'Believe that every bird that sings, And every flower that stars the elastic sod, And every thought the happy summer brings, To the pure spirit, is a Word of God.'
S. T. Coleridge.
Which was the first bulb ever planted in a garden? No answer can be given. It may have been a native Snowdrop, or Lily of the Valley, brought from the woods by some flower-worshipper who was not afraid of being laughed at for his folly. Or perhaps a great traveller brought home from the East either the small golden Amaryllis, or the scarlet Turk's Cap Lily (Lilium chalcedonicutn), that are now rivals for the honour of having been described by Christ as clothed more gloriously than King Solomon.
All we know surely is that, as civilization grew, so did flowers enter our gardens, and bulbs became precious.
Man has a sad habit of turning the good into evil, the beautiful into the vile, therefore enthusiasm for blossoms produced rare frauds, and became a species of madness on more than one occasion, but most notably in the Tulip years of the sixteenth century, of which we may read in Mackay's Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions.
By 1634 it was deemed a proof of bad taste for any person of fortune to be without a costly Tulip collection. Great men of science and learning vied with merchants, and even small tradesfolk, in securing new varieties of this often truly 'gilt-edged' flower: the ordinary industries in Holland became neglected, investments suffered, the Arts appealed in vain, because time and money were lavished on - bulbs.
A single specimen of the Tulip named Viceroy was reckoned worth:
Two lasts of' wheat,
Four lasts of rye,
Four fat oxen,
Eight fat swine,
Twelve fat sheep,
Two hogsheads of wine,
Four tuns of beer,
Two tuns of butter,
One thousand pounds of cheese,
A complete bed,
A suit of clothes,
A silver drinking cup, or
Two thousand five hundred florins.
'People of all grades converted their property into cash and invested it in flowers . .' Then fashion changed, and the slump came. Many a family had to face ruin as the result of the Tulip mania.
When critics denounce, or jeer, at the modest pound or two sometimes given to-day for the bulb of a new Daffodil, let them remember how moderate is the cost of a luxuriously furnished garden of bulbs now, in comparison with a small bed of Tulips, or Hyacinths, when those were rare in England.
Bulb growing is a hobby helpful to trade in our times. We have many great firms, giving employment to thousands of men and boys, who fetch from afar the flowering plants that are awaiting applause, or perfect, by patient scientific tending, the families of plants that are already in our land. In Sussex, Lincolnshire, Essex, and other counties, bulb-farms have sprung up, to compete with those of Holland and Belgium, so bulb breeding may be welcomed as a modern development of British industry.
Who will declare that flower gardening should cease? Is it not one of the worthiest of hobbies? And, if plants are to be grown at all for their beauty alone, the bulbous section has peculiar claims upon us.
An old book on gardening tells us truly that 'in one sense bulbs are of more easy culture than any other class of plant, as, the germ being previously formed, and the nourishment provided in the body of the bulb, it is only necessary to supply heat and moisture to cause these to develop.'
It has been said that the great majority of bulbous blossoms appear to greet the spring; however, the summer is well catered for by Liliums and innumerable varieties of such splendid tuberous plants as Gladioli and Dahlias, which continue gay until the Meadow Saffrons, Schizostylis, and Autumn Crocuses usher in the scarcely known true Crocuses of winter, the Christmas Roses, and earliest dainty Irises, which, in their turn, give place to Crocuses of spring, Yellow Aconite, Hepaticas, Snowdrops, and the vermilion giant 'daisies' of Anemone fulgens.
If our borders are sombre after September it is only because we do not make sufficient use of these flowers and others, or of the golden and variegated shrubs that are bright as flowers.
Yes, it is true that, once the simple rules of culture are learnt, growing bulbs is very easy, and successes infinitely greater than failures. I believe one reason is that bulbous plants are less subject to illnesses and less attacked by insects.
Lily disease can be prevented by dusting bulbs with a little carbolic powder, or, in my opinion, by watering growing Lilies once a month with rain-water just made black on the surface by powdered charcoal.
Pot plants of many bulbous species become attacked occasionally by green-fly, red-spider, etc., but the use of a Vapour Cone, to fumigate the greenhouse, twice, leaving one night between the operations, is nearly certain to cure this evil. However, sponging, or spraying, the plants with soft soap and rain-water should be tried first, as it is likely to render the other remedy unnecessary.
Bulbous plants that continue prolific year after year are amazingly cheaper to cultivate than are the ordinary tender subjects used for bedding, or raised annually, like Cinerarias, Primulas, and Salvias, for the conservatory.
There are not many that refuse to decorate our living-rooms as pot-plants, either for months together or for weeks, or days, though certain species, notably the fair ordinary Poet's Narcissus, will not 'force.'
Out in the open we may have to scare sparrows from the early Crocuses, but we shall not be obliged to fight hard with foes, except on the Dahlias' behalf. The coco-nut-fibre refuse mulch, or the cinder-ash, or even the sharp gritty sand that we use among our bulbous plants, keep away the slugs and snails that crawl constantly to devour Sweet Peas, Pansies, etc.
Single Post's Narcissus.
And what a noble garden the bulb one may be, with its rows of silver Lilies, flaming groups of Red-hot Pokers, lofty spikes of Eremuri, and countless myriad-tinted spearheads of Gladioli!
A Spring Bulb Border.
Let us be enthusiasts, then, not as the Tulip maniacs became, but with the wisdom of philosophers and the reverence of true artists. Only a genius can create a perfect flower garden, but - thank God! - it is, after all, merely a matter of combining perfect flowers!