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Gardening:
The Moonlight Garden
The Water Garden
The Rock Garden
The Wild Flower Garden
The Court Of The Queen Of Flowers
The Children's Garden
The Bulb Garden
The Indoor Garden
The Garden That Faces Four Ways
What Can Be Done With Half An Acre
Old And New Flowers For The Garden
Where Are And Nature Meet
Our Birds And Our Gardens
The Flower Spectrum
Garden Friends And Foes
Trees And Tree Planting
Window Box Gardening
Flowers For Cutting
Garden Warnings
The More Common Garden Flowers And How To Grow Them

The Wild Flower Garden

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



As we walk through the country lanes in their autumn glory, beside which the beauties of our failing gardens fade into insignificance, who of us has not felt a wish to transport some part of their loveliness nearer home so that it might be more often and more easily enjoyed? Indeed the wish, which may seem born of indolence to us and to our neighbors, would be thought well worthy of accomplishment to those less sated with the charms of our summer fields than we. The wild flowers of one part of the world are the garden flowers of another; and the Englishman and Frenchman cultivate our goldenrod and purple asters as assiduously as do we the poppy of Flanders fields, the daffodil of England, or the counterpart of the mourning bride which borders the country roads of France in midsummer. Let us not be superior to the beauty which lies nearest, and let us, too, save a corner of our gardens in which the glory of American fields and forests may be cultivated, and if possible made lovelier by the care and cultivation under which all flowers must show some improvement.

Another advantageous use may be made of the wild flower garden-to brighten a spot to which little care can be given. Perhaps you have an old homestead, or a summer camp, which is only occupied for a short time every summer, yet which, in the few weeks of its occupancy, you long to see embowered in blossoms, with the aspect of care and of beauty which only flowers can give. In such a case a bed of wild flowers, once set, will go on almost forever. They are, in their native state, a practical example of the survival of the fittest; they are the result of ages of neglect, and of struggles with adverse conditions, where they have been forced to hold their own against stalwart weeds of every kind, unprotected from winter frost and snow. Used to such surroundings, therefore, what can be more sure to succeed than a garden where such flowers predominate? And when a little care and cultivation are awarded them, the splendid extent of their display will be found to more than repay any trouble which may have been expended on them.

The wild flower bed, when it is part of a formal garden, should be separate from the rest and should under no circumstances share in its prim hedges and straight cut paths. Here is an opportunity for one of the "nooks" beloved of landscape gardeners. Let this nook be so placed that it may have a background of the woods if possible; let a winding rustic walk lead up to it, and let no civilizing note creep in. If you are fortunate enough to have a brook or pool in your domain, this may be made a central feature upon which to work, set deep in banks of wild forget-me-not and cowslip, touched here and there with great masses of the cardinal flower, and marked out by touches of purple fringed orchis and yellow loosestrife. At the back of the picture, marking the separation of the garden from the woods, the heavy leaves and great pink heads of the Joe Pye weed make a striking and effective screen some eight feet high. Water is so valuable a feature of a wild garden that, if none be ready to hand, it may be well to have recourse to artificial means to secure it. The likeness of a brook may easily be obtained by the laying out of a little waterway in the form of a series of pools, interspersed with rocks and hummocks for the appearance of greater "reality," lined with cement and filled by means of the garden hose. To be sure, the result will be, unlike the real brook, stagnant, but if carefully done, the bottom covered with white sand and a few gold fish introduced here and there, this will be found not to detract from the effect. As a brook of this kind will not provide wet ground near by, in which to set out moisture-loving plants, concrete com partments should be built, connecting with the water in such a way that, when filled with earth, such plants may be grown in them and never lack wet soil. The openings which connect these compartments with the brook should be small and covered with coarse wire netting so that, while water may penetrate them, the earth may not wash out. The clumsy outline which they will at first produce will soon be concealed by the growth of the plants after they are filled; while any slight muddiness in the water may be prevented by a sprinkling of sand over the earth. The building of a pool is, of course, a simpler matter, and here, too, connecting compartments should be left for semi-aquatic plants. In this, as in the brook, irregularity and absence of formality must be the gardener's aim. Lilies, if they be introduced, should be of the wild varieties, or at least should not differ too widely from them, nor is there here a place for the lotus, nor for any distinctively tropical plant, lovely though it be.

Here, perhaps, mention may be made of the treatment of the wild garden, as differentiated from that of the native garden. The latter is composed of blossoms which are found wild in the part of the country in which the garden itself is located. They need not, however, be grown as they grow in their native state. There is no reason why the native garden should not be set out as formally as any other, for the mere geo graphical origin of the species to which any plant belongs does not, obviously, unfit it for making, let us say, a part of a geometrical design. The wild garden, however, is a different matter. Here flowers are set out among natural surroundings to produce a certain effect, as, in a rock garden, plants which would thrive successfully apart from rocks are set out among them. Therefore, in the wild garden, the presence of native flowers exclusively is not to be insisted upon too rigorously. Any dainty, graceful bloom which is not too obviously unsuited to natural treatment may well be added to it, thus increasing the beauty of the tiny wilderness of which it forms a part.

If a wood be not available as a background to the wild garden, a wall may be successfully used for the same purpose. Not a carefully laid wall, or even a dry wall, gay with many-colored blossoms, but an old, mossgrown mass of field stones, if you are fortunate enough to boast one. Let it be covered with woodbine, with clematis paniculata, with the ground nut, whose inconspicuous crimson-and-pink frilled blossoms send forth so delicious a perfume in the early fall. The poison ivy, too, perhaps the most beautiful of our native vines, with its great glossy leaves of deep green, may also be used for this purpose, if it be set safely away from the passing touch of careless fingers. Let a peeping boulder be left here and there to show upon what the vines are massed; and before this as a background set your tall sheaves of elecampane, of mullein, of fireweed and milkweed, and once again, of that aristocrat of Nature, the gorgeous giant Joe Pye weed. Beneath these set a flash of red of the field lilies, the drooping yellow bells of the Canadian ones, the great blue vervain, the meadowsweet, the hardback, or the blackeyed Susan.

In short, of the flowers suitable for the wild garden there is no end. The I I ordinary garden" flowers which are included with them must, of course, be left largely to the taste and judgment of the individual gardener; but the native blooms, which form, in large measure, the backbone of the wild garden, may be procured with equal ease. Many nurserymen now specialize in seeds and plants of native flowers of named varieties, and to buy directly from them is a method preferable, either to the doubtful outcome of I I wildflower mixture "-f or what flower enthusiast does not prefer to know his flowers by name?-or to the old-fashioned way of starting out, trowel in hand, along the country roads, to dig up incontinently any plant which may strike the passing fancy.

The reasons for this are manifold. First of all, the grower grows with transplanting in view; he ships at the proper season, and in many cases replaces loss, so that the risk of the gardener is reduced to a minimum. He indicates the proper conditions under which plants should be cultivated in order to produce the best results. To be sure, wild flowers are hardy, and will bear considerable rough treatment uncomplainingly; but they grow where they can, in many cases, not where they thrive best; and the trowel-armed amateur too often goes to considerable trouble to duplicate certain conditions in which he found a certain plant, only to find, later, that the same plant did far better in the garden of a friend, under surroundings diametrically the opposite. Then, too, he who selects his flowers by the wayside transplants them while in bloom-the time when such treatment is especially dangerous. His garden is apt to become a collection of flowers which bloom only at the time of his wanderings-for few of us are so fortunate as to be able to extend our excursions through the entire summer. Again, there are wild flowers which prefer poor soil, and which are killed with kindness. So, in every way, from the standpoint of both flowers and of garden, it is best to purchase one's native stock, and to resign oneself to the loss of the delightful summer strolls when you picture yourself setting forth to conquer, basket in hand and the cool breeze blowing in your face, and to substitute the hardly less fascinating pursuit, to many a gardener, of the study of catalogues, by the open fire, o' winter evenings.

Another very real objection to the collecting of wild flowers by the amateur is the serious harm which has been done to our native plants by an indiscriminate gathering of them along the countryside. Whether the root be pulled up carelessly or whether efforts be made to plant the flower elsewhere-often as has been said, at a time or under conditions which make success almost impossible and which, if the collector be determined, results in the destruction of more plants later on-some of our most beautiful plants are, by this means, in danger of total extinction. A striking instance of this is that of the mayflower, or the trailing arbutus, as it is often incorrectly called, which is becoming almost exterminated in some localities because of the promiscuous gathering of it which has taken place.

Another pleasure of the garden in which wild flowers predominate is the exchanging of varieties with friends at a distance. Perhaps in their own gardens they are cultivating some of their own native plants; perhaps in the absence of more elaborate garden facilities they have tried to content themselves with a more thorough knowledge of the inhabitants of their home woods and fields.

By exchanging bits of garden lore with them one may often unearth a variety of plant which is superior to that with which he is acquainted. For instance, the feathery pale purple aster of New England, or even the deep purple one, whose tiny center is filled with a mass of yellow and purple stamens which recall noth ing to the feminine mind as vividly as "French knots," and which are sold commonly as perennial aster, both here and abroad, are far inferior to the less grown but more showy large purple aster with a great yellow center, so common in southern New York and in New Jersey. In England the variety of goldenrod most commonly seen in cultivation is the straight spiky variety which recalls the stiff and characterless silver rod; while the spreading sort, reminiscent of the American elm in shape, is not seen at all. Among the conflicting claims of different flowers, he who cares to pick and choose may select the superior varieties and cast the rest into outer darkness.

Among other flowers which will especially plead for admission into the wild flower garden, a few are particularly worthy of mention. The wild columbine, in red and yellow, is full of airy grace; while the various varieties of wild phlox-especially the Phlox sublata, a lovely shade of deep rose-seem to thrive in the worst soil and the fiercest drought. Sweet Mary, or Monarda didyma, a garden standby, is also a wild flower, while its twin brother, the purple bergamot, grows rapidly, blooms freely, and is, I can testify from experience, practically indestructible. The yellow dog-tooth violet will cover your beds with a creamy carpet in the spring; the mountain laurel which covers the hills of Connecticut with a rosy snow in June, the brilliant hues of the rhododendron, the crimson glow of the sumac, the delicacy of the elderblow-but why enumerate further? The fields are full of these and of others as alluring, to possess which it is only necessary to walk abroad through Nature's nursery, and then to return and place your favorites in the seedsman's catalogue.

Under no circumstances, again, should the "wild garden" be formal. Massing should be its aim, like that of the impressionist artist, who throws great sweeps of color on his canvas. And in stray corners where delicacy is desired, what can surpass a bit of woodland, blue with hepaticas in spring, sweet with hidden mayflowers, and later gorgeous with the blooms of the showy ladies' slipper? But to set ladies' slippers down either side of a garden walk, or to border a gravel path with hepaticas, is to force the little woodland maiden into the paint and tawdry finery of the provincial town, and to attempt with only moderate success an effect which other blossoms, better suited to the purpose because of their very solidity and lack of daintiness, might do as well. For environment is a force to reckon with, in our flowers' lives no less than in our own; and nowhere is it felt more than is the case in dealing with the intangible charm of the wild garden.



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