Thoughts In A Garden
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
BY ARNOLD WHITE.
"As is the gardener, so is the garden."
ON a Sunday morning, in the most beautiful June we have enjoyed for many years, a staff officer sat in my garden. He was about to leave England for the front, after a few days' furlough. There was much conversation, and there were long silences. The scent of the roses—" Zephrine Drouhin " and " La France "—mingled with the exhilarating perfume of hundreds of the new purple violas. The bees thronged. Larks burst their throats with song ; little clouds sailed overhead ; the west wind rustled through oak and beech.
We sat in the shade of an oak tree. My friend's features were gaunt and sunburnt. A monoplane with a shining body passed quickly over us. In one of the inter-vals of silence I saw tears in the eyes of my guest. He was thinking of the contrast between the scenes he had quitted, and to which he was about to return, and the English garden in which he was breathing the atmosphere exhaled by the green grass, the trees, and the beauty and perfume of flowers.
After his return to France my friend wrote to me :—" Do you know that I felt it was wicked to sit in your garden ?" It is easy to interpret his saying. Knowing what the Army was doing in the front, what the wounded were suffering, what the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Army Service Corps, the Navy, the nurses, the railway men and everybody concerned, are doing in the war, the contrast between the repose of an English garden in June and the work in the trenches against devils, or in the base hospitals, was fraught with pain.
The art of life is to understand things so that all we do and say, suffer or enjoy, shall be in harmony with the laws of Nature and the Infinities. Thousands of people write about flowers, and about gardens. Many of them gush ; but in the wide range of our human life there is nothing more precious than the precision with which flowers fill their place in the scheme of things. As a soldier's loyalty is to his regiment, and a seaman's to his ship (whoever the officers and men may be), so our loyalty and love of flowers is to the race, not to individual flowers. You cannot live and work among flowers without gradually becoming conscious that in some flowers, and some trees, there is a dim personality.
Everyone who is a bit of a gardener soon discovers that some people are liked by the flowers they cultivate, others are not. In the same district, almost on the same spot, one person succeeds with a flower where another absolutely fails.
A Scottish nasturtium, known as the " Flame Flower," is clothed with leaves from which spring clouds of brilliant vermilion. The effect is startling. This flower came from South America, and though it is as hardy as it is beautiful, it can be said to flourish only on the walls and roofs of North Britain. It makes its way through evergreen shrubs, and it is the ambition of every English flower-grower to grow it.
For eight years I have tried, and failed to do so. A neighbour of mine, living within a quarter of a mile of my home, made friends with the plant at the first attempt, and succeeded in establishing the beautiful " Flame Flower." It bloomed for her, I verily believe, because she is gentle and good.
That is always the way. When women do things well, they do them better than men, although the human race began in a garden where a woman made a mess of things.
Josephine induced Napoleon, in the crisis of his fortunes, to think and plot and plan for the fragrance and beauty of new flowers for her garden. French naval captains were instructed to bring back from the tropics and the sub-tropics new and beautiful flowers for Josephine. The " Lapageria " was brought to Napoleon from Mauritius, and named after Mademoiselle de la Pagerie, as she was then. The flower is common in English conservatories today.
I wish I could send a basket of rosebuds to every soldier in the front, and to every seaman in the North Sea, the Dardanelles, the Persian Gulf, the Euphrates, and the noisome African rivers, east and west, where the handyman fights the frightfulness of Germany and the frightfulness of Nature. In the engine-rooms of warships in the Persian Gulf the Dolphin flowers known as delphiniums in the hateful Latin affected by scientific gardeners would be appreciated. Dolphin flowers are so called because of the wonderful colours the dying dolphin displays as he goes west.
Of all the wonders of a garden the greatest wonder is the power of perfume to recall memories of long ago. The scent of wallflower, of roses, of jasmine, of bergamot, of thyme, of mint, of mignonette, of honeysuckle, and of lavender, brings back as no book or painting can recall the long, long thoughts of childhood. Nothing is known by scientists and experts about the fragrance of flowers. The atoms that produce so pleasant and so lasting an impression elude chemistry. Combinations of atoms that produce scent belong to the domain of the mathematician, but the secret of the smell of a flower has not yet been extorted from Dame Nature.
As the eves grow dim, and memory fails, the joys of a garden increase. It may be that those brave men for whom this is written will understand why I have chosen to write about gardens, with their music, their freshness, their fragrance, their orderliness and their peace.