and-Cream and Eggs-and-Bacon. They are old fashioned and quaint looking with crowded petals like little roses, and are very fragrant and good for bouquets.

Daffodils are particularly charming when planted beneath the many flowering trees and shrubs in bloom at their season. The light shade is no detriment to them, and their pale gold is very lovely with the pinks and whites of the fruit blossoms especially.

Many bulbs will not only tolerate but are benefited by a ground cover of some small creeping plant which is so shallow-rooting that it does not rob the soil to any extent, but protects the bulb from the fierce rays of the summer sun and the flowers from the splashing mud in the rude spring storms. This is true, not only of the larger bulbs such as Daffodils, Tulips, and Crown Imperials, but of Grape Hyacinths, Scillas, Snowdrops, and other small things. Some of the “carpeters” which we have found most satisfactory are: Veronica repens, Gypsophila repens, Sedum album, Sedum acre, Lotus corniculatus, Thymus lanuginosus and Serpyllum, and Cerastium for small bulbs, with Aubrietia, Arabis, Alyssum, Arenaria montana, Tunica saxifraga, Sweet Woodruff and Stachys lanata for the larger sorts.

Besides the bulbs and flowering trees April offers more than one small delight to weave into our fairy pictures. Earliest of these is the snowy Rock Cress (Arabis albida) which lies in little drifts in sheltered places and opens its wide fragrant blossoms in the early part of the month. The foliage is gray, and after the plants are out of bloom they are still pretty; they are wanderers, sowing their seed freely and appearing in all sorts of places. It loves the warm angles of steps or walls or a chink in a low retaining wall where it hangs in soft-coloured festoons. There is a double-flowered Arabis, a thing of much more pride and circumstance than the single, but I have not found that it comes true from seed. Beds of pink and white Cottage Maid Tulips are most fresh looking and spring-like carpeted with Arabis.

Among the very prettiest low-growing plants of any season are the Aubrietias, which form little mounds of charming colour, the pleasant, dusty foliage almost hidden by the crowding blossoms, lavender, purple, rose, and crimson in many shades. Lavender is a splendid sort, Dr. Mules, a rich purple; Fire King, very striking crimson; Bridesmaid, a pale and lovely thing, and graeca, one of the older sorts but a fine tender lavender. Besides these are Lloyd Edwards, deep purple; Wedding Veil, pale mauve; and M. J. Stowe, red-purple. They are easily raised from seed and sometimes bloom the first season. A large bed of seedling, M. J. Stowe in the nursery last year, bloomed from August until late in November. I find that Aubrietias suffer from the drought in our climate and need to be planted where they will have a deep, cool root-run, also that they appreciate a little lime in the soil. They are particularly nice in combination with stonework, and a fine mass of them here, in the pure lavender and purple shades, tumbling over a stone-edged border, backed by groups of pale Star Narcissi and shadowed by a Cherry tree in full bloom, creates a lovely picture.

Fine subjects, also, for the April gardens, are the various varieties of Phlox subulata. They have close, dark, rather prickly foliage, and at this season are so densely starred with bloom that the groundwork of foliage is quite lost sight of. The old magenta sort is the one most generally seen. About here the sad long and short mounds in the forlorn little country churchyards are turned literally to mounds of glory in April through the agency of this kindly all-covering creeper. I am very fond of it, for while it is undoubtedly of the despised colour, it is lovely. Behind our garden walls it is most happily placed, both physically and spiritually, for its roots find a cool root-run and it spreads its warring colour over cool stones, with which it is at peace. Behind it rises feathery Artemisia Stelleriana and long-stemmed Poet’s Narcissi. But for those who do not see magenta in its true light there are plenty of other lovely sorts, and best of all is that named G. F. Wilson, so silvery in its lavender colouring as to be almost gray. It grows at the top of a low retaining wall, over which it hangs in pale coloured mats, well set off by the clumps of dwarf purple Iris and light yellow Tulips at the wall top that come into bloom before the Phlox is past. Nelsoni is a fine, gleaming white sort, and others are Newry Seedling, mauve; The Bride, white with pink eye; Kathleen, rosy lilac, and Little Dot, white, blue eye.

These little plants are not at all set in their ways, and will gladly creep between stones in any cranny where they can secure a foothold, or they will lie contentedly sunning themselves in spreading patches along the borders. I have never seen seed of these Phioxes offered, but one’s stock is easily increased by pegging down the little branches with a wire hairpin immediately after flowering and covering the pegged-down portion with sand, which must be kept moist. Roots will quickly form and the new plant may be detached and started upon a career of its own.

Phlox divaricata is an upright little plant, carrying its wide, metallic-blue blossoms on stems about a foot high. It looks very well with the Daffodils, Arabis, and early Tulips. Improved varieties of this are Laphami and Ferry’s, both real improvements in size and quality. There is also a white sort. These plants do well in partial shade as well as in sun and in shadowy places. The fragrant flowers last longer and shine with added lustre.

In this garden hardy Candytuft, Iberis sempervirens, and the golden Alyssum — Alyssum saxatile, var. compactum, seem to seek each other’s company. Whether the seeds are so planted or not, the winds and birds arrange their meetings and soon the little colonies of cold yellow and cold white are accomplished and very pleasant to look upon. The Candytuft is a handsome plant with dark, almost evergreen, foliage and broad heads of dead-white flowers. It is one of the most valuable plants for the front of the border and makes a fine foreground for masses of orange-scarlet Tulips. There is a dwarfer form called Little Gem, which is also useful. Iberis gibraitarica is a lovely thing, with spreading flower beads, white faintly suggestive of mauve, but it is not, sadly enough, to be counted upon in severe winters. Sometimes in winter the leaves of sempervirens are badly browned, in which case it is best to cut the plants hard back.

The golden Alyssum wears rather a raw shade of yellow, but orange Tulips and white flowers improve it, and it is so gay and willing that one likes to take a bit of trouble to bring it into harmony with its surroundings.

It forms nice little bushes about eight inches high, gray-leaved and soft, and it loves a full exposure to the sun. Like all these spreading, low-growing plants, it enjoys growing over stones and is never so happy or effective as when hanging over a sunny wall surface. There is a variety of compactum called citrinum, a little softer in colour.

A. montanum is a pretty yellow-flowered Alyssum with prostrate stems. A. rostratum and A. argenteum, forming hoary little bushes covered with tarnished yellow flower heads, are both worthy of a place and quite different from the others in appearance.

Before April is past shy Primroses are showing in shadowy places about the garden. Here we have only the yellow, sweet-scented English Primrose and the gay brown and yellow Polyanthus. We grow them under the flowering trees and shrubs, and protect them in winter. They love a cool, deep soil, and should be divided yearly just after they have flowered.

We cannot leave April without mention of the early Tulips, after the Daffodils, her most charming decoration. The earliest to bloom here is Tulipa Kaufmanniana, a beautiful species from Central Asia, sometimes called the Water-lily Tulip, with petals of delicate cream colour swept by flames of carmine on the exterior. T. K. var aurea is yellow with carmine flashes and var. coccinea, from Turkestan, is scarlet with a yellow base. Kaufmanniana is usually in bloom by the middle of the month and is a matter of great pride and enjoyment to us, for it is rather rare in American gardens, and truly exquisite.

What are known in the catalogues as “earlies” arc hybrids developed from some natural species. Many of them are sweet scented and they have a thin, almost transparent, quality to their petals lacking in the more robust Tulips of May. I love to plant them in stiff rows along the edges of the borders, for somehow their short stems and stiffly quaint air seems not suitable for planting in friendly groups, or in careless, broadcast fashion.

Special favourites are Chrysolora, clear yellow rounded flower. Yellow Prince, finely scented. Thomas Moore, splendid red-orange. Prince of Orange, orange-scarlet, scented. Cottage Maid, dainty pink and white. Le RÍve, soft rose. Pink Beauty, cherry with white lines. Princess Helen, white. Flamingo, white-edged rose. Coleur Cardinal, rich, deep red. Brunehilde, white with yellow flashes. Wouverman, rich, reddish purple. White Swan, pure white, vase-shaped, blooms a little later.

Belonging to the “earlies” are some double sorts well worth having, though they are rather heavy-headed and in wet weather are apt to get badly splashed with mud. We grow them in some eight-inch borders under the long grape arbours in the kitchen garden where the paths are of grass, so that when beaten down they rest upon the clean grass. We have not many sorts, but my favourite is Murillo, a lovely blush pink. Fine, too, and like a white Peony is Schoonoord which means “The Beautiful North.” Safrano is a pretty, delicate, salmon-coloured flower, and Tournesol, a flashing red and yellow.


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