Gardens - The Blue Flower Border
( Originally Published 1901 )
"Blue thou art, intensely blue !
- JAMES MONTGOMERY.
QUESTIONS of color relations in a garden are most opinion-making and controversy-provoking. Shall we plant by chance, or by a flower-loving instinct for sheltered and suited locations, as was done in all old-time gardens, and with most happy and most unaffected results? or shall we plant severely by colors—all yellow flowers in- a border together? all red flowers side by side ? all pink flowers near each other ? This might be satisfactory in small gardens, but I am uncertain whether any profound gratification or full flower succession would come from such rigid planting in long flower borders.
William Morris warns us that flowers in masses are " mighty strong color," and must be used with caution. A still greater cause for hesitation would be the ugly jarring of juxtaposing tints of the same color. Yellows do little injury to each other ; but .I cannot believe that a mixed border of red flowers would ever be satisfactory or scarcely endurable ; and few persons would care for beds of all white flowers. But when I reach the Blue Border, then I can speak with decision ; I know whereof I write, I know the variety and beauty of a garden bed of blue flowers. In blue you may have much difference in tint and quality without losing color effect. The Persian art workers have accomplished the combining of varying blues most wonderfully and successfully : purplish blues next to green-blues, and sapphire-blues alongside ; and blues seldom clash in the flower beds.
Blue is my best beloved color ; I love it as the bees love it. Every blue flower is mine ; and I am as pleased as with a tribute of praise to a friend to learn that scientists have proved that blue flowers represent the most highly developed lines of descent. These learned men believe that all flowers were at first yellow, being perhaps only developed stamens; then some became white, others red ; while the purple and blue were the latest and highest forms. The simplest shaped flowers, open to be visited by every insect, are still yellow or white, running into red or pink. Thus the Rose family have simple open symmetrical flowers ; and there are no blue Roses — the flower has never risen to the blue stage. In the Pea family the simpler flowers are yellow or red ; while the highly evolved members, such as Lupines, Wistaria, Everlasting Pea, are purple or blue, varying to white. Bees are among the highest forms of insect life, and the labiate flowers are adapted to their visits ; these nearly all have purple or blue petals—Thyme, Sage, Mint, Marjoram, Basil, Prunella, etc.
Of course the Blue Border runs into tints of pale lilac and purple and is thereby the gainer ; but I would remove from it the purple Clematis, Wistaria, and Passion-flower, all of which a friend has planted to cover the wall behind her blue flower bed. Some-times the line between blue and purple is hard to define. Keats invented a word, purplue, which he used for this indeterminate color.
I would not, in my Blue Border, exclude an occasional group of flowers of other colors ; I love a border of all colors far too well to do that. Here, as everywhere in my garden, should be white flowers, especially tall white flowers : white Foxgloves, white Delphinium, white Lupine, white Hollyhock, white Bell-flower, nor should I object to a few spires at one end of the bed of sulphur-yellow Lupines, or yellow Hollyhocks, or a group of Paris Daisies. I have seen a great Oriental Poppy growing in wonderful beauty near a mass of pale blue Lark-spur, and Shirley Poppies are a delight with blues ; and any one could arrange the pompadour tints of pink and blue in a garden who could in a gown.
Let me name some of the favorites of the Blue Border. The earliest but not the eldest is the pretty spicy Scilla in several varieties, and most satisfactory it is in perfection of tint, length of bloom, and great hardiness. It would be welcomed as we eagerly greet all the early spring blooms, even if it were not the perfect little blossom that is pictured on page 254, the very little Scilla that grew in my mother's garden.
The early spring blooming of the beloved Grape Hyacinth gives us an overflowing bowl of " blue principle"; the whole plant is imbued and fairly exudes blue. Ruskin gave the beautiful and appropriate term " blue-flushing" to this plant and others, which at the time of their blossoming send out through their veins their blue color into the surrounding leaves and the stem ; he says they " breathe out " their color, and tells of a " saturated purple " tint.
Not content with the confines of the garden border, the Grape Hyacinth has "escaped the garden," and become a field flower. The "seeing eye," ever quick to feel a difference in shade or color, which often proves very slight upon close examination, viewed on Long Island a splendid sea of blue ; and it seemed neither the time nor tint for the expected Violet. We found it a field of Grape Hyacinth, blue of leaf; of stem, of flower. While all flowers are in a sense perfect, some certainly do not appear so in shape, among the latter those of irregular sepals. Some flowers seem imperfect with-out any cause save the fancy of the one who is regarding them ; thus to me the Balsam is an imperfect flower. Other flowers impress me delightfully with a sense of perfection. Such is the Grape Hyacinth, doubly grateful in this perfection in the time it comes in early spring. The Grape Hyacinth is the favorite spring flower of my garden — but no ! I thought a minute ago the Scilla was ! and what place has the Violet? the Flower de Luce? I cannot decide, but this I know — it is some blue flower.
Ruskin says of the Grape Hyacinth, as he saw it growing in southern France, its native home, "It was as if a cluster of grapes and a hive of honey had been distilled and pressed together into one small boss of celled and beaded blue." I always think of his term "beaded blue " when I look at it. There are several varieties, from a deep blue or purple to sky-blue, and one is fringed with the most delicate feathery petals. Some varieties have a faint perfume, and country folk call the flower "Baby's Breath " therefrom.
Purely blue, too, are some of our garden Hyacinths, especially a rather meagre single Hyacinth which looks a little chilly; and Gavin Douglas wrote in the springtime of 1500, "The Flower de Luce forth spread his heavenly blue." It always jars upon my sense of appropriateness to hear this old garden favorite called Fleur de Lis. The accepted derivation of the word is that given by Grandmaison in his Heraldic Dictionary. Louis VII. of France, whose name was then written Loys, first gave the name to the flower, " Fleur de Loys " ; then it became Fleur de Louis, and finally, Fleur de Lis. Our flower caught its name from Louis. Tusser in his list of flowers for windows and pots gave plainly Flower de Luce ; and finally Gerarde called the plant Flower de Luce, and he advised its use as a domestic remedy in a manner which is in vogue in country homes in New England to-day. He said that the root " stamped plaister-wise, doth take away the blewnesse or blacknesse of any stroke" that is, a black and blue bruise. Another use advised of him is as obsolete as the form in which it was rendered. He said it was "good in a loch or licking medicine for shortness of breath." Our apothecaries no longer make, nor do our physicians prescribe, " licking medicines." The powdered root was urged as a complexion beautifier, especially to remove morphew, and as orris-root may be found in many of our modern skin lotions.
Ruskin most beautifully describes the Flower de Luce as the flower of chivalry —"with a sword for its leaf, and a Lily for its heart." These grand clumps of erect old soldiers, with leafy swords of green and splendid cuirasses and plumes of gold and bronze and blue, were planted a century ago in our grandmothers' garden, and were then Flower de Luce. A hundred years those sturdy sentinels have stood guard on either side of the garden gates—still Flower de Luce. There are the same clean-cut leaf swords, the same exquisite blossoms, far more beautiful than our tropical Orchids, though similar in shape ; let us not change now their historic name, they still are Flower de Luce — the Flower de Louis.
The Violet family, with its Pansies and Ladies' Delights, has honored place in our Blue Border, though the rigid color list of a prosaic practical dyer finds these Violet allies a debased purple instead of blue.
Our wild Violets, the blue ones, have for me a sad lack for a Violet, that of perfume. They are not as lovely in the woodlands as their earlier coming neighbor, the shy, pure Hepatica. Bryant, calling the Hepatica Squirrelcups (a name I never heard given them elsewhere), says they form " a graceful company hiding in their bells a soft aerial blue." Of course, they vary through blue and pinky purple, but the blue is well hidden, and I never think of them save as an almost white flower. Nor are the Violets as lovely on the meadow and field slopes, as the mild Innocence, the Houstonia, called also Bluets, which is scarcely a distinctly blue expanse, but rather "a milky way of minute stars." An English botanist denies that it is blue at all. A field covered with Innocence always looks to me as if little clouds and puffs of blue-white smoke had descended and rested on the grass.
I well recall when the Aquilegia, under the name of California Columbine, entered my mother's gar-den, to which its sister, the red and yellow Columbine, had been brought from a rocky New England pasture when the garden was new. This Aquilegia came to us about the year 187o. I presume old catalogues of American florists would give details and dates of the journey of the plant from the Pacific to the Atlantic. It chanced that this first Aquilegia of my acquaintance was of a distinct light blue tint; and it grew apace and thrived and was vastly admired, and filled the border with blueness of that singular tint seen of late years in its fullest extent and most prominent position in the great masses of bloom of the blue Hydrangea, the show plant of such splendid summer homes as may be found at Newport. These blue Hydrangeas are ever to me a color blot. They accord with no other flower and no foliage. I am ever reminded of blue mould, of stale damp. I looked with inexpressible aversion on a photograph of Cecil Rhodes' garden at Cape Town — several solid acres set with this blue Hydrangea and nothing else, unbroken by tree or shrub, and scarce a path, growing as thick as a field sown with ensilage corn, and then I thought what would be the color of that mass ! that crop of Hydrangeas! Yet I am told that Rhodes is a flower-lover and flower-thinker. Now this Aquilegia was of similar tint; it was blue, but it was not a pleasing blue, and additional plants of pink, lilac, and purple tints had to be added before the Aquilegia was really included in our list of well-beloveds.
There are other flowers for the blue border. It is pleasant to plant common Flax, if you have ample room ; it is a superb blue; to many persons the blossom is unfamiliar, and is always of interest. Its lovely flowers have been much sung in English verse. The Salpiglossis, shown on the opposite page, is in its azure tint a lovely flower, though it is a kinsman of the despised Petunia.
How the Campanulaceæ enriched the beauty and the blueness of the garden. We had our splendid clusters of Canterbury Bells, both blue and white. I have told elsewhere of our love for them in child-hood. Equally dear to us was a hardy old Campanula whose full name I know not, perhaps it is the Pyramidalis; it is shown on page 263, the very plant my mother set out, still growing and blooming; nothing in the garden is more gladly welcomed from year to year. It partakes of the charm shared by every bell-shaped flower, a simple form, but an ever pleasing one. We had also the Campanula persicifolia and trachelium, and one we called Blue-bells of Scotland, which was not the correct name: It now has died out, and no one recalls enough of its exact detail to learn its real name. The showiest bell-flower was the Platycodon grandiflorum, the Chinese or Japanese Bell-flower, shown on page 264. Another name is the Balloon-flower, this on account of the characteristic buds shaped like an inflated bal-loon. It is a lovely blue in tint, though this photo-graph was taken from a white-flowered plant in the white border at Indian Hill. The Giant Bell-flower is a fin de siècle blossom named Ostrowskia, with flowers four inches deep and six inches in diameter; it has not yet become common in our gardens, where the Platycodon rules in size among its bell-shaped fellows.
There are several pretty low-growing blue flowers suitable for edgings, among them the tiny stars of the Swan River Daisy (Brachycome iberidifolia) sold as purple, but as brightly blue as Scilla. The dwarf Ageratum is also a long-blossoming soft-tinted blue flower ; it made a charming edging in my sister's garden last summer ; but I should never put either of them on the edge of the blue border.
The dull blue, sparsely set flowers of the various members of the Mint family have no beauty in color, nor any noticeable elegance; the Blue Sage is the only vivid-hued one, and it is a true ornament to the border. Prunella was ever found in old gardens, now it is a wayside weed. Thoreau loved the Prunella for its blueness, its various lights, and noted that its color deepened toward night. This flower, regarded with indifference by nearly every one, and distaste by many, always to him suggested coolness and freshness by its presence. The Prunella was beloved also by Ruskin, who called it the soft warm-scented Brunelle, and told of the fine purple gleam of its hooded blossom : " the two uppermost petals joined like an old-fashioned enormous hood or bonnet; the lower petal torn deep at the edges into a kind of fringe," — and he said it was a " Brownie flower," a little eerie and elusive in its meaning. I do not like it because it has such a disorderly, unkempt look, it always seems bedraggled.
The pretty ladder-like leaf of Jacob's Ladder is most delicate and pleasing in the garden, and its blue bell-flowers are equally refined. This is truly an old-fashioned plant, but well worth universal cultivation.
In answer to the question, What is the bluest flower in the garden or field? one answered Fringed Gentian ; another the Forget-me-not, which has much pink in its buds and yellow in its blossoms ; another Bee Larkspur; and the others Centaurea cyanus or Bachelor's Buttons, a local American name for them, which is not even a standard folk name, since there are twenty-one English plants called Bachelor's Buttons. Ragged Sailor is another American name. Corn--flower, Blue-tops, Blue Bonnets, Bluebottles, Loggerheads are old English names. Queerer still is the title Break-your-spectacles. Hawdods is the oldest name of all. Fitzherbert, in his Bake of Husbandry, 1586, thus describes briefly the plant:
" Hawdod bath a blewe floure, and a few lytle leaves, and hath fyve or syxe branches floured at the top."
In varied shades of blue, purple, lilac, pink, and white, Bachelor's Buttons are found in every old garden, growing in a confused tangle of" lytle leaves " and vari-colored flowers, very happily and with very good effect. The illustration on page 258 shows their growth and value in the garden.
In The Promise of May Dora's eyes are said to be as blue as the Bluebell, Harebell, Speedwell, Blue-bottle, Succory, Forget-me-not, and Violets ; so we know what flowers Tennyson deemed blue.
Another poet named as the bluest flower, the Monk's-hood, so wonderful of color, one of the very rarest of garden tints ; graceful of growth, blooming till frost, and one of the garden's delights. In a list of garden flowers published in Boston, in 1828, it is called Cupid's Car. Southey says in The Doctor, of Miss Allison's garden : " The Monk's-hood of stately growth Betsey called ` Dumbledores Delight,' and was not aware that the plant, in whose helmet- rather than cowl-shaped flowers, that busy and best-natured of all insects appears to revel more than any other, is the deadly Aconite of which she read in poetry." The dumbledore was the bumble-bee, and this folk name was given, as many others have been, from a close observance of plant habits ; for the fertilization of the Monk's-hood is accomplished only by the aid of the bumblebee.
Many call Chicory or Succory our bluest flower. Thoreau happily termed it " a cool blue." It is not often the fortune of a flower to be brought to notice and affection because of a poem we expect the poem to celebrate the virtues of flowers already loved. The Succory is an example of a plant, known certainly to flower students, yet little thought of by careless observers until the beautiful poem of Margaret Deland touched all who read it. I think this a gem of modern poesy, having in full that great element of a true poem, the most essential element indeed of a short poem—the power of suggestion. Who can read it without being stirred by its tenderness and sentiment, yet how few are the words.
"Oh, not in ladies' gardens,
I recall perfectly every flower I saw in pasture, swamp, forest, or lane when I was a child; and I know I never saw Chicory save in old gardens. It has increased and spread wonderfully along the roadside within twenty years. By tradition it was first brought to us from England by Governor Bowdoin more than a century ago, to plant as forage.
In our common Larkspur, the old-fashioned garden found its most constant and reliable blue banner, its most valuable color giver. Self-sown, this Larkspur sprung up freely every year; needing no special cherishing or nourishing, it grew apace, and bloomed with a luxuriance and length of flowering that cheerfully blued the garden for the whole summer. It was a favorite of children in their floral games, and pretty in the housewife's vases, but its chief hold on favor was in its democracy and endurance. Other flowers drew admirers and lost them ; some grew very ugly in their decay ; certain choice seedlings often had stunted development, gar-den scourges attacked tender beauties ; fierce July suns dried up the whole border, all save the Lark-spur, which neither withered nor decayed ; and often, unaided, saved the midsummer garden from scanty unkemptness and dire disrepute.
The graceful line of Dr. Holmes, "light as a loop of Larkspur," always comes to my mind as I look at a bed of Larkspur ; and I am glad to show here a "loop of Larkspur," growing by the great boulder which he loved in the grounds of his country home at Beverly Farms. I liked to fancy that Dr. Holmes's expression was written by him from his memory of the little wreaths and garlands of pressed Larkspur that have been made so universally for over a century by New England children. But that careful flower observer, Mrs. Wright, notes that in a profuse growth of the Bee Larkspur, the strong flower spikes often are in complete loops be-fore full expansion into a straight spire ; some are looped thrice. Dr. Holmes was a minute observer of floral characteristics, as is shown in his poem on the Coming of Spring, and doubtless saw this curious growth of the Larkspur.
Common annual Larkspurs now are planted in every one's garden, and deservedly grow in favor yearly. The season of their flowering can be prolonged, renewed in fact, by cutting away the withered flower stems. They respond well to all caretaking, to liberal fertilizing and watering, just as they dwindle miserably with neglect. There are a hundred varieties in all ; among them the " Rocket-flowered " and " Ranunculus flowered " Larkspurs or Delphiniums are ever favorites. A friend burst forth in railing at being asked to admire a bed of Delphinium. "Why can't she call them the good old-time name of Larkspur, and not a stiff name cooked up by the botanists." I answered naught, but I remembered that Parkinson in his Garden of Pleasant Flowers gives a chapter to Delphinium, with Lark's-heel as a second thought. " Their most usual name with us," he states, " is Delphinium." There is meaning in the name : the flower is dolphin-like in shape. Of the perennial varieties the Delphinium brunonianum has lovely clear blue, musk-scented flowers ; the Chinese or Branching Larkspur is of varied blue tints and tall growth, and blooms from midsummer until frost. And loveliest of all, an old garden favorite, the purely blue Bee Larkspur, with a bee in the heart of each blossom. In an ancient garden in Deerfield I saw this year a splendid group of plants of the old Delphinium Belladonna : it is a weak-kneed, weak-backed thing ; but give it unobtrusive crutches and busks and backboards (in their garden equivalents), and its incomparable blue will reward your care. There is something singular in the blue of Larkspur. Even on a dark night you can see it showing a distinct blue in the garden like a blue lambent flame.
" Larkspur lifting turquoise spires
Mrs. Milne-Home says her old Scotch gardener called the white Delphinium Elijah's Chariot — a resounding, stately title. Helmet-flower is another name. I think the Larkspur Border, and the Blue Border both gain if a few plants of the pure white Delphinium, especially the variety called the Emperor, bloom by the blue flowers. In our garden the common blue Larkspur loves to blossom by the side of the white Phlox. A bit of the border is shown on page 162. In another corner of the gar-den the pink and lilac Larkspur should be grown ; for their tints, running into blue, are as varied as those of an opal.
I have never seen the wild Larkspur which grows so plentifully in our middle Southern states ; but I have seen expanses of our common garden Lark-spur which has run wild. Nor have I seen the glorious fields of Wyoming Larkspur, so poisonous to cattle ; nor the magnificent Larkspur, eight feet high, described so radiantly to us by John Muir, which blues those wonders of nature, the hanging meadow gardens of California.
I am inclined to believe that Lobelia is the least pleasing blue flower that blossoms. I never see it in any place or juxtaposition that it satisfies me. When you take a single flower of it in your hand, its single little delicate bloom is really just as pretty as Blue-eyed Grass, or Innocence, or Scilla, and the whole plant regarded closely by itself isn't at all bad ; but whenever and wherever you find it growing in a garden, you never want it in that place, and you shift it here and there. I am convinced that the Lobelia is simply impossible ; it is an alien, wrong in some subtle way in tint, in habit of growth, in time of blooming. The last time I noted it in any large garden planting, it was set around the roots of some standard Rose bushes ; and the gardener had displayed some thought about it; it was only at the base of white or cream-yellow Roses ; but it still was objectionable. I think I would exterminate Lobelia if I could, banish it and forget it. In the minds of many would linger a memory of certain ornate garden vases, each crowded with a Pandanus-y plant, a pink Begonia, a scarlet double Geranium, a purple Verbena or a crimson Petunia, all gracefully entwined with Nasturtiums and Lobelia — while these folks lived, the Lobelia would not be forgotten.
You will Lave some curious experiences with your Blue Border ; kindly friends, pleased with its beauty or novelty, will send to you plants and seeds to add to its variety of form " another bright blue flower." You will usually find you have added variety of tint as well, ranging into crimson and deep purple, for color blindness is far more general than is thought.
The loveliest blue flowers are the wild ones of fields and meadows ; therefore the poor, says Alphonse Karr, with these and the blue of the sky have the best and the most of all blueness. Yet we are constantly hearing folks speak of the lack of the color blue among wild flowers, which always surprises me; I suppose I see blue because I love blue. In pure cobalt tint it is rare ; in compensation, when it does abound, it makes a permanent imprint on our vision, which never vanishes. Re-calling in midwinter the expanses of color in summer waysides, I do not see them white with Daisies, or yellow with Goldenrod, but they are in my mind's vision brightly, beautifully blue. One special scene is the blue of Fringed Gentians, on a sunny October day, on a rocky hill road in Royalston, Massachusetts, where they sprung up, wide open, a solid mass of blue, from stone wall to stone wall, with scarcely a wheel rut showing among them. Even thus, growing in as lavish abundance as any weed, the Fringed Gentian still preserved in collective expanse, its delicate, its distinctly aristocratic bearing.
Bryant asserts of this flower : —
" Thou waitest late, and com'st alone
But by this roadside the woods were far from bare. Many Asters, especially the variety I call Michael-mas Daisies, Goldenrod, Butter-and-eggs, Turtle Head, and other flowers, were in ample bloom. And the same conditions of varied flower companionship existed when I saw the Fringed Gentian blooming near Bryant's own home at Cummington.
Another vast field of blue, ever living in my memory, was that of the Viper's Bugloss, which I viewed with surprise and delight from the platform of a train, returning from the Columbian Exposition ; when I asked a friendly brakeman what the flower was called, he answered "Vilets," as nearly all workingmen confidently n a m e every blue flower ; and he sprang from the train while the locomotive was swallowing water, and brought to me a great armful of blueness. I am not wont to like new flowers as well as my childhood's friends, but I found this new friend, the Viper's Bugloss, a very welcome and pleasing acquaintance. Curious, too, it is, with the red anthers exserted beyond the bright blue corolla, giving the field, when the wind blew across it, a new aspect and tint, something like a red and blue changeable silk. The Viper's Bugloss seems to have the pervasive power of many another blue and purple flower, Lupine, Iris, Innocence, Grape Hyacinth, Vervain, Aster, Spiked Loosestrife ; it has become in many states a tiresome weed. On the Esopus Creek (which runs into the Hudson River) and adown the Hudson, acre after acre of meadow and field by the waterside are vivid with its changeable hues, and the New York farmers' fields are overrun by the newcomer.
I have seen the Viper's Bugloss often since that day on the railroad train, now that I know it, and think of it. Thoreau noted the fact that in a large sense we find only what we look for. And he de-fined well our powers of perception when he said that many an object will not be seen, even when it comes within the range of our visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray.
Last spring, having to spend a tiresome day riding the length of Long .Island, I beguiled the hours by taking with me Thoreau's Summer to compare his notes of blossomings with those we passed. It was June 5, and I read : —
"The Lupine is now in its glory. It is the more important because it occurs in such extensive patches, even an acre or more together. . . . It paints a whole hillside with its blue, making such a field, if not a meadow, as Proserpine might have wandered in. Its leaf was made to be covered with dewdrops. I am quite excited by this prospect of blue flowers in clumps, with narrow intervals ; such a profusion of the heavenly, the Elysian color, as if these were the Elysian Fields. That is the value of the Lupine. The earth is blued with it. . . . You may have passed here a fortnight ago and the field was comparatively barren. Now you come, and these glorious redeemers appear to have flashed out here all at once. Who plants the seeds of Lupines in the barren soil ? Who watereth the Lupines in the field ?"
I looked from a car window, and lo! the Long Island Railroad ran also through an Elysian Field of Lupines, nay, we sailed a swift course through a summer sea of blueness, and I seem to see it still, with its prim precision of outline and growth of both leaf and flower. The Lupine is beautiful in the garden border as it is in the landscape, whether the blossom be blue, yellow, or white.
Thoreau was the slave of color, but he was the master of its description. He was as sensitive as Keats to the charm of blue, and left many records of his love, such as the paragraphs above quoted.
He noted with delight the abundance of " that principle which gives the air its azure color, which makes the distant hills and meadows appear blue," the "great blue presence" of Monadnock and Wachusett with its "far blue eye." He loved Lowell's
" Sweet atmosphere of hazy blue,
He revelled in the blue tints of water, of snow, of ice ; in " the blueness and softness of a mild winter day." The constant blueness of the sky at night thrilled him with "an everlasting surprise," as did the blue shadows within the woods and the blueness of distant woods. How he would have rejoiced in Monet's paintings, how true he would have found their tones. He even idealized blueberries, " a very innocent ambrosial taste, as if made of ether itself, as they are colored with it."
Thoreau was ever ready in thought of Proserpina gathering flowers. He offers to her the Lupine, the Blue-eyed Grass, and the Tufted Vetch, "blue, inclining in spots to purple"; it affected him deeply to see such an abundance of blueness in the grass. " Celestial color, I see it afar in masses on the hill-side near the meadow — so much blue."
I usually join with Thoreau in his flower loves ; but I cannot understand his feeling toward the blue Flag; that, after noting the rich fringed recurved parasols over its anthers, and its exquisite petals, that he could say it is "a little too showy and gaudy, like some women's bonnets." I note that whenever he compares flowers to women it is in no flattering humor to either; which is, perhaps, what we expect from a man who chose to be a bachelor and a hermit. His love of obscure and small flowers might explain his sentiment toward the radiant and dominant blue Flag.
The most valued flower of my childhood, outside the garden, was a little sister of the Iris — the Blue-eyed Grass. To find it blooming was a triumph, for it was not very profuse of growth near my home ; to gather it a delight; why, I know not, since the tiny blooms promptly closed and withered as soon as we held them in our warm little hands. Colonel Higginson writes wittily of the Blue-eyed Grass, " It has such an annoying way of shutting up its azure orbs the moment you gather it; and you reach home with a bare stiff blade which deserves no better name than Sisyrinchium anceps."
The only time I ever played truant was to run off one June morning to find " the starlike gleam amid the grass and dew" ; to pick Blue-eyed Grass in a field to which I was conducted by another naughty girl. I was simple enough to come home at mid-day with my hands full of the stiff blades and tightly closed blooms; and at my mother's inquiry as to my acquisition of these treasures, I promptly burst into tears. I was then told, in impressive phraseology adapted to my youthful comprehension, and with the flowers as eloquent proof, that all stolen pleasures were ever like my coveted flowers, withered and unsightly as soon as gathered — which my mother believed was true.
The blossoms of this little Iris seem to lie on the surface of the grass like a froth of blueness; they gaze up at the sky with a sort of intimacy as if they were a part of it. Thoreau called it an " air of easy sympathy." The slightest clouding or grayness of atmosphere makes them turn away and close.
The naming of Proserpina leads me to say this : that to grow in love and knowledge of flowers, and above all of blue flowers, you must read Ruskin's Proserpina. It is a book of botany, of studies of plants, but begemmed with beautiful sentences and thoughts and expressions, with lessons of pleasantness which you can never forget, of pictures which you never cease to see, such sentences and pictures as this : —
" Rome. My father's Birthday. I found the loveliest blue Asphodel I ever saw in my life in the fields beyond Monte Mario — a spire two feet high, of more than two hundred stars, the stalks of them all deep blue as well as the flowers. Heaven send all honest people the gathering of the like, in the Elysian Fields, some day ! "
Oh, the power of written words ! when by these few lines I can carry forever in my inner vision this spire of starry blueness. To that writer, now in the Elysian Fields, an honest teacher if ever one lived, I send my thanks for this beautiful vision of blueness.