"As sweet desire of day before the day, As dreams of love before the true love born, From the outer edge of winter over-worn, The ghost arisen of May before the May Takes through dim air her unawakened way".
It seems, at first, an inconsistency that so many of the monastic communities of old should have owned and tended gardens. A garden: - the word suggests roses and honeysuckles, early peas and luscious strawberries, summer days passed amid fair surroundings, whatsoever is most opposite to the unbeautified life, meagre fare, and narrow cell of the ascetic.
Even if the gardens grew only bitter herbs for fast-day pottages the south wind wafted perfumes over them, the butterflies danced in them, and the birds sang in them joyous strains, likely to lead the listener's thoughts far away from sin, death, and judgment.
Only experience teaches what, it seems, the early fathers of the church well knew, that tending garden is at once a school and a test for all the great Christian virtues.
In hope one lays out hard-earned dollars for seeds, roots, tools, fertilizers, re-enforcements to the fence, and wages of a man to "spade up".
Faith in Nature and in the florist's integrity is sorely needed when, day after day, the beds show only a few sticks, upholding scraps of paper seed-bags, and marking the locations of hoped-for crops.
And charity towards that florist is severely tested when those crops fail to appear for all the wooing of the south wind - and we begin to suspect him of foisting off superannuated seeds upon our guileless simplicity.
But the gardener might as well be charitable with a good grace, for he must be charitable whether or no.
The result of the sweat of his brow and the emptying of his pocketbook is shared with all creation. He is almoner to countless creatures which give him no gratitude.
The moles and slugs nibble his vegetables. The birds sample his fruit, and a host of bees, moths, beetles, and butterflies share his pleasure in his flowers.
These insect visitors, however, are respectable wage-workers. It would be unjust to call them pensioners of the garden, for the flowers would be as ill off without them as they without the flowers, and next year's borders will be all the brighter and sweeter, thanks to this year's butterflies and bees.
The few glimpses of sunshine which this March day vouchsafes us have already tempted out an enterprising bee. Her contented droning comes from the cup of an equally enterprising yellow crocus (Fig. 1) - to her a pavilion of gold wherein is spread a feast of nectar fit for the gods.
Six yellow leaves, joined at their bases and separate above, form the dainty cup of the crocus-flower.
Three of these are generally somewhat larger than the rest, and in the bud they enfolded the smaller trio within them.
The larger and outer leaves are the "calyx" of the crocus-blossom and the inner and smaller ones are its "corolla." But the calyx now in question is exceptionally big and beautiful.
Fig. 1. - Golden crocus (Crocus aureus).
(From Curtis' Botanical Magazine). a, the blossom split lengthwise; b, one stamen ; c, the pistil.
That of most flowers is a modest affair (Fig. 2a), composed of tiny green leaves, or sepals, which are quite eclipsed by the superior size and brilliancy of the petals or flower-leaves within them (Fig. 2b).
Fig. 2a. - Calyces of differing forms. (From the Vegetable World).
In this crocus, however, the sepals not only rival the petals, but outdo them in prettiness.
Within the flower's chalice are three stalks, each topped with a long, golden head. These are the stamens.
The long heads are powder-boxes, and the yellow dust which they contain has a power as wonderful as that of any fairy's wand.
At the very heart of the crocus is a column, tall and erect, surmounted by a fluted capital tipped with gold. This is the pistil. Its duty, in the floral division of labor, is to form, protect, and, in due time, distribute the young seed. In its lower part, at flowering time, we will find a number of tiny green bodies destined to become seeds, if all goes well.
This crocus has just unfolded, and the baby seeds within its pistil are not quickened yet. They may never live at all, but wither with the perishing flower, and thus die before they are really born. Life can be given to them only by the magic powder which the stamens contain.
In the older works on botany this powder is called "pollen," but the most recent books on the wonders of plant-life give it a name more ponderous and technical, but well worth remembering, because whoever invented it had in mind the relationship which binds together all plants, from the humblest to the highest.
Fig. 2b. - Corollas of various forms. (From the Vegetable World).
So in the "up-to-date" writings on flower-lore these little grains - brown or golden - are called "microspores".
Each microspore is a simple cell, - a little bag, - generally lined with a delicate membrane, and always filled with a colorless jelly.
Under a powerful microscope the microspores of many flowers look as if they had been daintily carved, like the beads of a rosary.
On the surfaces of very many of them there are tiny holes, or slits, or little lids, which fall off readily (Fig. 3a) and expose the delicate lining membrane.
The boxes, or "anthers," which hold the microspores of the crocus split open as soon as the bud expands and shed their golden store. The bee, blundering about inside the flower, gets herself well sprinkled, and, when she flies off, with powdered body, to find and visit another courageous crocus, she will be almost certain to rub off a few yellow grains upon the tip of its pistil.
Fig. 3a. - A pollen-grain of the melon. (From the Vegetable World).